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Coffee in San Francisco – my current favorites

10 June, 2009 (02:34) | food | By: Shannon Clark

San Francisco Coffee is among the best in the world.

I am a serious coffee drinker, I started drinking coffee seriously in high school, spent many hours in college in cafes throughout Hyde Park. However in College my focus was cheap, free refills, and a good working environment, I was less concerned that the coffee was really high quality.

But I was always passionate about local, independent cafes and while I lived in Chicago I grew to know and love many great small local cafes, spending most of my time in the ones that had great atmospheres and great coffee. Including among these was the amazingly high quality Inteligentsia Coffee which I was a customer of from their first cafe which opened up in Boystown and then later their locations downtown in the Loop. In the years since they have expanded to a cafe in LA and are among the growing Third Wave of cafes and local coffee roasters which have spread the serious coffee movement throughout the US and indeed around the globe.

I have now lived in the Bay Area for 3 1/2 years, in this time I have seen an explosion of great coffee roasters and cafes, led by a group of local coffee roasters and a growing and large coffee culture here in San Francisco. In this post I will write up some of my current favorite cafes in San Francisco, from time to time I will update this post as new places open or old places close.

As a frequent cafe customer I look for a few things in cafes I frequent on a regular basis.

  1. Great coffee. This should perhaps go without saying, but it makes a huge difference. There are some cafes whose space & location I love, but which I rarely frequent because the coffee does not match the space.
  2. Big tables. I have a theory of cafes. Small tables (think the tiny bistro tables of the traditional French cafe) make it hard to share a table with a stranger and make working on laptops awkward. My favorite cafes have always been the ones with large, oversized tables that promote sharing tables with strangers and allow for easy working with laptops.
  3. Free Wifi & Power. Though here I am will to make exceptions. Serious coffee trumps wifi – I just use my time in those cafes in different ways – for conversations, for time to catch up on my reading, for time to write offline. Later this year I expect I will have a portable data card (or tether my iPhone 3GS) so wifi will be less of an issue. Power too is easy to work around and it isn’t the worst thing to get up and move after 4+ hours in front of my laptop.
  4. Happy employees. The best cafes have happy, passionate employees. Employess who are treated well, who do their work with attention to detail and passion for quality.

There are many other factors I look for in great cafes. Good food is always welcome especially if locally sourced. And being open late fits my lifestyle well. Thankfully in San Francisco I have many options.

My not so short list of great cafes in San Francisco:

