March 21, 2008
I ran across an old and beautiful (not to mention HUGE) coffee urn in front of a Portland antique store today. Just like a magpie, shiny objects catch my eye — so I stopped to check it out.
It’s become a running joke that there’s always a San Francisco angle, and sure enough there was … and a sort of mystery as well: the metal label affixed to the side reads as follows:
STEAM COFFEE URN
My first thought: “Westinghouse had a factory in San Francisco?” But then I saw that the thing had been manufactured in Ohio.
So, it’s a “San Francisco Steam Coffee Urn” … that “Steam” instantly put me in mind of the local beer style; could there have been an analogous coffee style — “San Francisco steam coffee” — unique and well-known enough to warrant a national brand?
I can just picture it: Dashiell Hammett slouching at the counter in a cheap Eddy Street diner, scowling down at his reflection in a chipped mug full of black, acidic San Francisco steam? I can feel the chill of the fog, the warmth of that steaming mug of “San Francisco steam” … Oh yeah. That’s got to be it.
So how come I’ve never heard of it?
The owner of the shop wasn’t around, so its provenance is a mystery. It does occur to me that “SAN FRANCISCO” might just be a model name, and that “steam” simply refers to some generic brewing method, but how disappointing would that be? I’m sticking to my much more romatic interpretation, thank you very much. (And if anyone cares to burst my bubble, this blog sports a nifty “comments” function.)
If you’d like to nip up to the Pacific Northwest and take this relic home, it’s right here — and the price tag is $600.