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Monday, Apr 23, 2012

A friendly neighborhood bar—but with coffee

Café Moto’s retail store feels like Cheers, but without booze or the catchy theme song

By Marie Tran-McCaslin
cafemotobarriologan Barista Chase does his thing.
- Photo by Marie Tran-McCaslin

Sometimes, I find some great eats when I travel, and I grumble about how I can’t find it at home. A good bowl of laksa? Not here. However, a recent trip to Portland and its numerous coffeehouses brought the happy thought that San Diego’s no slouch in the coffee department.

One local coffee roaster that isn’t necessarily known for its storefront is Café Moto (2619 National Ave.), which will celebrate the anniversary of its retail location throughout May. Moto’s beans can be found in many locations around town, but the café is in a small building that blends into an industrial part of Barrio Logan. Driving by, it’s easy to miss. Step in, however, and it’s a coffee wonderland.

The interior is warm, with a bar where you can sip coffee, chat with the friendly folks preparing your drink and relax. A sign points to the roasting area, while the space behind the bar is stocked with almost every coffee-making apparatus known to man. One corner is filled by a tall and twisty cold-brew device. I was instantly drawn to the Chemex, a drip machine that lets gravity do the work.

I left the choice of bean to Tom, the affable barista, knowing that Café Moto roasts a wide variety of beans. I was pleasantly surprised when he chose beans from Columbia. He noted that Columbian beans are prevalent in common supermarket brands, but they don’t show up in coffeehouses much.

It’s true. Ethiopian, Costa Rican and Peruvian beans fill the shelves of independent roasters, but Columbian beans aren’t the first that come to mind at a place like Café Moto. Unlike a cup of Folgers, these Columbian beans had crisp flavors and a clean finish when brewed on the Chemex. Meanwhile, Tom was teaching a couple of young customers at the bar about coffee, a discussion that had my inner geek thoroughly entertained. Still a little too young for the almighty brew, they thanked Tom for “the best hot chocolate [they] have ever had!”

It’s clear that the folks behind the bar are passionate and knowledgeable about coffee. Tom and fellow barista Chase chatted with me about the finer points of cold-brewing as I sipped a sample of the stuff. Strikingly refreshing and subtly herbal, it’d be the perfect drink for a summer day. I ordered a latte; the espresso was pulled from their Jack30 beans, a Kenyan / Ugandan limited-edition roast that has 30 percent more caffeine.
As I was leaving, a couple of regulars were settling in at the bar, their usual drink orders already being prepared.

The best way to experience Café Moto is to carve a little free time into your schedule and settle in at the bar with a good cup. The coffee-geekery is optional.

Write to and Marie blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter at @MeanderingEats.