Isabelle’s Coffee Journey


Isabelle Ponte

As a lifelong coffee lover, I visit coffee shops very frequently. Marin has an amazing selection of mom-and-pop coffee shops that roast their own beans and produce quality coffee drinks. 

I have chosen a few of my favorite local shops to determine which of these shops has the best tasting coffee, using a 1-10 scale to measure the all-around aspects. 

I visited Marin Coffee Roasters in Novato, and Royal Ground Coffee and Red Whale Coffee in San Rafael. I judged which of these operations makes the best light or medium roast based on its taste and aroma through an informal attempt at cupping, wherein one smells the coffee and then sips it to observe the roast. I also noted the atmosphere of the shops themselves, a factor that can greatly enhance the experience. 

My first stop was the Marin Coffee Roasters drive-thru. Marin Coffee Roasters has three locations, two in Novato and one in San Anselmo. The drive-thru, where I work, is a quirky yet convenient set-up on South Novato Blvd. Customers drive up into one of two lanes in front of an old fashioned gas-station-turned-coffee-shop, and wait in their cars while our friendly, smiling baristas take their orders and make their drinks. 

I didn’t have to go far to try my cup of coffee from here. I went through the cupping process during the downtime I had in my shift. I poured my coffee, the medium Costa Rica roast, and took in the wafting aroma. Its smell was ashy and its flavor was very bold, as it is no secret that Marin Coffee Roasters produces very strong coffee roasts. 

Overall, Marin Coffee Roasters’ earns an 8.5 out of 10 in the categories of drink and atmosphere.

My next stop was Red Whale, just off of Redwood Highway. Red Whale is a cozy little spot with an excellent selection of merchandise and a somewhat hidden lounge in the back room. This room contains such treasures as pinball machines, couches, a record player, and a TV.  Unlike most coffee shops, Red Whale uses paper straws and compostable cups, an environmentally-friendly measure which I value. 

Red Whale offered me a pour-over of their Ethiopia roast, which is a light roast. It was easily the best cup of coffee I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. It smelled and tasted fruity, almost like blueberry. It was very smooth with a light acidity.

Red Whale earns a 9.5 out of 10 for the drink, and a 9 out of 10 for the atmosphere in my book.

Royal Ground is one of the few coffee shops on 4th Street in downtown San Rafael. Upon walking in, I was greeted by an extensive menu of coffee drinks, smoothies, and snacks. The employees seemed to remember customers, even if they’ve only stopped by once or twice. There is a strong sense of community in the little shop, and it’s a nice place to lose track of time. 

Royal Ground’s coffee was comparable to what I got from Marin Coffee Roasters. It had a smooth texture and a bold taste. 

Ultimately, the results were another 8.5 for the drink and an 8 for the atmosphere of Royal Ground Coffee.

Coffee drinking is such a bonding, spiritual experience, so it is essential for not only the drink, but for the vibe of coffee shops to be just right. Many of Marin County’s coffee shops encourage an atmosphere of unity by caring for their customers and taking pride in what they produce.