  • Blue Bottle – The coffee of choice for most of the top chefs in the Bay Area Blue Bottle is one the best coffee roasters I’ve ever tasted and their cafes are among the finest I know of anywhere in the world. It all started with their Kiosk in Hayes Valley at 315 Linden St and at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Markets. Now they have an amazing new space at 66 Mint St, a full cafe inside of the Ferry Building and a new location in the rooftop garden of the SF MOMA. At their full cafe on Mint in addition to great coffee prepared with serious attention to detail and more methods of preparation than any other cafe I’ve seen, they also have a small but great selection of food options which change during the course of the day. No wifi, but one of my favorite spots for business meetings, especially around conferences at the nearby Moscone Center.
  • Ritual Coffee Roasters – Ritual is rapidly overflowing their storefront location at 1026 Valencia St in the Mission where they removed couches and many tables to make room for their roaster and coffee storage in the back. They don’t have any power outlets, but still manage to almost always have full tables and a line for their fantastic coffee. With only a small selection of food (albiet tasty baked goods) Ritual is a destination for coffee drinking and a spot where many people sit and work. I’m the Foursquare mayor of Ritual on Valencia as a result of my many times a week visits. Ritual also has a smaller cafe inside of Flora Grub Gardens in Bayview at 1634 Jerrold Ave and a new cafe inside of the Oxbow Public Market at 610 First St in Napa. Ritual coffees are served by many great restaurants and cafes as well.
  • Four Barrel Coffee – Before they opened their well designed space at 375 Valencia St which features a large onsite coffee roaster and furniture built from reclaimed lumber, Four Barrel served coffee from the rear of their space via a kiosk open to the small alleyway. Founded by serious coffee people, Four Barrel is an example of a cafe that is all about the coffee, they have only a few baked goods and do not have wifi, yet are usually full until closing. They have a few wholesale customers here in SF and are a fantastic addition to the local coffee scene.
  • Epicenter Cafe – another new addition to San Francisco, Epicenter Cafe is located at 764 Harrison. They are not a coffee roaster but take coffee and food very seriously. Their beans are from Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara (who also provide coffee to Google – a company that takes food and drink fairly seriously). The coffee here is fantastic, what I love about the cafe is the space, high quality food, lots of tables, power outlets and free wifi. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in SOMA to work and have meetings.
  • Coffee Bar – Probably my favorite overall cafe in San Francisco. Coffee Bar is located at the corner of Mariposa & Florida in Potrero Hill. The coffee here is from Mr Espresso in Oakland (one of the owners is part of the family that runs Mr Espresso) and is prepared with great attention to detail both as espresso shots or on their reasonably priced Clover machines. But it is the space and food which is why I so love Coffee Bar. They have a great menu of food and drinks including wine and beer and a multileveled space which has been designed with great attention to detail. They have a long bar with underbar power outlets perfect for working alone as well as many oversized tables perfect for groups or for sharing with others. On Thursdays and Fridays they turn the kitchen over to Radio Africa Kitchen which offers some of the best food in San Francisco at extremely reasonable prices. I find the location, food, and ambiance combine to make Coffee Bar one of my favorite cafes and a highly productive space either for working on my laptop or for having great business meetings.
  • Philz Philz coffee is a family run establishment here in San Francisco which has been expanding rapidly in the last few years, going from just a few locations when I first moved here to a growing number of locations throughout the Bay Area. Philz does not make espresso, instead they make coffee one cup at a time from their 20+ custom blends. Blends whose exact mixes they keep secret, but which are each unique and quite tasty. This is a $3+ single cup of coffee which is worth every penny. They have free wifi and a small selection of baked goods, but the main attraction is the amazing and very unique coffee. Coffee which is quite unlike any cup I’ve had anywhere else. Philz is a unique and welcome addition to the coffee culture in San Francisco and now the greater Bay Area.
  • Haus Coffee – a very new addition to San Francisco, opening just weeks ago, Haus Coffee is located at 3082 24th St. A beautiful, if minimalist space which soon will have a fantastic back patio, Haus serves coffee from Ritual Roasters. They have free wifi, large tables and very bright and airy space, with a fireplace for cool San Francisco evenings. One of my new favorite spots. note – I can’t find a URL for them, if you know it please leave a comment and I’ll update this post
  • Velo Rouge – Velo Rouge Cafe is a small cafe just blocks from Golden Gate Park at 798 Arguello Boulevard. They serve coffee from Ritual Roasters expertly prepared along with a great menu featuring local foods. Tasty food, great drinks and a fun space with a small be welcome set of tables outdoors. One of my favorite cafes in the Richmond district of San Francisco and a frequent stop on long weekend walks.
  • Hollow – by far the smallest cafe on my list, Hollow is a tiny space in the Inner Sunset at 1435 Irving St. In a space smaller than my first studio apartment, around 400 sq ft nestled between other retail shops,  coffee from Ritual Roasters compliments the small but carefully selected products for sale. They have two tables inside with seating for only a few people, but the coffee is fantastic, the shopping excellent and owners friendly. A small gem of a cafe & design shop. Later this summer they will add a table outside. I spent a wonderful afternoon on a recent weekend drinking coffee and chatting with the owner.
  • Mojo Bicycle Cafe – A cafe in the front, a bike shop in the back, Mojo Bicycle Cafe at 639A Divisadero St is a cafe and bar, serving a small selection of food and coffee from De La Paz & Ritual Roasters. Great coffee, good drink selection and you can buy a bike or get your bike repaired while you hang out. A small but fun space with a devoted customer base.
  • The Cafe at Cafe Du Nord – Another fairly new addition to San Francisco, the Cafe at Cafe Du Nord is a small cafe which opened up earlier this year next door to Cafe Du Nord nightclub & the Swedish American hall event space. Located at 2168 Market St the cafe features coffee from Ritual Roasters and very tasty food. The sandwiches are particularly good and go well with the great coffee. The free wifi is nice, though the space is a bit small and tables slightly crowded together, I have worked here but it isn’t ideal for long working sessions.
  • Cafe Du Soleil – A French cafe at 200 Filmore, just a block off of Haight St, has good but not fantastic coffee which is more than made up for having great food and a very French atmosphere. This is an adult cafe where you can enjoy great food, wine and coffee along with the free wifi and large communal table. The baked goods are exceptional and the ambiance makes this one of my favorite places to work in San Francisco. The coffee is good, but not as serious as at most of the other places on this list.
  • Samovar Tea Lounge – And to end this list a place that does not serve coffee at all. Samovar Tea Lounge has three locations in San Francisco (297 Page Street at Laguna, Yerba Buena Gardens at 730 Howard St above the Moscone Center, and 498 Sanchez St in the Castro). Samovar is a place for serious tea and great food. I love coffee but I also am a serious fan of Tea, Samovar has the best tea I have found in San Francisco, served with patience and food that compliments the teas exceptionally well. The Yerba Buena Gardens location is another of my favorite spots for downtown business meetings but also for first dates. It transitions well from a relaxed environment for long conversations and relaxation to a great place for a first date.

