Saturday, July 11, 2020

Taste Test: Best “Signature” Coffee in Coronado

An unofficial taste test of Coronado coffee creations from ten different purveyors. Opinions are those of the author. Tasting details and overall favorite is revealed. One thing is clear - there's definitely no shortage of good coffee options in town.

Unsplash Image by Cyril Saulnier

We love our coffee in Coronado. In fact, our tiny little beach town (7.93 square miles) has over 15 coffee spots dedicated to brewing and crafting these deliciously caffeinated beverages for locals and visitors.

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With National Coffee Day (September 29th) kicking off the week, I embarked on a mission to discover the perfect concoction of roasted espresso beans with a barista’s blend of creativity to find which cup would be “crowned” Coronado’s best signature coffee creation.

And since it is the fall season, I only tested hot beverages for this assignment.

In a single day, I traveled along the streets of Orange Ave and the Strand tasting every single brew from the top ten cafes–and I haven’t slept for 3 days!

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(Just Kidding! I completed this taste tour over the course of a few weeks.)

Unsplash Image by Nick Hillier

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To narrow down the search, a business needed to have the following criteria: be locally owned or connected to Coronado (sorry, Starbucks and Panera), accessible to civilian patrons, widely known as a frequent coffee stop, and most importantly, have a “signature” coffee beverage that sets them apart from other vendors.

Aware this caffeinated quest is subjective to my own taste buds, I also took into account price, visual aesthetics, service time, temperature, and the harmony & artistry of blended ingredients.

While many of these drinks can be prepared with various milks (oat, soy, almond, skim), I opted to have each one created with its original ingredients. I also asked each vendor which blend was either a signature or most popular drink order.

Here is the list in order of tasting experiences:

The Henry

The Wildflower at The Henry

The Wildflower: espresso, vanilla, splash of chai, steamed milk

The Experience: The first sip had tangy, very sweet hints in it. The chai wasn’t overpowering at first, but it won the battle against the espresso. This beverage had a smooth, complex quality with a spiciness that became more pronounced with each drink. And the vanilla notes were hard to define. At the last drop, you could finally taste the “wildflower” in the honey at the bottom of the cup.

Price: $5.00
Service time: under 5 minutes
Temperature: warm

Cafe 1134

Mexican Mocha at Cafe 1134

Mexican Mocha: Italian espresso, unrefined chocolate with spices (cayenne), steamed milk, whipped cream, cocoa powder

The Experience: Chocolate and Coffee–my two favorite things! Smooth, rich, dark chocolate flavor with the tiniest hint of spices that hit the back of the throat at first sip. The very subtle espresso flavor seems to enrich the chocolate in the beginning. Halfway through, the unrefined chocolate really takes center stage and the beverage takes on a campfire hot cocoa quality. Very rich, but not overly sweet in the sugary sense.

Price: $4.25, small cup
Service time: under 5 minutes
Temperature: good mixture of warm-hot

Clayton’s Bakery & Bistro 

Honey Lavender Latte at Clayton’s Bakery & Bistro

Honey Lavender Latte: Local Cafe Moto espresso, French lavender-infused syrup, Oregon organic honey, steamed organic milk

The Experience: Flower Coffee, you say!? Surely, you jest! Surprisingly, the lavender is very subtle and the espresso shines through in the beginning. The foam and steamed milk had a creamy quality with a delicate sweetness that lasted awhile. The lavender grows stronger as you sip, like a flower opening up the the sun, but the palette has already grown use to the floral impression. At the very last drop, you can taste the honey drizzle.

Price: $4.50
Service time: 10 minutes
Temperature: perfect balance of warm-hot


House-made Pumpkin Spice Latte at Tartine

House-made Pumpkin Spice Latte (seasonal): Local Cafe Moto espresso, house-made pumpkin blend (pumpkin puree, cream, cinnamon, sugar), vanilla, steamed milk, freshly whipped cream, cinnamon topping

The Experience: A far more enjoyable experience than any Starbucks PSL (and I love Starbucks PSL)! At first sip, a slightly creamy, airy foaminess with a heavenly taste of the whipped cream. This drink has a nutty espresso undertone with a subtle hint of real pumpkin flavor. As the drink goes down, more essence of autumn “falls” onto the palette because the spices and grounds have sunk to the bottom. Good harmony with the sugar and cinnamon balancing the pumpkin flavor.

Price: $5.45
Service time: under 5 minutes
Temperature: warm, bordering lukewarm

Coronado Coffee Company

Triple Nut Latte at Coronado Coffee Company

Triple Nut Latte: Blue Bridge Blend espresso (from local Westbend roasters), trio of hazelnut, almond, and macadamia syrups, steamed milk

The Experience: Velvety foam that lasted throughout caffeine session. Caramel, creamy, and intensely sugary first sips with little espresso trace. Halfway through, I thought I hinted hazelnut or almond, but the sugar in the syrup overpowered any suggestion of a nutty, earthen flavor usually associated with tree nuts. In the final few sips, the espresso seemed to try and break through.

