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When Andrew Barnett talks about coffee, he talks about the stuff of his dreams. He's an espresso lover of Olympic proportions, and he's been a fixture in the coffee scene for decades. His new project, Linea Caffe, opened last week in the Mission, a partnership with Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese fame.
Barnett is known most recently as the founder of Ecco Caffe, which he sold to Intelligentsia in 2009. Myint, of course, comes with a sparkling pedigree, having founded Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and more recently having been named to Chow.com's list of the 13 most influential people in the food world. That's a lot of expertise to cram into 300 square feet. And on the corner of San Carlos and Mission streets, that's all they've got.
Linea is uncommon in a few ways. First, Barnett is considered a champion of Brazilian coffee, an origin with an unsteady reputation known more for commodity coffee than specialty grade stuff. He's been back to the country 15 times in the last 11 years, in part to judge the country's national coffee competition, the Cup of Excellence. He says that Brazilian coffee harbors the flavor profile of his dreams.
"When it's good, it's incredibly sweet, clean, and balanced coffee. It's where California wine was in 1976, right when people changed their thinking about it being a commodity product," says Barnett.
At Ecco, Barnett was known for plucking unusual and spectacular coffees out of Brazil. At Linea, he'll be doing it again. And he's assembled an arsenal of coffee doyens to help bring it to the people. Ant Walach, formerly of Sightglass Coffee, will be heading up roasting. Behind the bar will be Tom Baker, veteran barista with a long, expansive history working in the Bay Area's best shops, alongside Rita Kaminsky, who managed Albina Press in Portland and worked with pioneering coffee farmer Aida Batlle in El Salvador, as well as Stumptown alum, Hector Coronado. Basically, it's a team of coffee superheroes. And they're only doing espresso. Why? Simplicity, says Barnett. The team is small and bandwidth to travel is limited, so they're starting small.
"It's an incubator, one idea for coffee. Just like a barbecue place that's not doing fried chicken, or roasted meats, we're focusing on one preparation to do it spectacularly well. That's our mission, so we're keeping the menu small," says Barnett.
Still, Barnett will be bringing in coffees from other places like Central America, and bags of beans will be on sale in the café. On the food side, Myint has wrangled together a program of salads and waffles to go with the coffee. In true Myint form, there will be a substantial charitable component to the food, wherein a portion of sales goes to 350.org.
In a word, Barnett is out to show that world-class coffee doesn't need a showroom. His favorite food comes from holes in the wall, and, despite his kingly status as a coffee nerd, he believes humility and kindness behind the counter are enormously impactful. He compares buying coffee to buying bread at Tartine:
"I go in, and someone is nice to me. No one is telling me about the bread's sugar content, how many times it was kneaded, the elevation the wheat was grown. I just get nice service and a stupendous product. We want to create something like that, friendly and efficient. We want to be approachable."