November 28, 2011
Local sourcing continued: Hot Italian and Chocolate Fish

Thumbnail image for Choc Fish.JPGIf I go too long without getting a "flat white" and an espresso from Chocolate Fish (at 3rd and Q), I get withdrawls. The coffee is that good -- top-quality product, meticulous work at the espresso bar.

When Lynn and I -- and the dogs -- stopped by recently for a coffee fix, along with some leisurely reading on the large patio, I was reminded of the product sourcing issue I addressed in this space a couple of weeks back.

After my rather glowing early assessment of the food at Juno's Kitchen & Delicatessen, I heard from several readers who were not exactly thrilled to learn that owner and chef Mark Helms was using grass-fed Wagyu beef from New Zealand. As I said at the time, sourcing is a complex issue, and, given that, I think it would be wrong for too many of us to establish some kind of local litmus test. As one of the commenters opined -- start with local, if possible, and move outward from there. That's a good, simple standard.

This time, I'm going to briefly address the coffee used at Hot Italian. The pizzeria at 16th and Q has been a leader on several fronts since it opened a few years back. It promotes bike culture with its artistic bike racks. It was a player in the formation of a composting program for area restaurants. Its building is LEED certified gold, meaning it is very green.

Since the beginning, Hot Italian has been using coffee beans from Mr. Espresso in Oakland for its very fine espresso-based drinks. Mr. Espresso is well known in the Bay Area. It is old school. It is artisanal. It roasts its beans in a wood-burning roaster. It is owned by an Italian-American family.

Andrea Lepore, Hot Italian's creative director and founder, recently told me the pizzeria was switching to Chocolate Fish for its beans. The two Sacramento companies will have a co-branded product for sale as whole beans and the coffee will also be used for all of the coffee beverages at the pizzeria.

Chocolate Fish just happens to have very strong ties to New Zealand (Andy Baker, who co-owns the business with his wife, Edie, is a Kiwi). And coffee, of course, is grown a long, long way from Sacramento (and, for that matter, New Zealand). Lepore said she decided to go with Chocolate Fish because it is local and it roasts more often than Mr. Espresso. Thus, the beans would be fresher.

photo (7).JPGWithin all that complexity -- trying to connect the dots would make you dizzy -- comes a simple sourcing decision: as local as possible, when possible. In this case, these two admirable businesses are 13 blocks apart.

As I write this, I'm looking at the clothes I'm wearing and wondering how I stack up sourcing-wise with our restaurants. Birkenstock clogs (made in America), SmartWool socks (based in Colorado), REI-branded waterproof hiking pants (made in China), Adidas long-sleeve baselayer (made in Singapore), wool sweater made in Italy. Oh, and I'm working on an Acer laptop (made in China). I'm not doing so well. But I'll try to do better with my haircut on Tuesday, right here in Sacramento -- by a woman who was born in China, grew up in Vietnam and then moved to the U.S. Shall I get there by car (made in Japan) or by bike (the commuter made in Taiwan, or the road bike made by hand right here in Sacramento...using steel tubes made in Italy...but custom painted in Chico...using paint that is distressingly bad for the environment)?

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