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What are we, little Seattle?
By Nathan Welton
The Tribune
April 25, 2005

There are more coffee cafes here than Sheriff's Department patrol cars, state and county fire engines or high schools.

Forty-one coffeehouses, to be exact.

In fact, a new study shows more shops sell espresso shots and lattes between Nipomo and Paso Robles -- per capita -- than almost anywhere else in the country.

"No waaaay," said Holly Jantzen, manager of the Higher Groundz cafe on Broad Street in San Luis Obispo. "That's cool."

According to the NPD Group, a company that does market research for the restaurant industry, San Luis Obispo County ranks ninth in America in its concentration of java shops. They dot the streets at a rate of one for every 6,250 people.

That's a lot of coffee.

Higher Groundz serves up to 400 people daily, replenishing its supply with up to 50 pounds of beans a week, Jantzen said.

Cities in the coffee culture's birthplace of the Pacific Northwest, such as Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Olympia, Wash., ranked slightly higher. Topping the list was Anchorage, Alaska, at one shop per 3,570 residents.

"I don't feel like there are too many or too few here," said 19-year-old Cal Poly student Michele Tondreau, an avowed coffee fanatic who works at Linnaea's Café.

"It's just right in this town -- there's a selection," she said. "Different shops attract different people."

Some local coffee fans were surprised. Others shrugged.

"We've been aware of that -- not that exact (figure), but there are a lot of coffee shops," said Uptown Espresso manager Eric Pettis.

The allure of a humble cafe and a cozy sofa is surely understandable in, say, Anchorage, where the daytime temperature stays below freezing for much of the year.

A dry place to warm up seems to work well in the rainy metropolis of Seattle as well.

It doesn't make so much sense to many in sunny San Luis Obispo.

"I'm not sure why San Luis Obispo is ranked ninth," said Tondreau, at Linnaea's. "You'd think a lot of places in the Northeast would have an abundance of coffee shops, but I guess it depends on the city planning."

She said San Luis Obispo's downtown is a good place for the coffee business because so many people are on foot.

New York City, with its 9.4 million residents, didn't even place on the NPD Group's list. It's got just one shop for every 16,700 people.

"There are so many doughnut shops in the East Coast," Tondreau said. "People could be thinking, 'I don't want any coffee, I just want a doughnut.' "