Anyone who went to Portola Coffee Lab after they opened their cafe in the OC Mix in Costa Mesa knows Jeff Clinard. He was as much a fixture there as Jeff and Christa Duggan, the owners; he presided over the place much of the time, and was one of the friendly, approachable faces to what was an overwhelming paradigm shift in how coffee is made.
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Suddenly, he disappeared. Clinard lives in San Clemente with his young family, and wanted to stay a little closer to home. He resurfaced with his own brand, Bear Coast Coffee. Like Portola, Bear Coast is starting from a tiny rented space inside another business. In Portola's case, it was Layer Cake Bakery; Bear Coast is inside the Cellar on Avenida Del Mar.
This isn't third-wave coffee; there are no patent contraptions for extracting coffee from beans. There's hot and iced coffee from Ritual Roasters in San Francisco; there's hot and iced tea, and chai. But Clinard is a veteran of a third-wave coffee shop and he knows his way around a bean; despite the fact that Bear Coast offers sugar and milk, the coffee was so good that I drank it black, which is indescribably unusual for me. Not overly tannic, not overly acidic. The sweetness and vanilla of the chai overwhelmed the spices, but on a hot day after surfing or biking through OC's most laid-back town, it would hit the spot.
Bear Coast Coffee is available every day while the Cellar is open; Clinard is there Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. wants to expand into espresso beverages. Eventually, with coffee this good, I assume he'll have his own shop. Lucky, lucky San Clemente.