Cutting through the Bay Area’s existing coffee noise is Signal Coffee Roasters, a young roasting brand that recently opened its first shop in Alameda.
Signal (styled SIGNAL by the company) was created by Brendan Doherty, who designed the brand to reflect his passion for building tube amplifiers while also communicating the often far-reaching signals that coffees provide from the farm level through to the cup.
Roasting at the 444 Collaborative in Oakland, Doherty launched the brand prior to the pandemic, shifting to local delivery as lockdowns took hold. Now the roasting company has a full-fledged cafe all its own, inside a 1912 former bank building in a commercial center of the island.
Taking advantage of the vertically voluminous space, Doherty and partner Rebecca Brown sought to create “something that says warm, mid-century institution,” Doherty told DCN.
“When we got it, a lot of the design involved cleaning, clarifying and editing out the things that were added on,” Doherty continued. “I really want people to be in here, have great strong coffee, hear deep cuts, have great snacks, and feel the current. My coffee experience of joy has always felt electric.”
Interesting touches within the Signal space include a point-of-sale light originally from a Czech factory, tiles from Heath Ceramics in nearby Sausalito, milled custom panels and retail shelving from woodworker John Skidgel and wallpaper featuring original drawings of vintage coffee gear by Robby Poore.
Additional friends and artists from California and Doherty’s former home of Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to the shop’s merchandise and branding, much of which reflects Doherty’s passion for live music that was spurred by his time working in the 1990s at the iconic venue Fred’s Bread & Bagels.
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Coffee-wise, the shop offers a range of single-origin specialty coffees, with a particular emphasis on approachable natural-process coffees. Brazilian and Ethiopian naturals are routinely found at the shop, while green coffee comes largely from Oakland-based Royal Coffee plus occasional offerings from Red Fox Coffee Merchants or Ally Coffee.
Said Doherty, “I think when we can find a great coffee that is also a great farm, community, and smallholder that is doing things right — building community, sustainable ag practice, or doing concrete social good — we’re all over it.”
An espresso menu is supported by a La Marzocco Linea Classic EE with Mazzer grinders, and a Fetco batch brewer, Mahlkönig and Fetco grinders handle the drip brew program. A house-made cold brew concentrate and house-made syrups come together for seasonal cold drink concoctions.
Despite the relatively high coffee market saturation in the Bay Area, Signal is already receiving strong feedback from guests while developing some area wholesale accounts. Said Doherty, “It’s already growing faster than I could have imagined.”