We've been waiting on Contraband Coffeebar so long it was starting to feel like Christmas. And in fact, after finally resolving permitting issues, the Larkin Street café opened its doors on Christmas Eve. It was an early present to the neighborhood. Despite being a longstanding bustling retail corridor, Polk Gulch has never had a destination coffee spot. Hell, there hasn't even been a relatively good coffee shop in the area. But Contraband changes that. It serves great coffees in a pleasant setting. In short, it was worth the wait.
The cafe has a gleaming interior with lots of clean lines and white walls, and ample seating. I liked how many of the seats were arranged in a shared fashion that discourages laptop campers from taking up an entire table. Seats at the bar, along the window, and at a large shared table in the middle of the cafe should ensure nobody will have to stand with a drink while another customer takes up a table and two chairs while surfing the Internet. But of course the setting just serves the service, which was great.
The Synesso Hydra espresso machine on the front counter is both gorgeous, and a great way for San Franciscans to check out a new pressure profiling system that isn't a Slayer (pressure profiling allows baristas to use different pressures to suit a particular roast). Contraband was also serving pour-over from V60s, and I spied a Chemex on the shelf outfitted with a Coava Kone, the first Kone I've seen in a café in the wild in San Francisco.
And not only do they have a great setup, Contraband even roasts its own beans. On my visit, there were four coffees to choose from, two Latin Americans, one Yirgacheffe from from Ethipoia, and an Indonesian from Bali. All can be ordered as pour-over drip coffees, or as espresso drinks.
I ordered the Balinese two ways, as an espresso and also served as a pour-over drip. The espresso was perfectly prepared, and was deliciously tangy and fruity. My only complaint was that it was served in a shot glass. (I'd prefer a demitasse.) But both the espresso and coffee were well-roasted and prepared, with lots of stone fruit flavors, and were overall quite delightful. So, too was owner Josh Magnani, who was enthusiastic about finally surmounting permitting issues to open and talking the cafés range of coffees
If you want to check out Contraband's range of coffees, they offer tastings on Saturdays at 2:30. That's also when they break out the Kone, which isn't normally used for regular drink service. In short it's worth a trip, and if you're a coffee geek who lives in the neighborhood, this should be your new regular spot.