A Review of San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee

Written by:
Gray Van Dyke
Photography By:
Wrecking Ball Coffee

There’s something fitting about a coffee shop called Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters. Maybe it’s the implication of disruption — the ol’ maxim of out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new that goes hand-in-hand with coffee’s reputation as a catalyst for innovative ideas.

Although joints like this usually rise from the ashes of gentrification, Wrecking Ball Coffee offers something refreshing: a coffee shop where the only demolition to be had is that of passing fads and unsustainable business models. Like Equator Coffees before them, co-founders Trish Rothgeb and Nick Cho pride themselves on their high-quality coffee and industry expertise, but that’s only part of the story.

A History Of Wrecking Ball Coffee

An old roaster from Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

Though Wrecking Ball’s first physical location took root in San Francisco in September 2014, husband-and-wife duo Nick Cho and Trish Rothgeb were no strangers to the coffee industry.

In 2002, Cho founded an award-winning D.C. coffee bar called Murky Coffee. He also won the 2006 title for South East Regional Barista Champion. By the time he connected with Rothgeb, he was well-steeped in coffee retail know-how.

Trish Rothgeb also boasts a bean-laden resumé. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Rothgeb is something of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to coffee. Be it a roaster, buyer, traveler, innovator, or Q-Grader, she’s done it all. (For those of you who don’t know what a Q-Grader is, have a read –– it’s intense.)

Ever at the forefront of coffee’s progress, Trish Rothgeb was a charter member of the World Barista Championship Board of Directors. She was also a founding member of the Barista Guild of America. Oh, and you know the increasingly popular term “third wave coffee”? Yup, Rothgeb coined that little nugget.

As big names in the industry and longtime friends, Cho and Rothgeb had kicked around the idea of starting a coffee company even before they tied the knot and made the move West.

Although Wrecking Ball started as a D.C. dream and a specialty roast sold in select Bay Area stores, it has since taken off in several of its own retail locations amidst wide acclaim.

What Makes Wrecking Ball Coffee So Special?

Wrecking Ball Coffee Shop in San Francisco

In a word: identity. Trish Rothgeb and Nick Cho know who they are and what they want coffee to be. There’s no pretending and no selling out. The only thing on their minds is putting out a cup of high quality, sustainably-sourced coffee –– regardless of what’s trendy in the industry.

Leading the charge of the third wave movement means that Trish Rothgeb knows her way around great green coffee. In her own pursuits, she’s taught “cupping” to various coffee aficionados worldwide (if you don’t know the word “cupping,” think tasting, but for coffee) and worked as a purchaser pushing sustainable buying practices.

And aside from co-founding Wrecking Ball, Nick Cho has kept himself busy in all things coffee, serving as a director on a number of notable executive boards. This includes the Barista Guild of America, the Specialty Coffee Association, and the World Barista Championship. Not enough? He also chaired the United States Barista Championship.

But How Does This Affect The Coffee?

Coffee tasting at Wrecking Ball Coffee

Applying her extensive industry experience to Wrecking Ball, Rothgeb seeks out the best tasting, most balanced coffee she can find. It doesn’t have to be especially niche or rare, but you better believe she’ll source what she needs to lay down a quality cup.

With that said, the unroasted beans aren’t the end of the line. More than anything, Rothgeb is an artist. The coffee she brews is her canvas, subject to her own creative expression.

Nick Cho brings his own mission to Wrecking Ball Coffee. He’s also got an eye for quality coffee, but he recognizes the value of human connection in making a name for yourself as a café. For him, coffee is just part of the bigger picture –– a philosophy that informs everything from the staff he hires to his interactions with customers to his next steps for the company.

What’s Next For Wrecking Ball Coffee?

Wrecking Ball Coffee Shop on Shattuck

Looking to build on the momentum they’d gained with the debut Wrecking Ball location in San Francisco, Cho and Rothgeb opened a second store in Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto” in 2019.

However, while their first store thrived upon its reputation for painstaking preparation in the pursuit of the best craft coffee, Berkeley promised an opportunity to expand their target market.

The couple uses the term “fourth wave” to describe the sale of high-quality coffee at an affordable price point to minority populations. With the change comes an expanded drink menu that includes lemonade and hot chocolate. This effort seeks to include customers whose backgrounds might not lead them to indulge in some morning roast.

Cho and Rothgeb are so committed to bringing coffee to a wider audience, they fix their Berkeley prices at $2.50. At their San Francisco location, the same cup might cost $7.50.

Where To Buy Wrecking Ball Coffee?

A bag of Wrecking Ball Coffee espresso beans

You can find Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco at 2271 Union Street and Berkeley at 1600 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 100, or buy online through their website.

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