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.
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.