Coffee Drinkers’ Guide to the Amgen Tour of California
Words and photos by Jen See
So you’re planning to follow the Amgen Tour of California from start to finish, end to end, Escondido to Santa Rosa. That’s a pretty ambitious plan you’ve got there. Definitely, you’re going to need coffee—and lots of it.
Here at Paved, we are looking out for your best interests. We know all about you. You don’t need a Pepsi, you need an espresso. And most likely, you need more than one.
Welcome to the not at all official, maybe mostly reliable Paved Coffee Drinkers’ Guide to the Amgen Tour of California. No guarantees, no warranties, no refunds.
Read it, save it, go the bike race, drink all the coffee, be happy.
Stage 1: Escondido
It’s the grand départ, and you want to get things off to the perfect start. The problem is, you are below the magic line in California that separates the good espresso from the bad. This is a thing! South of the magic line, espresso is iffy. Often, it comes in six-ounce cups. Drink at your own risk. You’ve been warned.
Because it’s the first day of the bike race, you have energy and exuberance. You jump out of bed early, which leaves you time for a detour. Today’s espresso stop is on the coast in Encinitas. It’s a little out of the way from Escondido, but you want local flavor.
The Pannikin is housed in a big yellow Victorian with a wrap-around porch. The coffee is nothing to get excited about, but you’re not there for the perfect espresso. That’ll come later in the week. You’re there for the vibe, which is perfect SoCali beach town mellow. You’re not wearing flip flops? Dude, you’re so totally overdressed.
Running late? No time for detours? Try EscoGelato in Escondido not far from the stage startline. I’m skeptical of a place that mixes coffee and ice cream, but Yelp says it’s good. And when I’m late to the bike race and need an espresso, I’m not about to argue. Grab two doubles and run.
Stage 2: Murrieta
Sometimes, you have to roll the dice. You ask around, you look for local knowledge, and you come up dry. For example, I don’t know anyone in Murrieta. In fact, I’ve never known anyone in Murrieta. Like the Magic Eight Ball, the internet was invented to solve this problem and answer all your questions. But do you believe what it tells you?
The internet tells me that I should go to Ryan Brothers coffee in Murrieta. How did I pick this needle out of the digital haystack? Ryan Brothers roasts their own beans, buys fair trade coffee, and apparently makes their own chocolate for mochas. These things are all clues: There’s no guarantee that they will lead to fabulous espresso, but you’re in with a chance at a joint like this one.
Not feeling lucky? You can always go with the safety bet. It won’t be good, but it’s predictable. You know it won’t be any worse than your lowest expectations.
Stage 2: Palm Springs
There are two kinds of people who follow stage races: There are the people who drive the transfers the night before the next stage, and there are the people who drive the transfers in the morning. If you’re one of the night-drivers, go ahead and proceed on to your Motel 6 in Palmdale. Lie in your Motel 6 bed, and let the freeway lull you to sleep.
Or maybe you’ve decided to stay the night in Palm Springs, which sounds a lot like Palmdale, but isn’t. Sometimes when you’re on the road chasing a bike race, you have to do what the locals do. Forget finding the perfect espresso in Palm Springs. In truth, I think this may be a hopeless, holy grail sort of quest.
Instead, head to Sherman’s, your classic locals joint. There you’ll find three-generation families gathered around the table, hoovering up the pancakes and the french toast, and whatever it is you breakfast people eat in the morning. I’m not sure what to do with an eight-egg omelet with thick bacon, but I feel certain you do. Sherman’s dates from 1963 and bills itself as a kosher-style family restaurant. There will be talk of local news in the air and bottomless cups of coffee.
Go there, drink the bottomless cups of coffee, watch the people, and eat up. They open at 7am, but you didn’t want to make the start in Palmdale anyway, did you?
Stage 3: Palmdale
I got nothing. You were thinking I was a miracle worker or something, maybe. Well even I can’t conjure espresso out of thin air. If only.
Did you bring your French Press and a bag of decent coarsely ground coffee beans? Of course you did. Because you’re the kind of smart person who plans ahead and does this kind of thing. This shall be your salvation.
Here’s what you do: Pour coffee out of bag into French Press, drive to nearest gas station, fill up French Press with hot water. Drink. Wake up. Go to the bike race.
I am not your kind of person. I’m not the kind of person who plans and remembers things like bringing my french press to the bike race. Instead, I will go to the gas station, buy some shitty gas station coffee, and drink it. It will not wake me up. I will get in the car to follow the race. Before the neutral zone is over, I will need to pee. The breakaway will not build up a decent gap until after the 60-kilometer mark. Then, I will really need to pee, but there will be a climb and a descent and a wheel change and a crash. Then it will be the final 20 kilometers and I will wonder what would happen if I simply pee in the team car, and please could just ride faster to the finish? Please?
Life lesson: Never drink gas station coffee before riding in the race caravan.
Stage 4: Santa Clarita
Go directly to Peets. That’s all I can do for you here. After yesterday’s disastrous sojourn in Palmdale, Peets will taste like a revelation. Sit down a while. Savor it. Eat a muffin. Be happy. And should your morale be weakening, remember that the espresso only gets better from here, because we are fast approaching the magic line.
