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Joshua Tree Coffee Company is a java oasis in the desert. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Joshua Tree Coffee Company is a java oasis in the desert. Photo by Ryan Woldt
ColumnsFood & WineRoast! San Diego

Joshua Tree Coffee Company

Where: Joshua Tree Coffee Company, 61738 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree CA 92252
Open: Tuesday-Thurs 7-3 p.m., Friday-Monday 7-5 p.m.
What: Batch Brew black drip Bali Kintamani (Single Origin)
Roast: Light
Price: $3.25
What I’m listening to: DOPE LEMON, “Coyote”

Last week, I sojourned to the desert — Ryan Campground in Joshua Tree, to be precise. It’s an adventure common among San Diegans looking to escape. Escape what, besides the wi-fi signal, I’m not sure. That’s why I was going. No internet. I packed the car with the essentials — books, camera, sleeping bag, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, whiskey, and really good coffee.

I rarely sleep well the first night at any camp, especially in the desert. I crawled into my sleeping bag. For once, I remembered my pillow, and the fall temperatures dropped down into the high 40s making for the perfect cozy temps in the back of the Ruka (Ruka is the name of my Wife’s Subaru).

I shifted around, trying to twist and contort so that none of the various back seat apparatus ended up jamming into the square of my back.

A view of the Joshua trees at Ryan Campground. Photo by Ryan Woldt
A view of the Joshua trees at Ryan Campground. Photo by Ryan Woldt

I lay there looking at the stars through the car’s moonroof. The desert sky is big and wide. Even when camping alone, I point out the constellations I know as if I’m teaching a child. Then I explore the sky for shapes that look familiar and drag the dregs of my brain for long-lost astronomy class knowledge.*

Then as the darkness settled, the desert amplified every noise. Carabiners tink-tink-tinked as my neighbor campers returned from a night climb, their laughter amplified off the boulder walls. Gravel crunched as campers headed for the bathroom. Wind surfed the ridges before dropping in and whistling through the Joshua Trees in the valley.

Rodents skittered below, and long after darkness fell completely, a pack of coyotes howled at the rising moon—or more likely a poor rabbit they were chasing — with such ferocity I couldn’t help sitting up against the back of the passenger seat to listen.

What's in your campfire coffee kit? Photo by Ryan Woldt
What’s in your campfire coffee kit? Photo by Ryan Woldt

All of this is a long-winded way of saying there are many reasons I don’t sleep well in the desert, and when I awake to the purple and red sky not long after dawn, I really want coffee. This week I had two options, both of which I pursued. They are as follows. 

Morning one, I crawled out of my warm and comfortable bag, popped the hatch, and dropped to the ground. I heated up water on our propane camp stove, hand-ground roasted coffee beans from Steady State Roasting — tasting notes include chocolate, caramel, and plum — and brewed a single cup on an Aeropress coffee brewer. 

The Aeropress is a plastic contraption containing a tube with a paper filter and a grate at one end that holds the coffee and then another slightly narrower tube with a rubber stopper that is pressed down in the first tube. The pressure forces the water through the filter into the coffee cup. Fun fact, the inventor of the Aeropress also invented the flying disc with the hole in the middle that we toss around at the beach.

The coffee I brewed in the Aeropress was rich and creamy. The chocolate and caramel flavors enhanced the joy I felt as I settled back into a lounge chair to watch the morning light grow white and the sky turn blue until the warmth of the sun’s rays started peaking over Ryan Mountain onto the campground.

Brew with a view. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Brew with a view. Photo by Ryan Woldt

Morning two, I got out of the back of the car through the hatch only to get right back into the driver seat. I fired up the engine, adjusted the radio to an indie rock station, and pulled out of the campground, off the gravel, and back onto the blacktop headed for town. I passed the Hall of Horrors and Hemingway and Quail Springs on my way to the West Entrance.**

Out of the park, I passed desert homes remodeled and painted for AirBnB, and my phone began to ping with unseen texts and e-mails and notifications. At the intersection with the Old West-themed bar, I turned right.

The building that houses Joshua Tree Coffee Company isn’t open to the public. To get to the coffee, you pass down an outdoor hallway into an open courtyard painted teal. A tree splits the walkway, forcing you to choose left or right. You’ll likely see other guests waiting even if you get there early.

Around the back of the building is a pop-up tent where a cashier takes your order — mine was a single-origin black drip from Bali — and punches it into a handheld terminal. 

You’ll pay and wait momentarily until a barista pops out from a doorway shouting your name.

Joshua Tree Coffee Company's outdoor kiosk. Photo by Ryan Woldt
Joshua Tree Coffee Company’s outdoor kiosk. Photo by Ryan Woldt

I brought my own mug, but they didn’t use it, which was a bummer. I assume it was a policy instituted during the pandemic, and I won’t fault anyone for their efforts at Covid-safety. My coffee came in a pink cup with the blue silhouette of a Joshua Tree adorning the side.

There is a large seating patio with picnic tables down a set of stairs behind the building. Sporadic bench seating is closer to the order station, but sitting here in the courtyard is not why I’m here in the desert.

I got back in the car and returned the way I came, towards the wide-open Joshua Tree sky free of social media and wi-fi and e-mails. I waved my National Parks annual pass at a smiling Park Ranger and reentered the park. I followed the curves past oversized boulders and fields of Joshua Trees. I turned onto the satellite road at Cap Rock. A few miles on, the road began to climb, and I followed a long sweeping curve to the end of the blacktop.

I dumped my Joshua Tree coffee into my own mug, wandered up a short path, and looked out over the valley below. The sun was fully up now, the air crisp and clear, and the scale of the view tremendous. Far to my left, I could see the glint off the surface of the Salton Sea. To the right, mountain peaks puncture the sky at more than 10,000 feet of elevation. 

The coffee keeps my hand warm, and I can’t help but sigh into the Coachella Valley after taking my first sip. Down below, the San Andreas crack in the Earth runs east to west. It is a powerful visual reminder that I should not take the calm of the morning for granted.

I take another sip of my coffee. I lean my knees against the rock wall and let my body rest. I close my eyes. The wind begins to pick up speed, whistling past me, headed for the Joshua Trees in the valley far behind me.

*Last week, I bought a deck of Night Sky playing cards from the Joshua Tree Park HQ. They show the constellations and the season they are best viewed. I was thrilled to know the shape I thought was something was, in fact, Perseus, the slayer of Medusa.

**Those are rock formations off the main road through the park.

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