Craft coffee scene is buzzing

In Seattle, they duck into coffee bars to escape the rain. In Chicago, they seek out coffee houses to beat the oppressive cold/wind/heat/humidity (fill in the blank).

And here in (mostly) sunny, laid back San Diego? Well, this java joint is jumpin'. 

Every day, scores of independent specialty coffee houses and roasters fuel county residents with hot, cold, pulled or pour-over brews from Vista  to  La Jolla , South Park to Santee . And from Jan. 20-22, a buzz-worthy event will set coffee lovers in search of some of the region's best joe. The fourth annual Caffeine Crawl will showcase more than 25 local roasters, cafes and shops through guided tasting and touring routes.  

San Diego is one of the select cities where Caffeine Crawls are held, said the event's founder.

"We focus on 12 cities around the country that just nail it, crush it. And we find that cities that have created a really good craft beer culture - coffee is right next to them," said Jason Burton, who is based in Kansas City but attends all the crawls. Burton will be one of the San Diego guides this weekend. 

"San Diego is certainly in the top three of underrated coffee scenes - there's been a huge jump in the past two to three years," Burton said. 

And while there's plenty of national recognition for local craft beers, getting the word out on coffee here has been more of a grind.

"San Diego's coffee scene is pretty humble - L.A. and San Francisco's are more loud, 'look at me.' I think San Diego definitely has the same level across the board. There's so much talent there," Burton said.

He said a diversity of expertise in San Diego is one the county's strengths, citing two of the shops on the crawl. At North Park's Caffè Calabria, for example, the menu is inspired by its Italian heritage, "and they carry it over to the cocktails with coffee. If you're coming here to get a meal, we're going to talk to you about what coffee goes with that," Burton said. 

And at Banana Dang, in Oceanside, the owners' Puerto Rican roots will be celebrated during the crawl, with a single-origin Puerto Rican coffee to be served with a culinary treat straight from the island. 

Similar to a pub crawl, like-minded coffee drinkers will sample different brews and get to know the people behind the bar. Each stop will last about 25-30 minute and the routes have five to six stops. 

But unlike craft brew crawls, participants in the Caffeine Crawl can walk, bike or drive to the various stops on the multi-mile routes (some of which are already sold out). Except for a possible case of the jitters, tour-goers won't have a need a designated driver. 

"It's not abut consumption, it's about quality," Burton said of the tours. "But you're getting caffeine. You will have energy after."

Create your own crawl

If your preferred route is sold out or you just want to plot out your own roastery road map, get some friends together to create a custom caffeine crawl. Choose one neighborhood or fan out across the county. Just drink plenty of water in between java stops. (Caffeine may or may not cause dehydration but it likely will make you have duck into the loo a lot.)

Here's my hopped-up, personalized San Diego-centric route:

Wake up!

Start the day with a jolt of small-batch roasted pour-over Gaslamp Blend from Achilles Coffee Roasters, 703 Ash St., downtown San Diego. (619) 738-8652 or the Roast Coast coffee cart in the Gaslamp at 345 Sixth Ave. achillescoffeeroasters.com 

Breakfast

Head up to Lofty Coffee Co. in Solana Beach or Encinitas for some Keeping it Classy espresso roast and fresh-baked pastries. Energized, go for a fuel-ed ujp run on the beach 132 S Cedros Ave., Solana Beach and 90 N Coast Hwy 101. (760) 230-6747 or loftycoffee.com

Late morning re-charge

Sip on some cold brew made from the Trinity 3 Bean Blend at The King's Craft Coffee Co., owned by former San Diego Charger Cory Withrow. 14530 Espola Road, Poway. (858) 842-3717 or thekingscraft.com

Lunch

Head to Liberty Public Market for eats then have a barista at The WestBean Coffee Roasters pull you a cup of creamy, nitro-infused cold brew. Like with Guinness, you've got to let the head settle (and you probably need the caffeine time-out). 2820 Historic Decatur Road, Point Loma (also downtown San Diego). thewestbean.com

Last shot

Before heading home to bounce off the walls, hit the Nespresso boutique tasting bar for a sip of (gratis) Altissio espresso, while stocking up on coffee capsules. Then power shop like you never have before. Inside Bloomingdale's Fashion Valley or at the new Nespresso store, Westfield UTC. nespresso.com

Did you know?

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters continues to rack up the awards. Its most recent coffee kudo: a No. 1 ranking for the Kenyan roast in Coffee Review's list of "Thirty Best Coffees of 2016."

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Rise and grind at the Caffeine Crawl San Diego (Jan. 20-22)

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