Stage 5: Santa Barbara
Jump out of the car and do a happy dance right there at the city limits sign. Because you have now crossed the magic line. There are not one, but two excellent espresso options in Santa Barbara.
Obviously, you’re a bike person. You are following a stage race the length of California. You like bikes. And you like the people who ride them. Wake up in Santa Barbara and go directly to Handlebar Coffee. The shop is owned by ex-pro cyclists Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson. They roast their own beans. They pull excellent espresso shots. They have the passion. Get there early, grab a seat, drink good coffee, watch the other bike-loving people drinking their coffees. Life is so good.
Handlebar is a small shop, and if you don’t get there early, you may find a line out the door. But don’t be sad. Though you will not get to have your espresso pulled by an ex-pro cyclist, it’s going to be okay. You have options! Santa Barbara is not a one-La Marzocco town.
Shut out at Handlebar? Head to the French Press. They have two locations, you’ll want the one on Anacapa street. It has parking. And more tables. And a patio. Order a double espresso. They pull ristretto, which is the only way. Then, order another one. Because you are not going to follow the bike race on just one espresso. That is not normal.
Stage 6: San Jose
You know how when you get so close to something really awesome, you have to do anything to get there? When you get to San Jose, you will be very close to something really awesome. That’s right, you’re in Verve country.
But you’re going to have to dig deep. The time trial stage starts at 12:45. You have to wake up early at your Super 8, get in your car, and drive to Santa Cruz. But it’s far, you will be saying. And the highway to get there is annoying and bendy. But you are going to do it. You are strong! You are determined!
You are going to Verve coffee in Santa Cruz. Go to the one on Pacific in Santa Cruz’s downtown. Have I led you astray yet? Of course I haven’t. So trust me. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this.
Order a double espresso. The strawberry scones are also a good bet. They have sugar on top, and who doesn’t like sugar? While you wait, check out the customized La Marzocco that looks like something out of a Jetson’s cartoon if the Jetsons could imagine the espresso machine in a hipster coffee joint in downtown Santa Cruz.
The barista behind the counter will hand over your espresso and a glass of mineral water with bubbles. Sit down and savor the sweet ambrosia of a perfectly roasted and pulled double. Because you drove all that way, definitely have another. And maybe, still another. With espresso like this, there is no too many. Just don’t ask for it in a paper cup.
While you are getting your face melted off at Verve, I will be running to the nearest Starbucks. Even the most well-oiled media machines begin to run a little ragged by stage 6. We will be running late. It’s pretty much guaranteed.
I will grab my two doubles in paper cups, and slam the first one as a run to the van. I probably won’t even taste it, but that’s not really the point. It’s an espresso in a paper cup. It’s not going to be a thing I want to taste. I usually get one of those cranberry scones, too. I’m not sure about the jelly stuff inside, but the icing on top is workable.
Sugar and espresso: These are the essentials of life. I slam the other double in the van as we drive to the start. It’s not all that warm anymore, but I’m not about to complain. We make it on time, just barely.
(Ed. Note: While we wholeheartedly recommend the trip over to Verve—it’s more than worth it—Barefoot Roasters is another solid option, and a bit closer to the start of the stage)
Stage 7: Livermore
It’s a big mountain stage today, and you’re going to need to coffee up. The start line is on 1st Street, and by a nice coincidence, there is a coffee shop also on 1st Street. It was meant to be. Head over to Panama Red Coffee Co. Order an espresso, drink it, go to the bike race. Really, do I have to explain everything?
If you’re feeling corporate, there is also a Peets on South Livermore Avenue. It’s reliable and predictable. But there is nothing punk rock about reliable and predictable.
Stage 8: San Francisco
The San Francisco stage starts at 8:30 am. But that’s okay, you didn’t want to sleep anyway. You can sleep when you’re dead.
Your destination today is Caffe Trieste in North Beach. There are other locations, but you want the original, opened in 1956 in North Beach.
During the 1950‘s, Caffe Trieste was a hang spot for Beat poets such as Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. You have read “On the Road”, right? If you haven’t and you’re over 25, it’s probably too late.
Papa Gianni Giotta came to the United States from Trieste, and brought his espresso with him. There are chairs on the sidewalk out front and old photos on the wall. It sounds and tastes like Italy. No pourovers, no hipsters, just classic Italian-style espresso.
Pretend for a moment you’re at the Giro d’Italia. Then, drink up, and head to the bike race.
Stage 8: Santa Rosa
You woke up early to head to North Beach to visit the Italians. You drank the perfect espresso, and soaked up the old-school Italian vibe, and you still made it to the race start in time. Then, you followed the bike race. After all that, you’re feeling a little tired. You need more coffee.
For recommendations, I turned to [now] local boy, Peter Stetina. If you just need a good espresso, the Flying Goat is your destination. But you’re going to want to hang with your friends and banter about the day’s race, right? Of course you are.
Pete says: “For post-ride stop, I gotta go with the Village Bakery in Santa Rosa. You can sit in the sun with good local cafe and they make the best bread in town that’s sold in every local grocer, along with amazing pastries. They also have great sandos on their famous bread.”
Coffee, a patio, good friends, bike race talk, and sandos on home-made bread. You must go there. For this is the perfect life.