Another indicator of San Diego’s impending dominance is not only its increased quantity of specialty coffee, but also its equitable growth in quality specialty coffee. San Diego coffee is beginning to turn heads globally, too. Over the past several years, a number of San Diego–based coffee roasters have earned numerous accolades. Last year, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, originally based out of La Jolla, won the prestigious Good Food Award in the Geisha XO Roast coffee division. (Bird Rock also won the same award in 2016 and 2017.) This award is given to coffee shops that are distinguished by exemplary flavor as well as fairness and transparency from seed to cup. The highest-scoring entries undergo a rigorous vetting process to verify that they met the sustainability and social responsibility criteria to win the award.
Other San Diego County coffee award winners include Carlsbad’s Steady State Roasting and San Diego’s Mostra Coffee, which was named 2019’s Micro Coffee Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine. Several San Diego roasters—including Bird Rock Coffee and Café Virtuoso—have also had their creations featured on Coffee Review’s prestigious list of the Top 30 Coffees of the Year.
Perhaps the main reason why San Diego coffee shops truly stand out is because they have not modeled themselves after those found in Oregon and Washington, but instead blazed their own trails. Leading the charge in coffee innovation, once again, is SoCal’s shining star: Bird Rock Coffee, which recently became one of the first American coffee roasters to break into the coffee-growing game. In 2015, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters signed a deal with Oceanside’s Mraz Family Farms—owned and operated by famed singer-songwriter and San Diego local Jason Mraz—to sell the first San Diego–grown coffee. The specific type they chose to grow is a rare and coveted varietal known as Geisha. Prior to this ground-breaking partnership, Geisha varietals were generally only found in Panama; the coffee is considered by many to be the gold standard for its smooth, deep, and uniquely rich flavor profile. While coffee farms are beginning to sprout across the entire state, the largest concentrations are found in California (and it should come as no surprise, given California’s compelling coffee culture), but no other farms currently grow the Geisha variety.
Though San Diego has already made incredible strides in the coffee game, there is still ample room to grow. Many experts believe that San Diego roasters have already “arrived,” at least in terms of product. So, the biggest hurdle now seems to be helping consumers understand that a truly high-quality, specialty cup of joe from a local coffee shop is worth more than just a couple of bucks.
But if there is one thing San Diego has proven, especially given its mark on craft beer, it is that consumers dare to try new things and enjoy new flavor experiences. It certainly appears to be only a matter of time before San Diego dons the craft coffee crown.