It is always exciting to hear about local roasters who maintain small-scale retail stores. In-house roasters are even better. Advertising your own roasting brings a lot of credibility and professionalism to a store. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked, “who is Lulu? Who does your roasting.” I proudly smile, “we do our own roasting.” That fact alone really draws people, both enthusiasts and connoisseurs. That level of credibility also generally accompanied by high expectations, more pronounced “crowds” of customers, and a heightened sense of criticism. I went to Dana Street Roasting specifically because they did in-house roasting. On this trip, along with my usual equipment and coffee journal, I brought realistically high expectations. They were met, but not in the way I had envisioned.
Dana Street Roasting was really busy when we arrived in the hot late afternoon. The first thing I did was run over to the roaster. Fortunately, the head roaster was with a trainee that day and encouraged me to take photographs. Fun stuff, I really looked forward to trying the final product. Soon after, I became painfully aware of something else, this beautiful machine was flanked by decor that did not match it’s level of sophistication.
I am not trying to make any sort of criticism about personal taste or aesthetic choices, but the decor of Dana Street was a very weird mixture of “high end” and… well… “junk.” It made the store feel extremely disjointed. For example, there were dozens of tightly crammed tables around the roaster, which seemed an inappropriate amount of space. Across the store was a beautiful wooden cabinet that was stuffed with menagerie of coffee trinkets and blocked by a row of cambros. Of course these items are totally appropriate for a coffee shop, but to me, this area didn’t seem to fit together. Above the register and the bar were tons of old christmas lights… with plastic halloween bones strung throughout. Whether this was deliberate or the result of neglect is beyond me. Still not strange? The kicker; on the back wall is a giant plastic cockroach that apparently has a name. I really appreciate that the store has a character accompanied with a unique vibe, but all this just didn’t add up; high end roasting equipment and clutter. It’s like owning a nice BMW and leaving garbage on the seat; it was unappealing not due to wear or use, but neglect. There just didn’t seem to be rhyme or reason.
The staff seemed friendly enough, though maybe a little indifferent. The heat of midday and the dimness of the store may have caused them to be a bit lethargic, but I apprecaited that they were laid back about their job. Sometimes, we take our craft a little too seriously. While waiting for our order, I looked around the place to get a sense of the vibe. Dana Street is a very communal place. It seemed like they had a lot of regulars and definitely drew a crowd. It was past lunch time and they still had a long cue.
Even for a “dry” cap, I was kind of disappointed. They use a Wega machine (never heard of them before this trip) and it seemed to have a “processed” approach to steaming and pulling shots. The milk was super foamy, like half foam, SB style. I am not opposed to dry caps, they’re always fun if they are done well . This one was not done very well. The foam in the center was cold, I am not even sure how he did that. It was tasty foam but it was almost totally separated from the milk, which was hard to taste without overwhelming espresso flavor. The espresso was chemically and bitter, not in a special flavor way, more like poorly extracted. What’s worse, it left a really hard-to-swallow after taste. The drink had no coherence. It was like strong, bland coffee with a dollop of foam on top. I had high expectations since they did their own roasting (they are even on the Yurgacheffe trend). For a place that supposes quality and craftsmanship behind this venture, I expected a lot more from both their bean and drink quality. It was, at best, average for the average coffee consumer but I really did not enjoy it. I hate to complain so I took it as is. Something else that really threw me off was their labeling of “light” and “dark” roasts on their bags. I used to work for a place that classified things as Italian, French, Full City, etc. Those descriptions are very broad and lack details. I have a huge array of issues regarding inaccurate bean labeling, cupping notes and all that, but that is something for a future article. In any case, to me, it just came off as a little sloppy and “low brow.”
We shared a table with a woman who told us a little about her experiences at Dana Street. It was her usual spot in Mountain View and she kept coming back because she appreciated the crowd they drew. It was evident that despite my perception of their “quality,” people really enjoyed the place. She told me they regularly hosted community events like bands, performances and meet ups. People in the store were very casual and chatty. This place was definitely a “fan favorite.” Soon, it became clear to me that this place shared something with many other “older” established coffee businesses; no matter what the current trend was, despite the actual quality of the product itself, people had chosen this as “their spot.” The communal feeling of the store was something really special that many newer shops can’t seem to nail (attitudes, ego, snobbery, aesthetics, etc). This place was a bit eccentric and “strange,” but people loved it and I loved that aspect of Dana Street. If tons of people have claimed D.S. as their place to be happy, then they have accomplished something great.
Dana Street is a local’s spot and I cannot respect that accomplishment enough. Though I came in with high expectations of their craftsmenship and was let down , I can definitely appreciate this place as an established neighborhood institution. Keep doing you’re thing guys, don’t let my “pinkys out” approach tarnish what you do.
- Watching the roaster
- The uniqueness of the shop
- Their place as a local spot