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Blue Bottle Cafe
Photograph: Barry J. HolmesBlue Bottle Cafe

The best coffee in San Francisco for real coffee buffs

From FiDi to the Outer Sunset, here’s where to find the best coffee in San Francisco—with the ambiance to match

Written by
Clara Hogan
Contributors
Lauren Sheber
&
Amy Sherman
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Coffee in San Francisco has long played an important in the city. The first cup of restaurant coffee in the West was actually served here, in 1846, and mega brands including Hills Brothers and Folgers got their start in San Francisco as well. Of course, the legacy wasn’t all big business here—in the 1950s, the Italian espresso houses of North Beach were popular meeting spots for the famous beat poets, too. Today, “third wave” coffee roasters are everywhere and great coffee isn’t hard to find in San Francisco.

Looking for a jolt of caffeine before tackling the best things to do in San Francisco? We know some places downtown. Need somewhere to hunker down with a laptop? We've got you covered. No matter where you are in SF, here's where to find the best coffee in San Francisco. 

RECOMMENDED: The best restaurants in San Francisco

Best coffee in San Francisco

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Outer Sunset
  • price 1 of 4

Founded in 2014 by Michael McCrory and Lauren Crabbe, this indie roaster brought high-end beans to the Outer Sunset. The original, 600-square-foot location opened on a caffeine-starved strip of Lawton Street—thus, the perpetual line snaking out the door. A second cafe arrived on Taraval in 2017, in addition to a roasting facility next door. Single-origin beans are sourced from Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and Peru. Don’t miss the baked goods, like blueberry corn muffins and candied blood orange and chocolate scones, all made on-site at the Lawton cafe.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Downtown
  • price 2 of 4

The brainchild of freelance musician and coffee obsessive James Freeman, Blue Bottle began in Oakland in the early 2000s. Today, the iconic blue logo is symbolic of a coffee empire, with outposts in New York, LA, Boston, Miami, Washington DC, and Japan. Blue Bottle’s stark, white-and-natural-light aesthetic has since been mimicked by dozens of haughty copycat cafes, but the emphasis here has always been on the coffee: responsibly sourced and served less than 48 hours from the Loring roaster.

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  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Tenderloin
  • price 2 of 4

Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell started roasting beans out of a Marin County garage in 1995; today their business has grown to over 500 accounts and handful of cafes. Equator sources organic, fair trade, and single-origin coffee from Colombia, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Rwanda, Malawi, and Costa Rica; the company also creates blends for a wide variety of Bay Area restaurants, including Per Se and the French Laundry. Visit one of their locations in either Roundhouse or Fort Mason for cafe snacks like toasts, salads, and pastries.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Potrero Hill
  • price 1 of 4

This Potrero Hill standby opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1989. Rather than fussy cuppings and snail’s-pace pour over, owner Roger Hillyard (and now his son, Chris) serve good old-fashioned drip coffee sourced from De La Paz on Mission and roasted in-house. The cafe is the epitome of a homey neighborhood coffeehouse: The former butcher shop is decked in local art and well-loved plants, with ample seating inside and at the parklet out front. In addition to coffee, Farley’s has earned a loyal following for its extensive selection of magazines, which spans hundreds of titles. 

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If you’re a coffee drinker, and if you’re friends with coffee drinkers, you’ve probably at least thought about what it might be like to open a coffee shop. And that’s exactly how Rise & Grind came to be: it was an idea that three friends shared over drinks. Now, the friends (a.k.a. founders) have two locations—one in the Mission, and one in the Richmond District. Each location offers friendly service, strong coffee, and a menu of food options that range from avocado toast to a hot pastrami sandwich. 

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Upper Haight
  • price 1 of 4

Flywheel owner Aquiles Guerrero has coffee in his blood. He was born on a coffee farm in Nicaragua and grew up picking coffee. His family owned local chain Martha and Bros coffee shop, and he became a barista at age 12 and a roaster at age 18. Guerrero’s spacious Haight cafe is purposefully designed to avoid a corporate feel, outfitted with reclaimed wood and minimalist pendant lighting. The coffee is sourced from Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Kenya and overseen by Flywheel’s master roaster Stephen Beebout.

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  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • SoMa
  • price 2 of 4

Sightglass has five San Francisco locations, but the most impressive of the bunch is its flagship on 7th Street in SoMa, which doubles as the production roastery and company headquarters. There, knowledgeable baristas host free public cuppings (that’s tastings, to the uninitiated) at the in-the-round open coffee bar. The spot also offers regular brewing classes for burgeoning coffee buffs. Coffees are sourced from around the world, and the cafe offers espresso drinks, pour-over, and cold brew on tap.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Lower Haight
  • price 2 of 4

At Ritual, the baristas approach coffee as a sommelier does wine. The 15-year-old coffee company has made a reputation for its coffee-buff beans and highly specific tasting notes. Beans are sourced from Kenya, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Guatemala, and up to five pour over flavors are offered daily (plus cold brew and espresso drinks). On the ever-rotating menu, coffee lend tout tasting notes of caramel apple, Rocky Road ice cream, and citrus, another blend might offer comparisons to chocolate orange, honeydew, and sweet mint. Coffee lovers can test their palates at regular cuppings and public tastings.

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  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • SoMa
  • price 1 of 4

Owner Kiani Ahmed grew up watching his mother and grandmother grind coffee beans with a mortar and pestle, roast the beans in cast iron pans, and pour the results from clay kettles in his native Ethiopia. At this SoMa cafe, his methods may have gotten more modern, but his reverence for coffee remains unchanged. Beans are roasted on a Probat roaster in the back, while espresso is made on a La Marzocco up front. True to his roots, Ahmed specializes in Ethiopian beans sourced directly from farmers in his home country. Try the Jostel Gandi, a spicy house specialty made from espresso and chai.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Tenderloin
  • price 2 of 4

This sleek FiDi coffee shop is inspired by the first public library in France. Fittingly, the 1,500-square-foot space is a gathering spot of sorts, where regulars congregate with newspapers and laptops—and even the occasional book—for their morning coffee. The cafe serves a rotating assortment of pour overs, roasted locally, as well as espresso drinks. The cold brew comes care of Ritual, a first for the FiDi. In addition to drinks, the spot serves Starter Bakery pastries, toasts, salads, and sandwiches.

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Another spot for coffee nerds, Contraband specializes in single-origin, fair-trade coffee sourced from independent farms from all around the world, particularly from Guatemalan and Colombian farms. They offer a wide variety of coffees that are typically roasted more “medium” than the light style popular with many third wave roasters. Brewing is done as you like it—pour over Kalita Wave, Chemex or espresso machine.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Russian Hill
  • price 2 of 4

Ritual alum Kevin Bohlin founded this cafe in 2013. While regulars line up for pour over, cold brew, and espresso drinks, for coffee buffs, the draw is Bohlin’s obsessive attention to his beans’ farming, roasting, and sourcing. He can rattle off the names of the producers he works with in Guatemala, Kenya, and Honduras—the Zelaya family in Antigua, for example, or the Paz family in Peña Blanca—and describe the specific agricultural climate that lends each batch of beans its unique flavor.

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