Price: $4.25
Service time: 5 minutes
Temperature: quite hot

Villa Nueva Bakery

Mexicali Mocha at Villa Nueva Bakery

Mexicali Mocha: espresso, Mexican chocolate with spices, steamed milk

The Experience: The spices in this mocha brew were quite bold and toned down the chocolate flavoring, allowing for the espresso to slide in. The foam had a gritty, airy texture to it and the liquid retained a watery, rather than creamy finish. Remarkably unsweetened, the nutmeg and cinnamon in the Mexican chocolate provided a perfect kick to the last drop of this consistently airy beverage.

Price: $4.00
Service time: 5 minutes
Temperature: good mixture of warm-hot

Cafe Madrid

Vanilla Latte at Cafe Madrid

Vanilla Latte: Local Caffè Calabria espresso, steamed milk, vanilla, topped with freshly-made whipped cream

The Experience: A very “vanilla” experience–but in the best way! This delightfully smooth and creamy beverage displayed perfect balance at first sip. The slightly sweetened blend tasted like warm version of “lite” vanilla bean ice cream. Halfway through the experience, the temperature remained constantly perfect. At the end, the espresso bean leaves a lasting impression.

Price: $3.25, small cup
Service time: less than 5 minutes
Temperature: perfect mix of warm-hot

Clayton’s Coffee Shop

Honey Cinnamon Latte at Clayton’s Coffee Shop

Cinnamon Honey Latte: Local Cafe Moto espresso, honey, cinnamon, steamed milk

The Experience: If you’re a fan of cinnamon (which I am, I sprinkle it in my coffee every morning), this blended beverage is a cinnamon showstopper. The honey, drizzled at the bottom of the cup, diffuses nicely as you sip your way through. The server recommended a double espresso shot which allows for a more distinct coffee tasting experience. The espresso beans really stand out in this drink, but it could do with a slight temperature reduction.

Price: $4.50, double shot 
Service time: 8 minutes
Temperature: a bit on the hotter side

Amalo Brew Coffee

White Chocolate Mocha at Amalo Brew Coffee

White Chocolate Mocha: Local Cafe Virtuoso espresso, white chocolate powder, steamed 2% milk

The Experience: This rich and creamy beverage began with a light bit of foam that quickly melted into the cup. At first sip, a chalky texture and highly sweetened flavor were the first impressions. About halfway through, I started to taste hints of the white chocolate and rich espresso beans that reminded me of a creamy Haagen-Daas coffee ice cream. A better ending than beginning for this blended concoction.

Price: $4.50
Service time: 5 minutes
Temperature: on the hotter side

Calypso Cafe

Calypso Cappuccino at Calypso Cafe

Calypso Cappuccino: Lavazza espresso, Nutella, raw sugar, cinnamon, steamed creamer with an extra dollop of fresh foam

The Experience: This light and airy cappuccino creation allowed for the espresso overtones to radiate at first sip. The light sprinkle of raw sugar occasionally provided a little crunch in some tastes, but the cinnamon balanced the slight sweetness. The drizzle of Nutella added a perfect hint of chocolate and hazelnut without overwhelming the espresso and foam mixture. At last sip, the Nutella and raw sugar provide a dessert snapshot to a lovely coffee ending.

Price: $4.00
Service time: under 5 minutes
Temperature: good mixture of warm-hot

On this little endeavor, I discovered that our town is full of some amazing coffee creations with some vendors using locally roasted espresso beans. Many of the baristas or servers only added to this delightful experience, and it was a fierce competition between the various drinks that have elements I really enjoy–pumpkin, chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, vanilla.

Ultimately, the blended coffee “Crown of Coronado” goes to Clayton’s Bakery & Bistro for their Honey Lavender Latte. While I did wait the longest for this order, it was worth it. Not only was it visually stunning, but the masterful artistry in this eclectic blend of lavender and espresso balanced perfectly with its temperature. At $4.50 a cup, this oversized latte with locally roasted beans stood out against its competition.

I highly recommend readers do their own test. Let us know with a comment below or on social media which hot coffee beverage is your favorite!


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Andrea Kade
Andrea Kade
Coastal waters have always been home to Andrea, who grew up in Texas and resided in beach communities along the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. Always the explorer, Andrea enjoys California camping and stumbling across small towns in her travels with her spouse and three children who attend Village Elementary. Sometimes you can glimpse her admiring the architecture and distinctive plant life that makes Coronado extraordinary.She received her BA in English from Old Dominion University and her MA in English from San Diego State University where she taught for two years. In those rare moments of solitude, Andrea indulges in southern novels, far too much coffee, and biking off the beaten path. Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to:


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