There are many other great cafes in San Francisco, cafes with loyal fans, friendly staff, tasty food and beverages but these are the places I return to again and again, the spots I take out of town guests to, the places I plan my day around visiting.

What are your favorites? What are places I should also try?

Comments

Comment from Oliver Marks
Time: June 10, 2009, 3:29 pm

Thx for list Ryan:
great place opposite united nations plaza on Market that is very like an Italian espresso bar – great murals, just reopened with Ritual Roast Coffee. Cool joint IMO, they have wifi usually but not when I was there last week.

Bart/ muni stairs right outside great meeting spot if the bums outside aren’t too aggressive.

http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=37.779636,-122.413573&spn=0,359.971805&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=37.77971,-122.413487&panoid=zjMn0OY81i2_FC_qxYYC3w&cbp=12,145.77,,0,-0.77

Comment from Shannon Clark
Time: June 10, 2009, 3:33 pm

Oliver,

It’s Shannon (not Ryan – my twitter id is @rycaut)

I’ll check it out, I think I have been to the place you mention in a previous incarnation, with the addition of Ritual Coffee, definitely worth a visit – thanks!

Shannon

Comment from bx
Time: June 10, 2009, 4:38 pm

what about Dynamo?!

Comment from Shannon Clark
Time: June 10, 2009, 4:44 pm

I’ve only been to Dynamo a few times – good coffee from Four Barrel but they are primarily a kiosk, good, but I find myself preferring other places nearby (the new Haus Coffee or Phils on 24th, or walking a bit further to Coffee Bar). That said I wish them well. In a similar vein I didn’t mention Centro on Ritch St in SOMA which is also primarily a kiosk and serves a very good cup of coffee as well – again, I like them a lot but find myself at Epicenter more often because it is a place I can sit & work. Thanks for the reminder however!

Comment from Yoshi
Time: June 11, 2009, 12:54 pm

Ah ha, you’re the reason I can’t find a table at Epicenter anymore! That’s my neighborhood cafe, and I was so excited when they opened – thanks for the plug, I want them to succeed 🙂

~y

Comment from Oliver Marks
Time: June 11, 2009, 2:36 pm

I don’t know why I have such a problem with your name Shannon, apologies again! I knew someone called Ryan a while back and I keep confusing you two. His name: Ryan Cauldwell: rycaut is real close and that keeps triggering error in my brainaddress db.

Comment from lisa
Time: June 13, 2009, 6:20 pm

velo rouge serves blue bottle coffee..

Comment from Virginia Miller
Time: September 17, 2009, 3:47 pm

Shannon, this is an excellent article & you really hit a lot of the greats in this city of ours, which, being a coffee fanatic myself (my first trip to Italy 10 years raised my standards to a whole new level), has become one of the best coffee cities.

I love that you list Hollow – a fabulous gem of a place, and Epicenter. Coffee Bar is probably my overall favorite coffee hangout, too, though Blue Bottle has long been, and still is, my # 1 for the coffee itself. Ritual, for me, has gone downhill a little since it first opened.

I also love Stable Cafe in the Mission, which you might want to try if you haven’t yet. Lovely, historical building, unique stable-like space & excellent coffee. farm: table in the TenderNob is a fabulous little cafe with excellent coffee (wrote about it my Perfect Spot newsletter: http://www.theperfectspotsf.com/wp02/2009/06/15/top-tastes-15). The Creamery, Mission Beach Cafe and Cento serve others you already know about (Blue Bottle, etc…) but each with unique pluses. I also like coffee at Tartine, if you can ever find a place to sit there.

Thanks for such a well-rounded, comprehensive article from someone who clearly loves their coffee!
Virginia Miller
http://www.theperfectspotsf.com
http://www.sfbg.com/listcat.php?catid=77

Comment from Shannon Clark
Time: September 17, 2009, 10:52 pm

Virginia,

Thanks! I’ve been meaning to check out Stable Cafe, will definitely do so soon (I’ve been by there but alas not while they were open). I hadn’t heard about the place in the TenderNob but will definitely check it out.

Re The Creamery, Mission Beach Cafe and Cento – I do like Cento but heard recently that most the baristas at The Creamery had quit. I’ve really enjoyed the food at Mission Beach Cafe but didn’t love the coffee there – it seems more like a restaurant to me than a cafe.

Shannon

Pingback from Billion dollar ideas for the next decade « Searching for the Moon
Time: April 23, 2010, 11:55 am

[…] of Third-wave coffee roasters over the past few years is one great case study. (here’s a list my favorite coffee places  in San Francisco). This trend is not limited to small, nimble entrepreneurs, even large corporations such as Walmart […]

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