Coffee kiosks can be fickle. From my experience, they are generally one of two things; a stripped down version of a very professional and high end roasting company’s retail space with all the quality but less hassle OR some fru-fru stand featuring whatever, specializing in something, and ultimately lacking in quality because it is “just a kiosk.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of middle ground. Kiosks are either stellar or startling.
Highwire Roasters definitely shows us what it means to be an outstanding kiosk. They have their own off-site roasting facility and feature their own quality beans. This article only focuses on the kiosk. Highwire’s retail space is at a great location in the Rockridge Market Hall along side other gourmet food stands. The neighborhood is mellow and slower paced than other parts of the city. It is also very close to BART, making it quite accessible to all. As you walk into the market from the street, you are drawn in by the wonderful sights, smells, and sounds of the busy stall, right up at the front of the long arcade. Simple in appearance, the space is a pleasant little oasis from the busy urban landscape and a great place to take a coffee breather. I was especially pleased with the standing bar; despite being a practical choice, this addition brought back fond memories of the coffee bars in Italy.
Although Highwire is only a small walk up counter and a few standing tables, they have spared no expense investing in equipment and beans. Their Strada is manned by an experienced staff that works mechanically and efficiently, putting out serious drinks and letting them do the talking, rather than being showy. Like Four Barrel in San Francisco, Highwire has a very “worn in” character. Immaculate shops sometimes make me feel like I am in a museum rather than a coffee shop. The kiosk is instead is a place of hard-work and dedication that shows through their well-loved machinery. That is not to say that Highwire or Four Barrel are dirty or decrepid. On the contrary, seeing a place that is so obviously utilized reassures me that they mean business.
I was fortunate enough to be served by a friend of mine who did a terrific job showing me what Highwire is all about. He gave me a mini tour of the bar and thorough explanations about the goals of the company. Then, he pulled me some great drinks. What I noticed right away was the startlingly “classic” flavor of their espresso. Remember when Coca-Cola Classic returned after all those attempts at new formulas went belly up? Espresso has new and old trends, but new doesn’t mean bad (unlike new Coke). There are amazing “newer” espressos that have tons of unique character; bright, complex, with hints of very discernible flavors such as berry, melon, caramel, nuts, etc. Ritual, Verve, and Intelligentsia generally showcase these kinds of espressos and I love it. Roasters such as Highwire or Lulu Carpenters have very clear business connections to older espresso traditions, which tend to have a different flavor. Some of Highwire’s roasters were apparently associated with Peet’s once upon a time, thus bringing worlds of experience to perfecting the art. Obviously, it would be impossible to separate this know-how from their current espresso. These more “classical” espressos are just as pleasant with more bitter, heavy, chocolaty notes by comparison. Generally, these are what people think of as a “solid,” Italian-rooted espressos.
The shot I had was intensely bitter, savory, with slight hints of berry, though it clearly fell under the category of “traditional espresso.” Rather than focusing on the flavor of the blend, I was far more intrigued by the heavy body and consistency. My cap was also excellent. The milk was on the foamy side for a wet cap, ridgid but still very smooth and flavorful. The savoriness of the espresso went wonderfully with the milk, very chocolaty. My friend and I have worked together in the past and he has grown so much as a professional. Very proud of him, he did an excellent job of demonstrating the quality of Highwire.
Highwire Roasters is running a great kiosk and an exceptional roasting business, specializing in a more “classic” style of espresso and beans. Not only is it a great place to get away from the urban hustle but a solid destination for coffee with a particular flavor.
- The “classic” espresso
- Standing bar
- The fact it is representing kiosk coffee well
Highwire Roasters5655 College Ave Rockridge Market Hall Oakland, CA 94618 (510) 653-0450