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Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee roasts its own Maui-grown coffee beans to create a variety of blends. Photo via Facebook/Duke's Hawaiian Coffee
Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee roasts its own Maui-grown coffee beans to create a variety of blends. Photo via Facebook/Duke's Hawaiian Coffee
ColumnsFood & WineRoast! San Diego

Look, there’s a Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee inside!

Where: Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee and Deli
400 Craven Rd. San Marcos (Kaiser Permanente, Bldg. 3)
Open: Daily 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
What: Cappuccino with house premium blend (10% Maui Coffee Beans)
Tasting Notes: Hints of chocolate
Price: $3.50 for a 12oz cappuccino (small)
What I’m listening to: Willie Nelson, “I Don’t Go To Funerals”

Did you know that you can be sick, and it isn’t necessarily some variation of the coronavirus? It’s true. I know because I recently found myself getting a swab shoved up my nose at Kaiser Permanente for what ultimately was just your garden variety cold. Shocking but true.

The entire process took just a few seconds, and because I had thought I would get the less classy spit test, I had abstained from my normal cup of coffee. “Where’s the nearest coffee shop?” I asked the nurse who was packing my snot-covered swab into a bio-hazard bag.

“There’s a Duke’s right inside!” he replied. I followed his finger with my eyes down a pathway surrounded by greenery towards a set of sliding doors.

Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee and Deli is located in the hub of the hospital building. It’s a cute, impressively stocked cafe with a surf theme that serves coffee, smoothies, breakfast burritos, deli sandwiches, wraps, and so much more. The cafe itself isn’t much bigger than a street cart, and it is impressive that the menu is so expansive.

I walk up just after it opens at 7:00 a.m. and stand in line behind a burly construction worker getting breakfast before working on another wing of the building. An impressive-looking acai bowl goes out, making me wish I were hungry before I step to the counter and order a cappuccino from the barista.

Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee and Cafe is tucked in Kaiser Permanent (Bldg. 3) in San Marcos. Photo via Facebook/Duke's Hawaiian Coffee
Duke’s Hawaiian Coffee and Cafe is tucked away inside Kaiser Permanente (Bldg. 3) in San Marcos. Photo by Ryan Woldt

“Whose coffee beans are you brewing,” I ask, assuming it is one of the popular local wholesalers like Cafe Moto or Make Good Coffee Company.

“We roast our own!” she replies and slides my cup across the counter.*

I’ll be honest, that was a surprise. I took the cappuccino out the nearest door and sat down at a nearby patio table. The courtyard had plenty of seating in the form of benches and chairs. The sun was just peeking over the southeast edge of the building, burning away the cool early mist of a spring California morning.

“It’s the quiet before the storm,” I thought, recalling the growing line at the Covid testing station on the other side of the building.

Hawaii has a long history of growing coffee and has a reputation for putting out high-quality coffee. Duke’s features coffee grown on the island of Maui. Their best roasts are 100% Maui-grown, and their blends, like the one in my cappuccino, are 10% Maui-grown and blended with other beans from around the world.

Duke’s Hawaiian offers espresso drinks and drip coffee. Photo by Ryan Woldt

My cup has a traditional dark roast flavor rich with chocolate and “roasty” flavors. There is much too much micro-foam pushing up and out of the lid. The coffee is fine, but the espresso tastes a bit over-brewed. I wonder what Lono, the Hawaiian god associated with agriculture, would think about it. This coffee has potential, but the brew needs to be dialed in a bit more.

The caveat here is that this is a legitimate cafe in a medical facility. I think about how nice it would be to have this homey convenience on-site if I were visiting a family member or if I were an over-worked medical professional either coming on or exiting a shift. The weight of the last few years hasn’t been distributed equally, and I imagine Duke’s has been a saving grace for many.

As I walk out past the tents where fellow San Diegans are going through the same swab up the nose procedure, I did earlier. I’m tempted to say, “Hey, when you’re done, there is a Duke’s inside.”

*I wasn’t thinking clearly when I left the house. I forgot to bring my own coffee mug, and my normal car mug was in the wash. BYOM when you can!

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