Since starting the Oakland-based Scarlet City Coffee Roasting in 2009, Jen St. Hilaire has won plaudits for her science fiction-inspired blends, like Warp Drive.
“I do medium or Northern Italian style, where the coffee is roasted to the point where all sugars are fully developed inside the bean and not extracted to the surface,” she says of her preferred roasting method. “If you don’t roast [the beans] to where the sugars are caramelized, your cup will be overly bright and taste like a sour fruit, and it won’t have the sort of depth and nuance.”
Since ’09, East Bay fans have had to seek out the beans and make their own espresso, but not any longer. Scarlet City Espresso Bar had its soft opening on Saturday and is open for business.
[jump] A venture of Trekkies St. Hilare and business partner Susanna Handow, the bar is near Adeline and 40th, near Emeryville’s shopping hubs. The partners emphasize that Scarlet City is not just another café where people plug in their laptops and get their work done.
“The concept is to continue the Northern Italian tradition where you stand at the counter with other patrons having their espresso and chat,” says Handow, “where getting your coffee is more of a social experience than an isolating one, where you’re having an interaction with the people who work there and other regulars.”
The espresso bar is sleek and industrial looking, with lots of grey and red, with two sci-fi themed pinball machines. In addition to espresso drinks, there are pastries and tea (“Earl Grey, hot,” says the menu, in deference to how Jean Luc Picard takes his favorite beverage).
The cafe is not a mere novelty though; it takes its philosophy seriously. “Scarlet City embodies our ideals about the way we’d like to see the world. For example as a place that uses sustainable energy,” says Handow. “Scarlet City is a fantasy city in a future post-apocalyptic world where people come up with solutions.”
A planned phase two will eventually include beer and readings by sci-fi authors in the evenings.
“Many cafes can have this pretentious vibe even if they don’t mean to,” says St. Hilaire. “Sometimes customers can feel coffee is this pretentious and elitist thing, and they’re not part of the club.”
Added Handow, “We see humor as a way to invite people in and break the ice. If they know we think we’re ridiculous, they can come in and check it out and feel comfortable. They don’t need a passport, they only need a sense of adventure.”