Who’s Pouring The Finest Coffee In Wine Country?
By Marcy Gordon
Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent
Highway 116 in Sonoma County is known as the Gravenstein Highway, named after a local apple, but it could easily be renamed the Caffeine Causeway, as some of the best must-stop coffee shops for the coffee connoisseur are set along this scenic ribbon of road.
For 17 years, Hardcore Espresso has reigned supreme over the crossroads of caffeine and eccentricity. Much like the cantina in Star Wars or an outpost at Burning Man, Hardcore Espresso attracts beings from all sectors of the galaxy seeking great coffee and a high-octane atmosphere. The hodgepodge of seating and its disheveled appearance are part of the appeal. If you don’t strike up a conversation with someone interesting here, you’re either an extreme introvert or you need more coffee. Featuring organic Kalani beans roasted in Seattle, Hardcore fills cups and expands minds from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. But visit soon — word on the street is the building eventually will be renovated, and all that cosmic charm may go with it.
Don’t let the low-key location deter you from this tiny spot of caffeine bliss. Wedged between a dry cleaner and a Laundromat, Ninja Star makes each brew with care and will leave you feeling like you’ve achieved a black belt in coffee culture. Beans are roasted locally in an antique roaster, and owner Doug Lasher conducts weekly cuppings to determine which brews and beans will make the cut. All baked goods are locally prepared.
Forestville and Sebastopol
Sunshine Organic Coffee Roasters has two cafés located on the Caffeine Causeway, and its own roasting facility in Forestville. The Sebastopol location is found along the Joe Rodota bike trail in front of Andy’s Market, making it a convenient spot to get re-caffeinated before picking up afternoon picnic supplies in the market. Arrive on a bike and get a 50-cent discount on coffee drinks. Ambitious bicyclists can ride from the Sebastopol location to the second Sunshine Roasters location at the opposite end of the bike trail in Forestville.
Healdsburg and Santa Rosa
With outlets in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, The Goat (as the locals call it) serves an array of espresso drinks along with pre-packaged beans and blends. The sleek clean-lined cafes showcase local artwork and attract an artistic clientele to match.
The Basque Boulangerie Café on the square in Sonoma serves as the inner sanctum for locals who tend to gather there between 6 and 9 a.m. More than a coffee shop, The Basque is primarily a boulangerie with a variety of pies, pastries and French breads baked daily. It also serves soups, salads and sandwiches, making The Basque a round-the-clock spot for visitors seeking a casual bistro with great food and local color.