Everyone’s got their own opinion about what makes a great cup of coffee. For some it’s the beans, for others it’s the perfect method of brewing, for others its the atmosphere in which it’s consumed. But no matter what you’re looking for, you can rest assured that you can find it in San Francisco. The city has as many different ways of doing coffee as there are coffee shops (and trust me, there are a lot!), but it does coffee well, and we San Franciscans take pride in our cafés.
Some people might find the lack of outlets, wifi, or even credit card machines a little off-putting and hipster-esque, but what do you expect from San Francisco? These coffee shops aren’t just about a great cup of joe — though they certainly have that — but also about finding the coolest, most unique atmosphere in which to enjoy.
Outer Sunset , 4033 Judah St. Who ever heard of artisanal toast? The idea of the carefully and artfully prepared “$4 toast” that spread through San Francisco and influenced numerous other coffee shops, started right here, at Trouble Coffee Company. And did we mention they also serve fresh coconuts? This quirky coffee shop with an off-beat vibe and awesome coffee is a definite must. The best place to sit? The outdoor “seating” made of driftwood.
SoMa, 300 3rd St. You don’t come to this cash-only, no wifi café to sit and hack away at your keyboard. You come to Coffee Choice for the neighbourly mom-and-pop feel of the place. We highly recommend their lattes, and if you’re craving a bit to eat, their bagels are out of this world. Don’t expect to find a place to sit and enjoy your coffee, though; the limited seating in this hole-in-the-wall fills up pretty quickly and you’re likely to find yourself with standing-room-only.
Noe Valley, 3966 24th St. The first thing you’ll notice about Bernie’s is the community feel when you walk in the door. It’s a neighbourhood hang-out where people are actually likely to say hello and strike up a conversation. Even though it’s grown in popularity, it hasn’t lost that intimate, small neighbourhood meeting place vibe that gives its character.
North Beach, 609 Vallejo St. This popular North Beach spot has been around since 1956, and its history harkens back to the days when beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg penned their great works in San Francisco’s bars and cafés. According to local urban legend, Mario Puzo wrote much of The Godfather right within these walls. Its location in North Beach and its history make it a favourite stop for locals and tourists, and the people-watching just doesn’t get any better than sitting outside Cafe Trieste. Also cash only.
Sometimes it really is just about the coffee. You want that smooth, fresh flavour of a perfectly roasted and perfectly brewed cup. These are the places to go to get it. They’re known for their own distinct brewing methods, which they’ve gotten down to a science, and you know you’re in for a smooth, flavourful caffeine fix that will knock your socks off and show you why San Francisco can give Portland a run for its money when it comes to coffee.
SoMa, 66 Mint Plaza. Widely considered by many to be the best cup of coffee in San Francisco (we know, that’s a bold claim!), Blue Bottle Cafe has got just about every method of brewing you can imagine. Siphoned, brew-in-cup, percolator — you name it, they’ve got it perfected. Their location just a couple of blocks from Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens, making it a great stop if you’re heading that way for an event.
Mission, 375 Valencia St. That blissful aroma of beans roasted fresh in-house permeates the air of Four Barrel. This small, hip café does coffee brilliantly, from the beans to the brew. Their signature is the pour-over bar. Slow pour-over gives the brewer precise control of how much water is flowing through the grounds, and creates a distinctly floral, smooth, and slightly sweet flavour to the coffee. Four Barrel has perfected their slow pour-over brewing methods, and typically have six to eight flavours of fresh-roasted and ground beans ready for you to pick from. It’s well worth a trip to Four Barrel to try it.
Mission, 3376 18th St. Tiny Warrior Coffee is a cute little café in the Mission that does some of the best iced coffee in the city. The best part about it is that their coffee isn’t just iced — it’s cold brew, a method of slow-brewing coffee without hot water. It’s made to be drank cold. And for a real treat, keep your cold brew chilled with chocolate ice cubes. Their Mission Mocha, with chocolate syrup and smoked chili is a must-try.
Sometimes what makes a cup of coffee is the perfect pastry or cake to nibble on along with it. These cafés not only do great coffee, they have in-house bakeries and kitchens that serve up some truly delectable treats.
Mission, 3438 Mission St. Cafe S. Jorge has a simple, unassuming look, but don’t be fooled; it’s one of the best coffee and breakfast spots in the Mission. They have a great selection of cakes, as well as some delicious Portuguese pastries and treats. Give the avocado and crushed red pepper toast a try; you won’t be disappointed. For something on the sweeter side, try the chia bowl.
Nob Hill, 724 Bush St. The Beanstalk Cafe’s signature “Toast Cup” alone is worth the trip; bacon and eggs all neatly presented in a cup of thin, crispy toast. It doesn’t hurt that the coffee is great, and they have a full menu of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and pastries. A perfect stop-off for a great breakfast if you’re in the area.
Mission, 3139 Mission. Their name might not be the most clever, but their gluten-free and vegan in-house baked goods more than make up for the lack of imagination. Also, because the last thing you want is for your iced coffee to get watered down as the ice melts, they use coffee ice cubes in their cold drinks. Brilliant!
Some things are just so unique to San Francisco that they deserve a category all of their own. These cafés are worth trying because they serve a great cup of coffee, in a setting that reminds you that you can’t be anywhere else but the City by the Bay.
Hayes Valley, 432b Octavia St. The Hayes Valley area has recently seen a burst of shipping container pop-up stores. Boutique clothing stores, tour companies, ice cream stands, and of course, cafés have all set up shop in vacant lots in the neighbourhood. Ritual Coffee Roasters is among the most popular of these shops. Brewed and served from a refurbished shipping container, their artisan coffee is not only delicious, it’s a testament to the entrepreneurial mindset of the city.
Noe Valley, 1299 Sanchez St. Innovation, quirkiness, and unexpected combinations are some of San Franciscans’ favourite things. Hence, the Spin City Launderette. Putting a café — and a good one at that — inside of a laundromat seems, in hindsight, like such an obvious combination that you have to wonder why more people haven’t done it. But Spin City Launderette stands in a category all of its own, and makes laundry day something to look forward to.
Need more than just coffee tips? Check out the local scene with one of our San Francisco city tours!