If San Francisco has an artisan coffee “grounds” zero, it is undoubtedly Blue Bottle. What started as a kiosk in a Hayes Valley alleyway has expanded around the Bay Area, L.A., NYC and Tokyo. The downtown San Francisco café tempers caffeine highs with light fare for breakfast and lunch (frittatas, soups, salads, sandwiches). The main draw, though, is single-origin, small-batch and ridiculously fresh coffee not more than 48 hours out of the roaster. The fascinatingly complicated coffee-making equipment is part of the appeal: A five-light siphon bar is the first of its kind in the United States; the beakers and flasks that drip Kyoto-style iced coffee are something out of a mad scientist’s lab. Order a Gibraltar (you have to ask; it’s not on the menu)—the perfect blend of espresso and foam served in a short glass.
Not to be confused with old-school cafés, diners and luncheonettes, today’s so-called “third-wave” coffeeshops are all about micro-roasting, new brewing methods and sourcing directly from tiny, far-flung producers. Coffee connoisseurs also increasingly want strong, cold-brew iced coffee and innovative drinks that might be carbonated, shaken or otherwise messed with by the mad scientists who stand in for baristas these days. From NYC to San Francisco, the new crop of great American coffeeshops provides all this and more. Follow Time Out USA on Facebook; sign up for the Time Out USA newsletter