Coffee in San Francisco
Founded in 2014 by Michael McCrory and Lauren Crabbe, this indie roaster brought high-end beans to the Outer Sunset. (Plus, the signature Snowy Plover, a fizzy, creamy concoction of espresso, sparkling water, and housemade whipped cream.) 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. Seating is scarce, but the Taraval location features a sunny patio out back for lounging. Single-origin beans are sourced from Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and Peru. The espresso is pulled on a Kees Van Der Westen machines, while pour over is made from St. Anthony Industries drippers. 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.
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 D.C., and Japan. Freeman named his burgeoning coffee company after Central Europe’s first-ever coffee house, The Blue Bottle, opened in Vienna in the 1600s. Blue Bottle’s stark, white-and-natural-light aesthetic has since been mimicked by dozens of haughty copycat cafes. But the look is perhaps best captured by its FiDi location, marked by white marble tables, floor-to-ceiling windows, and soaring ceilings. But the emphasis here has always been on the coffee: responsibly sourced and served less than 48 hours from the Loring roaster.
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 seven 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, French Laundry, and Jardiniere. The most impressive of the cafes is located the historic Warfield Building, where a lush mural by Mona Caron blooms across the concrete walls and there’s the patio is bordered by flower-boxes. Nearby, you’ll find an 8,700-square-foot, wood-paneled cafe in the belly of the LinkedIn building, where bleacher seating replaces the typical tables and chairs. The menu offers toasts, salads, and pastries.
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. In a city awash in white tile and oak, this spot 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. The cafe doubles as a local community hub, hosting monthly exhibitions and a legendary costumed Pet Parade the Saturday before Halloween.
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 Martha and Bros. coffee shop, and he became a barista at age 12 and a roaster at age 18. (He even met his wife, Marissa, at Capuchino High School in San Bruno.) 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.
SIghtglass has five San Francisco locations, but the most impressive of the bunch is its flagship on 7th Street in SoMa. The space 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. In addition, the spot offers regular brewing classes for burgeoning coffee buffs. Upstairs on the mezzanine level, you’ll find an Affogato Bar, where you can customize your cup to your desired sweetness. Coffees are sourced from around the world, and the cafe offers espresso drinks, pour-over, and cold brew on tap.
Philz is king of the Bay Area coffee wars, with over a dozen locations in San Francisco alone. The most inviting of the bunch is the Dogpatch location, which also functions as the company’s home office. The happy-go-lucky Philz ethos is evident in the design, from the Warriors and Giants art to the “Cup of Love” lighting. Located directly across from Minnesota Street Project, the cafe is a comfortable place to linger, with floor-to-ceiling windows, long tables, and ample leather couches. Pour over coffee is the specialty—there are over 20 unique blends made from beans from around the world—and each cup is crafted to order according to the customer’s taste. (Try it “Philz way,” medium sweet, with cream.) In addition to coffee, the cafes serve bagels, baked goods from Starter Bakery, sweet and savory toasts, and wraps.
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. Ritual has five San Francisco cafes, as well as one in Napa; the newest one graces the Haight. 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.
Owner Kiani Ahmed learned a deep respect for coffee at a young age. He 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. The third-wave roaster is named after the sextant, a tool used by sailors for navigation. Beans are roasted on a Probat roaster in the back, while espresso is made on a La Marzocco up front. The cafe itself is spacious and inviting, with exposed brick, original beams, and generous skylights. 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.
This sleek FiDi coffee shop is inspired by throwback Paris—specifically, the Bibliothèque Mazarine, 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 design is as well-considered as the coffee beans, overseen by the venerable Boor Bridges Architecture (the same firm behind The Mill in NoPa): leather banquettes, intricate tiling, and Heath Ceramics tableware. 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.
Ritual alum Kevin Bohlin founded this cafe in 2013 on Polk Street; he’s since expanded to include a Mission Street Roastery, a nearby spin-off cafe (St. Clare), and an outpost in the Facebook building. The horseshoe coffee bar at Polk remains the main attraction, where 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.