Philz Coffee opens its 2nd Berkeley location, and it’s great

Vasudha Doijode/Staff

We all go through America’s daily grind: wake up, drink coffee, sleep and repeat. Coffee caters to the lives of all Berkeleyans, serving as a refreshing morning pick-me-up or a necessary late-night study tool. Coffee unites, engaging colleagues in steamy conversations over steaming lattes. It excites, jolting awake passivity and promoting alertness —  it’s no wonder that Berkeley coffee shops are hot spots for students, professionals and citizens alike. We at the Clog love perusing coffee shops as much as you do. This week, we attended the opening of Berkeley’s newest coffee shop — Philz Coffee on Gilman Street — to bring you a feature of its flairs and flavors. Prepped with energetic staff, unique blends and a chic layout, Philz Coffee’s newest location will make you consider switching your coffee loyalties and traversing the distance for a cup of joe that’s almost literally the cream of the crop.

Upon arrival to the crossroads of 9th Street and Gilman Street, you’ll surely notice one striking feature: the setup of orange chairs that territorialize Philz Coffee. Illuminating an otherwise unremarkable road, the chairs are a strategic entrepreneurial decision that brings in customers and markets the store as youthful and inviting. Patio tables comfortably sit four, and customers can dine outside while enjoying the sun — without shade, however, it seems likely that the patio can become uncomfortable on hot summer days.

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The decor inside Philz Coffee creates an earthy yet modern setting. Color tones follow decorum for the most part, alternating between shades of brown, beige and black,  but a few chairs and tables have vibrant shocks of neon that somehow strike a balance in the environment despite being out of place. Tables are arranged with jars of cool mint, and the entire venue glows with natural light, as the doors and windows are propped open to create a peaceful, homey atmosphere. The couches are cushy without making you drowsy, and an eclectic range of seating promises something fitting for every group or activity: studiers, socializers, parties of one or parties of five.

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While customers relax in the open arena of Philz Coffee, baristas are busy cranking out the famed beverages that come along with the brand name. The shop offers dark-roast, medium-roast, light-roast and decaf blends that Phil personally crafted after 25 years of experimenting and testing. These blends ring in at $3 per small coffee, $4 per large coffee or $16 per pound. On the other hand, specialty coffees and teas have individualized sales prices — small teas range from $2 to $3, and small specialty coffees are priced for $3 to $7 each.

CEO Jacob Jaber told the Clog that his favorite drink is the Tesora, a “medium-blend, smooth, rich, full-bodied roast that has nutty and caramel undertones.” He says the most popular iced coffee is the mint mojito ($4 small/$5 large), which the menu lists as a blend of mint, sweet and creamy flavors. Each menu item is indicated with three sensory descriptors, such as “sweet,” “earthy” and “spicy.” This feature of the menu distinguishes Philz Coffee from its competitors: with three basic flavors listed for each item, customers can more easily decide what to purchase.

We managed to capture the iconic founder Phil Jaber himself, donned in his trademark fedora near a wall that pays tribute to him.

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Five free beverages were served at the the coffee shop’s opening: Jacobs Wonderbar dark roast, Philtered Soul medium roast, Tesora medium roast, Swiss Water decaf and Ecstatic iced coffee. We tried the Tesora medium roast, Phil’s first blend ever created, and were surprised by how smooth the coffee tasted. With a touch of honey added to it, the coffee made a strong impression that blended bold taste with softer flavors of “butter,” “nuts” and “caramel.” We also sampled the Ecstatic iced coffee but were slightly disappointed by the lack of flavor. Ecstatic iced coffee is a combo of Philz blends, yet no particular component of the ingredients stood out to us. The drink was still enjoyably creamy and thirst quenching, but next time, we’ll probably opt for the iced mojito instead.

The only thing more energizing than the coffee itself is the store’s perky, down-to-earth staff. Philz Coffee prides itself on carefully selecting its team members — so much so that, according to its website, it considers itself in the people business, not the coffee business. Instead of hiring staff and training their personalities to be a certain way, Philz Coffee invests in people who are the right fit from the get-go and eager to better a coffee-buyer’s day.

When the Clog arrived early to the shop’s opening, we could hear boisterous team-building exercises taking place: shouts of excitement, song chanting and a smattering of applause drifted outside, indicating the staff’s noticeable and contagious enthusiasm. Furthermore, team members were highly attentive: They made constant rounds checking up on first-time customers and offering a range of free goodies, including cookies and cake. Baristas made casual conversation with customers while ensuring to inquire about their specific beverage needs, all the while making helpful suggestions or modifications to items (ergo the added honey in our Tesora blend). With such warm and vigilant staff, dining in Philz Coffee is a refreshing experience that will leave you with a little extra pep in your step.

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According to Jaber, although Philz Coffee is rapidly expanding across the SF Bay Area, the company wants to be mindful about how many stores it opens. Jaber is reluctant about oversaturating the market and losing some of the specialness of the brand, so he finds it unlikely that Berkeley will see another opening of a Philz Coffee any time soon. In the rest of East Bay, however, Philz Coffee plans to launch a new Oakland location by early 2015.

Whether you stop by its older Shattuck-Cedar location or the newly erected coffee shop on Gilman Street, Philz Coffee promises eclectic roasts and blends that will surely tingle your taste buds, and the new location’s inviting setup and staff will leave customers thinking, as the establishment aims, “Wow, I love Philz.”

Image Sources: Vasudha Doijode

Contact Vasudha Doijode at [email protected].