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Acento Coffee Roasters in San Diego
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Acento Coffee Roasters

Where: Acento Coffee Roasters, 5334 Banks St, San Diego, CA 92110
Open: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Closed Sundays for surfing.
What: Freddo – A latte topped with Nibble Chocolate sprinkles, and is that a hint of cinnamon?
Price: $3.50
Tasting Notes: Delicious
What I’m listening to: The Beastie Boys, “The Sounds of Science.”

It’s summer. It’s hot, and you want to get out of town, travel, and see the world, but gas prices are high, the market is down, and getting a reservation is a nightmare. Might I suggest a coffee staycation that keeps you close to home but gets you off the beaten path? Check out Acento Coffee Roasters in San Diego’s Morena District.

You know Morena District — a small industrial neighborhood on the left of the highway when you’re headed to a Padres game or Tijuana.

C’mon, you know it. Past the dance studio with the Learn to Waltz! banner. You see the red and black concrete block building that sells thousands of different lightbulbs! That’s Bay Park. From North County, head south on Interstate 5. Take the SeaWorld exit but turn the other way.

Acento Coffee Roasters is an espresso coffee bar, which means everything from black coffee to mocha lattes run through the espresso machine. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Acento Coffee Roasters is an espresso coffee bar, which means everything from black coffee to mocha lattes run through the espresso machine. Photo by Ryan Woldt

Then follow the Morena Blvd frontage road past the bend into an industrial area. Take a right on Sherman, a left on Banks, and voila! You’re there—kind of. You still need to park. Street parking is limited but down at the end of the block is a big, empty gravel space. It isn’t a parking lot exactly, but if there isn’t anything available on the street, it is fair game. Walk back to the entrance of Acento Coffee Roasters.

Now you’re there.

Through the big door is a lovely space split into two parts. To the right is the coffee roasting operation with the big Diederich roaster. Most days, you’ll find someone roasting here. Acento’s beans get roasted after hours, but other local roasters rent time on the machine. There is bench seating with little round tables where you can sit and watch the roasters work from up close.

When I arrive, Luis Sanchez, the owner/operator, gives me a warm hello from behind a sky-blue La Marzocco espresso machine at the coffee bar to the left. Even with his mask up, I can tell he is smiling. The espresso machine is in constant use.

Acento is an espresso coffee bar, meaning even black coffee orders are made by pulling espresso and adding hot water to make an Americano. Luis is from Mexico but became passionate about coffee in Australia and has traveled extensively worldwide. Little touches of that worldly influence can be found throughout Acento.

A big Diederich roaster is located to the right after entering Acento Coffee Roasters. Photo by Ryan Woldt
A big Diederich roaster is located to the right after entering Acento Coffee Roasters. Photo by Ryan Woldt

The space is segregated by a decorative built-in shelf wall with books and indoor plants, adding atmosphere and life to an already lively area. The back wall attaches the roastery to Made Lumber, a lumber distribution and fine furniture store, and as such, the coffee bar was built with live edge wood slabs. The bar seating, walls, and even decorative art showcase the beauty of the wood on offer next door.

Leaning up in the corner is a surfboard for sale from Imperfect Surfboards located nearby. Surfing is integral to Luis’ identity. The shop is closed on Sundays because “Sundays are for surfing.”

I order a mocha latte. It isn’t my usual order, but Luis sprinkles fine-ground Nibble Chocolate over the top, and I’m a sucker for good chocolate.* My drink is a revelation, and I say that as someone who almost exclusively drinks black coffee straight. The latte goes down fast—too fast.

Acento Coffee Roasters in San Diego. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Acento Coffee Roasters in San Diego. Photo by Ryan Woldt

I order an Americano to follow it up. I let Luis choose the coffee for me. The espresso is a roast from Chiapas, Mexico, with marzipan, fig, and milk chocolate flavor notes. I have to Google marzipan. I learn it “is a confection consisting primarily of sugar, honey, and almond meal.” Luis’ flavor notes are dead on, and as my coffee cools, I can taste all those flavors spreading sweetly through my mouth.

As I sip, I Google “confection” and crave a donut. On the weekends, Acento serves pastries from local favorites Split Bakehouse and Spro N’ Dough vegan donuts.

I take my coffee over to the roasting side of the room. A tattooed gent in a backward Thrasher cap reaches up high to yank on a handle, and roasted coffee beans drop from the drum onto a cooling bed where a rotating arm methodically spins round and round, creating a white noise like coffee ASMR (Auto sensory meridian response).

The roaster consults a complicated-looking graph on his computer and adjusts the machine. Watching the roasting in action is mesmerizing and seems to be a calibration between the technical and manufacturing skills of the roaster.

Customers stop by in a steady stream. I wonder how they found this place. Do they work or go to school nearby? Did they search for local coffee roasters? Luis seems to know everyone who walks through the door by name, and I’d guess that one-time visitors become regulars quickly. I know I will, even if it means traveling a little bit off the beaten path.

*Pro-tip: Try the Freddo, an Acento house specialty. Luis pulls a shot of espresso, adds local honey, stirs, pours over ice, shakes it all up, and then pours into an 8oz glass.

The Bean Journal is a new column by Ryan Woldt, host of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast, which can be streamed at: TheCoastNews.com. Look for features on North County coffee shops, cafes, and coffee roasters.

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