Now that Giulietta Carrelli’s Trouble Coffee is gone, there’s one fewer place to get a 16-ounce coffee on Judah Street in the Outer Sunset. One also can’t get a grande-sized drink at Andytown Coffee, where sizes top at 12 ounces, nor at Blackbird Book Store + Cafe, which brews Four Barrel beans. Taking stock of the overall lack of availability, it’s easy to get the impression no Bay Area specialty coffee shops sell 16-ounce coffees — which is weird, given that 16 ounces constitutes a grande-sized drink, or a medium for those who don’t speak Starbucks. As the name, “medium,” might indicate, a 16-ounce coffee is about as common a coffee order as they come — something you’d expect to be able to order just about anywhere. But in San Francisco’s fancy coffee shops, that’s simply not the case.
There are a few places to get 16 ounces of the black stuff out near the beach. Java Beach and Beach’n both sell 16-ounce coffees, brewed with Buffy Maguire’s Lady Falcon Coffee beans. Maguire’s indifferent about whether or not the 16-ounce size appears on menus; she feels the preference for smaller cups is leftover from a prescriptive era of specialty coffee in the 2000s and 2010s when businesses including Bay Area-grown Blue Bottle and Ritual went from shops to nationally recognized names. “It was part of an era full of rules,” Maguire tells Eater SF in a text. “Some were informative. Others were silly.”
Throughout the Bay Area, offerings, of course, run the gamut. But the fact remains: many upscale coffee purveyors not only do not sell 16-ounce coffees — they reject the idea of ever doing so despite these trying times and the simple fact that a larger option would undoubtedly satisfy caffeine-deprived customers.
Some folks say that at its best the 12-ounce-only regime creates uniformity in an industry where discerning customers want the best flat white possible. Ana Valle of Abanico Coffee Roasters sells nothing larger than a 12-ounce cup, and the El Salvadoran roaster and shop owner says it’s because the coffee-to-milk ratio gets out of whack in anything bigger. Her espressos pull at about two ounces, and 10 ounces of milk provides the flavor and body she and her customers prefer. Bryan Overstreet of Coffee Movement takes a similar approach. He says specialty coffee is like wine, which makes a 16-ounce coffee akin to boxed wine. If specialty coffee is about appreciating origin and craft, he feels a big, watery cup dilutes that experience both literally and philosophically. “I love a Big Gulp, don’t get me wrong,” Overstreet says. “Just not for my coffee.”
The quality argument is legitimate, but it’s not black and white. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the owner of coffee importing company Port of Mokha, doesn’t see any reason why shops shouldn’t sell larger cups. He points to Equator Coffee as an example of a specialty shop that sells 16 ounces, and he says a friend who worked at the business sold a ton in that size. “People in SF do sell it,” Alkhanshali acknowledges. “I would also argue it’s a big money maker.” That said, he doesn’t opt for that order as a customer. Like Valle, the Monk of Mokha says a latte ought to be made with less milk than is required to fill a 16-ounce cup. “So, to me, the latte tastes more like warm milk,” Alkhanshali says. “But some people like that. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
In Oakland, green coffee-buyer Royal Coffee operates the Crown, a shop where 16-ounce coffees are en vogue. Creative director Evan Gilman is a fan of the grande size and says the 16-ounce coffee is only a rarity in San Francisco due to a boom in hand-made coffee about 15 years ago, around the same time pour-over coffee went supernova. “It’s like the slow food movement,” Gilman says. “Form follows function. If we’re going to demand 16-ounce coffees, shops would move toward batch brew. If we want connoisseurship, we want pour-over and smaller brew devices.” Relevantly, Blue Bottle, which was a leader in the manual coffee boom, began selling 16-ounce coffees somewhere along the line — presumably, since the company wanted to, you know, make money. At a certain scale, it’s smarter to make a batch of coffee, which expresses a coffee’s flavor and body in a different way than a manual pour or by an espresso machine. That said, with machines like the Ground Control and Starbucks-backed Clover Vertica, businesses can produce more coffee with tighter accuracy. “You’re not necessarily compromising quality with batch brew,” Gilman says. “But you’re compromising the perception of quality.”
So, even though a grande Pike’s Place might be one of the most popular coffee orders in America, specialty coffee shops seem set in their ways, arguing bigger cups correlate to lower quality. And that perception of quality is tough to shake. As an example, look to Trouble Coffee’s founder, a former coffee shop owner who once sold those punk rock grande-sized black coffees — but maintains a striking sense of what is and isn’t legit. “That question makes no sense to me,” Carrelli says of why more shops don’t sell a grande option. “Who needs 16 ounces of anything besides water?”