Where: Vigilante Coffee Company, 1575 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, CA 92054
Open: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday/Sunday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
What: Batch Brew – Sierra Norte Dark Roast Washed-process from Oaxaca, Mexico
Tasting Notes: Dark chocolate, toasted graham cracker
What: Mint Latte
What I’m listening to Sly5thAve, “Forgot About Dre” (Orchestral Instrumental)
We (my wife and I) can hear the beats thumping from the parking lot. A mash-up of hip-hop, reggae, and jazz. It’s hard not to start vibing despite the early morning hour.
When I was still in the hospitality business, I would play slow jams early in the day to encourage patrons to stick around and spend more money as they added a snack or dessert.
Then I’d flip the switch, speeding up the tempo at happy hour to encourage customers to drink faster, order another, or move on, allowing a new customer at the bar.
They’re skipping right to happy hour at Vigilante Coffee Company, but instead of pushing us out the door, it inspires us to stay. It feels good to feel good so early in the morning. Ashley greets us at the register with a big smile. Behind her, other staffers are in constant motion—cleaning, smiling, making a latte, smiling, restocking coffee beans, smiling. I order the Sierra Norte drip coffee.
This cafe and roastery are big. It looks big from the road, but still, the visual is deceptive. It’s bigger than you think, with 20-foot ceilings and a dining area that extends deep into the building. You could fit three or four cafes in here if you wanted.
The coffee bar is fronted with wood, maybe knotty pine, the color of a toasted croissant, that is set off by a bright blue wall in the back. The word “Happy” is displayed in italicized, block capital letters. The countertop is covered with coffee equipment, cups, or succulents.
A pastry case near the register has trays of scones, monkey bread, cookies, and croissants. And then there is the merchandise.
Vigilante has their merch game on point. It is strategically located around the room. It is impossible to look in any direction without a t-shirt, bag of coffee, lighter, or piece of brewing equipment breaking into your line of sight. However, the design of the space is so well done it doesn’t feel obnoxious or overbearing. It inspires me to cover more ground looking at all the cool stuff.
The dining area has plenty of wooden table tops for studying or, in the case of a collection of older gents at an oversized round, a place to shoot the shit. They remind me of the guys in my hometown who meet at the municipal airport lounge to drink crappy coffee and tell tall tales. The difference being these old guys are drinking craft coffee.
In the back of the space, a relatively small coffee roaster is set off by a spotlight and protected from the masses by a theater rope. I’m guessing they aren’t running their coffee production through here. Vigilante originated on the East Coast.
They have two cafe roastery spaces in Maryland. The roaster in Oceanside is more suited to small-batch experimentation than producing the type of poundage needed for the espresso bar.
My wife and I take our coffees and a solid-looking acai bowl to the patio.*
For as big as it is inside, the outside feels small. It isn’t, really. The inside is just so big. Roll-up garage doors tie the two spaces together. There are a couple of oversized picnic tables taking up most of the space, but we don’t want to prevent a group from sitting down with just the two of us.
Some iron patio chairs in the corner feel a little less communal and a little more coronavirus-friendly. We’re surrounded by potted succulents and street noise from the South Coast Highway behind us.
My coffee is good. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a dark roast. It has a rich flavor to it that fuels continual sipping. It is full-bodied and very light on acidity, making it easy to drink on an empty stomach. According to a barista, the coffee is sourced from Santo Domingo, Cacalotepec, a remote community in Northern Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a blend of beans from 13 small farm producers. Small meaning about three sacks of coffee each per year.
My wife’s mint latte is a damned delight. It was served with an Andes mint which is a nice touch. I rarely order a latte, but after one sip, I mentally flip through the calendar to see when it would be reasonable to stop back for one. Maybe tomorrow.
*The patio and building are shared with South O Brewing Company. Time it right, and you can finish your coffee just before you stroll over for a beer.
Roast! San Diego 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.