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What’s Brewing in Silicon Valley?
Text / video: Tiffany Gerami and Kristi Myllenbeck

Click here for a special interactive by Doug Rider!

San José and the greater Silicon Valley are well known for technological advancements and social media. But behind the late-night coding sessions and business meetings is yet another rising star.

No, it has nothing todo with computers or smartphones. Coffee is what fuels the great minds of the Valley, and the culture is just getting started.

At the forefront of this movement are several coffee shops and roasting companies such as Chromatic Coffee Co., Barefoot Coffee Roasters, Roy’s Station and B2 Coffee. According to coffee roasting enthusiast and co-founder of Chromatic Coffee Co. Hiver van Geenhoven, San José’s coffee culture is on the rise.

“For me, it is more of what coffee has become in the past couple of decades where people are regarding coffee more as a specialty product,” van Geenhoven said. “What I’m seeing now is a way to enjoy something completely for what it is, gaining a little knowledge of it and being able to feel a sense of connectedness with this beverage that was consumed for hundreds of years.”

This blossoming niche industry is making its way into people’s daily routine with new techniques of brewing and means of crafting coffee beverages. Although San José coffee enthusiasts give a nod to other cities that have thriving coffee cultures such as San Francisco and Portland, there are others like Otessa Crandell, manager of Chromatic Coffee Co., who argue that the Silicon Valley’s coffee culture is unique in its personality and expression.

“They don’t do it for a paycheck, they don’t do it because it’s cool,” Crandell said. “They do it because they love making coffee and they love sharing that experience withsomeone else.”

Many coffee enthusiasts recognize big coffee shops such as Starbucks and Peet’s for perpetuating coffee culture. However, there are those like Dominic Gullo, barista at Caffé Frascati, who think that small local coffee shops care not only about the coffee but also employees and their passion.

Although detractors critique independent coffee shop culture for being “pretentious and hipster,” Gullo said, the baristas at such cafés work hard to learn their craft and offer their customers a piece of art in each cup of coffee.

Small coffee shops have the opportunity to prove their uniqueness instead of pressing a button and having the exact same coffee spew out every time. According to Henry Springall, descendant of the owner of Caffé Frascati, people can have a different coffee experience no matter where they go.

“Each barista makes a drink a little bit differently … Consistency is good,but freedom to do your own thing is good too,” Springall said. “In the end it’s about having fun with it and expressing yourself.”

According to Crandell, San José coffee culture is all about the experience and having fun while meeting others who are just as passionate.

“I feel like coffee culture is growing exponentially in the South Bay. It is a really exciting time to be a part of all of it,” Crandell said. “It’s really cool to see it (the coffee culture community) start to be on a level that’s recognizable.”

The atmosphere buzzes with the sounds of espresso machines and caffeine-charged conversations, giving rise to an ongoing “Latte Art Throwdown” series. Baristas and espresso enthusiasts have a chance to compete for $160 and bragging rights for having the best latte art in San José.

In the competition, the baristas go head-to-head, until there are only two left. From this pair, the champion emerges. James May Lee, a barista at Chromatic Coffee Co. in Santa Clara, won the Sept. 9 throwdown.

“I feel like (San José) is pretty fun — it’s youthful,” Lee said. “It’s just getting started.”

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