Revisiting Shelli’s World Coffee Tour – Refill Cafe in San Diego

I’m always excited to be able to add a new coffee house to any of the lists I offer you in my Bean Around The World Series. And today, we’re adding one to the San Diego group. It’s called Refill Cafe. I finally got a chance to check them out over the weekend. I had driven by their location many times since they opened a year ago, but never stopped in. For some reason, I assumed rather than using their own roast, they were using a more nationally known roast. You’ll notice in my Bean Around The World Series, I never review coffee houses that don’t roast their own beans because I’m looking for special places that are local for us all to enjoy and support.

Because I really like the way the space looked from the outside, I decided to call Refill and see whose beans they used. Much to my delight, they use Bird Rock beans, which is a roaster in San Diego whose coffee, as well as their spaces, I really like. So that got me interested in heading over to Refill and checking them out. And I’m really glad I did.

The owner, Nathan, had just gone home when I got there late afternoon on a Sunday. However, the staff were super friendly, especially Alexia, who was very patient, friendly, and answered all my questions :) Though Nathan hasn’t had coffee house experience before, he put together a great place. It has both great indoor and outdoor areas with plenty of tables nicely spaced out. And though it’s on a major street, it’s situated in such a way as to avoid the street noise. There’s good street parking that is unmetered. That’s a rarity in San Diego. It’s not in any of the bigger tourist areas, but if you’re near the zoo or Balboa Park, it’s very close.

Refill in-door seating

I tried my usual cortado. It was served in a pottery style cup. I asked Alexia about this because I noticed it had Refill inscribed on it. She mentioned that Nathan had all of the cups/mugs they use made for him by his high school pottery teacher. Yes, he’s obviously a local San Diegan! Great idea.

I was a bit disappointed because the cortado was only so-so. It tasted somewhat bitter and burnt. Having had the cortado many times at Bird Rock coffee house, and assuming that Bird Rock trained Nathan and his staff on how to extract the best beverages from their beans, I’m not sure why it tasted this way. It would not be my preference at Refill. Next time, I’ll try a flat white and see how that tastes.

Although I do appreciate the pottery and its unique made-for Refill style, I actually don’t care for my coffee being served in pottery. I’ve seen this in a few other places as well. These days, the most popular way a cortado is served is in a glass, and I prefer that to pottery. I also don’t mind porcelain, which is what I use at home. Maybe I’m overly picky, but the container used for a coffee beverage does influence the taste, which is why coffee in paper cups never tastes the same as coffee in other containers.

Their most popular beverages are cappuccinos and lattes, and Alexia mentioned that mornings are their busiest time. One unique offering was not just that they offered cold brews, because that’s to be expected today, but that they had FOUR cold brews on tap and one decaf cold brew, as well. Usually, places have maybe two, so trying out their cold brews would definitely be a fun experience.

Refill is using Bird Rock blend for their drip coffee, and Bird Rock Pump House espresso for espresso. They use a Brazilian Decaf for their decaf espresso and drip. Then they rotate coffees for the 4 cold brews. Right now, Refill has a great Ethiopian choice: guji sidama; one from Brazil: terra alta; a Colombian: roasters united blend; and a decaf from Honduras. That’s a great assortment.

Cold brews on tap at Refill

Early in the day, they do offer a few pastries. They are from Bread and Cie, the best bakery we have here in San Diego, so those go fast. Their food menu had some interesting choices of salads and crepes, and although I just went for coffee, the food did look good.

Refill draws a local crowd, it’s a great space to hang out and talk with friends, read a book, write in your journal, or get some work done. I’m not at all deterred by not having such a great cortado my first time. I’ll definitely head back and give the flat white a go. Let me know if you try Refill and whether you liked it or not!

3 thoughts on “Revisiting Shelli’s World Coffee Tour – Refill Cafe in San Diego

  1. Carl

    So with ya on the pottery, Shelli! Love the look and feel but it seems to negatively impact the taste (though I can’t speak for Refill as I haven’t been there). It would seem especially odd experiencing a Cortado in anything but glass. That said, I do wish places would pay more attention to the quality of the glass as well. Sometimes I’ll burn my fingers trying to drink it, as the glass is hotter than the contents. I’d still like to try Refill, as it looks like a great concept, but I’ll likely try cold brew instead. Thanks for the tip.

    1. Shelli Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Carl. The owner of Refill is a really nice guy and I get what he was trying to do with the pottery. All the beverages seem to come in pottery. I’m going back next week to try the cold brew and see what that’s like. Burning my fingers before sampling a cortado wouldn’t sit well with me either :) Enjoy the rest of your 4th!

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