Where: Queenstage Coffee House, 190 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Open: Daily 7:00 AM – 4:00 PM
What: Batch brew-Steady State Roasting Daybreak Blend (Brazil & Colombia)
Tasting notes: Bitter chocolate, caramel, plum, rich
What I’m listening to: Charlotte Cornfield, “Partner in Crime”
A chef and cycling fanatic open a coffee shop. Shenanigans ensue. It sounds like it could be a fun sitcom, no? Until a streamer comes calling, you can experience the real-life show at Queenstage Coffee House, located near that blurry line that separates Leucadia from the rest of Encinitas.
Queenstage is tucked between (and a little behind) Velotown bike shop and Moto Deli, with whom they share an entry and oversized outdoor patio filled with picnic tables. This morning it is already 85 degrees out with no end to the heat in sight. Why I still love drinking hot, black coffee in this weather, even I don’t understand.
But that is what I order from Queenstage co-founder Esteban Rodriguez. Rodriguez and his wife, chef Valeria Linss, are intimately involved with the day-to-day operations. Rodriguez serves me a black drip Steady State Coffee Roasting Daybreak blend coffee, the same coffee I had in this very cafe a few months ago.
Instead of continually mixing and matching coffees, learning to dial them in and adjusting prices, Queenstage locates one excellent coffee and has pursued providing a consistently perfect cup every time. I think they’ve succeeded.*
The cafe space manages to feel open and cozy at the same time. The warm lighting and blonde wood countertops are accented by a painted salmon (pink?) wall. In the back hallway, someone has painted “SWEET HOME ENCINITAS” in bold, black block letters.
A breeze blows in past a motorcycle parked inside the front door, and when Moto Deli opens, a pair of swing-up doors will open, further bringing the outside in.
The espresso machine faces out so you can see the baristas at work, and the Queenstage** lighting bolt logo is visible on the back wall behind it. I sit at the bar and chat with Esteban about the blackouts sporadically hitting Southern California during the heatwave. Queenstage lost power for nearly eight hours, and he spent last night packing everything in the cafe fridge on ice.
As I often do when visiting a restaurant, I feel relief that I’m no longer the one dealing with those unexpected tribulations. It is a marvel that any restauranteur survives, and I tell him so. Rodriguez doesn’t disagree. Despite the heat, I head out front to sit under the shade of a striped patio umbrella.
It is quiet and calm right now, but it isn’t hard to imagine the patio filled with cyclists who’ve just rolled in from a group ride. I can almost hear them, “Whoop-whoop!” as they pull in. The clickety-clack of their clip-in shoes intermingled with the hiss of the espresso machine.
My coffee has cooled, and I can pull out the rich chocolate and plum flavors. I watch cars go by and wait for the bike shop to open so I can ogle the shiny new frames and imagine myself taking one home. In a community with dozens (literally) of coffee shops, Queenstage stands out for the intention they put into providing an excellent product, the welcoming vibe, and the passion they have for the neighborhood, which is apparent even to an interloper like me.
*If you read this column or listen to the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast, you know I’m a homer for Steady State coffees and often drink Daybreak at home.
** “Queen stage” is a cycling term that refers to the most challenging stage of a multi-day bicycle race (think Tour De France). It is almost always high in the mountains requiring incredible stamina and is considered the most prestigious stage.
Pro-tip #1: There is a big parking area to the north of the cafe that you reach from either the N. Coast Highway 101 or Melrose Avenue in the rear of the building.
Pro-tip #2: Chef Valeria’s Otra salsa is available for sale at Queenstage and it should go home with you. Unbelievable.
Want more coffee content? Listen to the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast on Spotify. Follow @RoastWestCoast on Instagram.