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The Coffee Spot Guide to San Francisco
I first visited San Francisco in 2005, but it wasn’t until my return in 2017 that I was there with my Coffee Spot hat on. Since then I’ve made multiple visits, typically taking day-trips into the city, although I have stayed overnight in the downtown area on a couple of occasions.
San Francisco is worth a visit in its own right, a wonderful city of multiple, varied neighbourhoods spread over the hilly terrain at the northern end of the peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco Bay on the other. It’s also host to an array of iconic sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
The city has a coffee scene to match, dominated by small, local coffee shop/roaster chains, along with the international Bluebottle, which calls the city home. In common with all my guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to San Francisco’s wide and varied speciality coffee scene. However, I feel that I’ve got a good geographical spread across the city’s various neighbourhoods, although there are always new places to visit and gaps to fill in (and there’s always good coffee to be found if you know where to look).
Header image: a view of the skyline of downtown San Francisco seen looking back from the ferry to Sausalito, with Alcatraz in the foreground.
Flywheel Coffee Roasters
Although Flywheel Coffee Roasters is physically removed from the third wave hub of The Mission/SoMa, it’s not that far away, at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park, an ideal spot for a coffee stop before or after some serious touristing. However, in terms of look and feel, with its long, thin industrial interior, coffee shop in front, cast iron roaster at the back, it fits right in with the Sightglasses, Sextants and Four Barrels of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene.
The spacious interior is lovely, the coffee even more so. All roasted twice a week in the back of the store on a 15 kg Joper from Portugal, there’s a blend and decaf on espresso (occasionally joined by a single-origin), served from a cut-down espresso-based menu. In contrast to the relatively old-school roaster, the espresso machine, a Mk II Slayer, is about as cutting edge as they come.
If you fancy something different, there are four seasonal single-origins on filter. Refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew. Instead everything’s available through either the V60 or, unusually, the syphon, something which I only see in a handful of coffee shops. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cake, and that’s it.Continue reading...
Four Barrel Coffee, Valencia
Four Barrel Coffee, founded in 2008, is one of the big names in San Francisco speciality coffee. Now a chain of three shops (one of which is a bakery) as well as a roaster, this branch, in the Mission, is the original. It was also, for a while, the main roastery as well. These days, roasting takes place at a dedicated facility in Oakland, but the old roaster is still there at the back of the store. In fact, the space is neatly split in two, with the coffee shop in the front, and the old roastery, now used for storage, training and cuppings, at the back.
Four Barrel is unusual in that it has two counters. The main one is in the middle of the store, offering the Friendo Blendo seasonal house-blend on espresso, along with decaf, plus a rapidly-changing single-origin on batch brew. There is also a wide selection of cake on offer if you are hungry. Alternatively, to the left of the door, is the “slow bar”. This offers five single-origins on pour-over and another on espresso. The slow bar has limited hours, only opening from eight until three in the week and until six at the weekends.Continue reading...
I’m indebted to my friend Karen for introducing me to Linea Caffe, which we paid a flying visit to on my previous visit to San Francisco in April 2019. Sadly I didn’t have time to do a write up, so on my equally brief return to San Francisco last week, I made a point of calling in for a more extended visit.
Located in the heart of The Mission, there’s not a lot to Linea Caffe, just a small, near cube-shaped, sunny, corner spot with windows on two sides and a massive L-shaped counter inside, which leaves space for a single, two-person wooden bench and not much else. Indeed, there’s far more seating outside, where a similar bench is joined by six small, round tables down the side of Linea Caffe.
Linea Caffe, which roasts all its own coffee, has a concise espresso-based menu using a seasonal blend plus decaf, backed up with a single-origin on batch brew. If you’re hungry, there’s a small range of cakes and pastries, including savoury options, from Neighbor Bakehouse.Continue reading...
Linea Coffee Roasting + Caffe
Linea has two locations, Linea Caffe, in San Francisco’s Mission District, and today’s Coffee Spot, its wonderful café/roastery on Mariposa Street in Potrero Hill. This opened in January 2020, just after my last visit to Linea Caffe and just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. Occupying Intelligentsia’s old San Francisco roastery, it’s a lovely spot, with the roastery at the back on the left and a spacious coffee bar/retail area at the front on the right.
For now, there’s no indoor seating (due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic), but there is a stepped terrace outside on Mariposa Street as it descends to pass under I-280 on its way to San Francisco Bay. Of course, with San Francisco’s climate, outdoor seating is all you really need, although this arrangement does mean that Linea is only has disposable cups, so don’t forget to bring your own (which attracts a 25% discount).
The real draw is the coffee, with a blend on espresso and a rotating single-origin on batch brew filter. There’s a much wider selection of beans to buy in retail bags, including multiple single-origins and a range of organic coffee. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes and pastries.Continue reading...
Réveille Coffee Co.
Réveille is a Bay Area café/roaster with five locations across San Francisco and another in Berkeley. I’m indebted to my friends Angela and Karen, who independently pointed me in the direction of Réveille. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot is Réveille Coffee Co. (the other locations go by the name Réveille Café) on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, an area with a rich (Italian) coffee culture, but one where speciality coffee is a bit thin on the ground, making Réveille a welcome addition.
Réveille occupies a wedge-shaped building on the corner where Kearny Street intersects Columbus Avenue at 45°, which is as much of a draw as the coffee. A bright, high-ceilinged space, the seating lines the windows down either side of the island counter, along with tables outside on the sloping Columbus Avenue/Kearny Street.
All the coffee is roasted on a Probat that sits in the middle of Réveille Café in Mission Bay. The standard espresso-based menu uses the seasonal Paradise Espresso and decaf, with a seasonal single-origin batch-brew filter. However, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. A kitchen at the back provides brunch, with a selection of cakes and pastries throughout the day.Continue reading...
Ritual Coffee Roasters, Hayes Valley
A pioneer of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene since first opening in The Mission in 2005, Ritual Coffee Roasters’ reputation preceded it. I’d seen its coffee across the USA from Box Kite in New York to Go Get ‘Em Tiger in Los Angeles. More recently, I’d had Ritual’s coffee at Maverick Coffee in Phoenix. Through all that, I’d never been to any of its six San Francisco outlets, so it was a priority on my return two weeks ago to pay Ritual a visit. As luck would have it, I'd chosen my hotel well, just a short walk from Ritual’s Hayes Valley location, occupying one of a small collection of shipping containers known as Proxy.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, operating out of a container, Ritual might be a limited, takeaway-focused operation, but far from it. With proper cups for drink-in customers (bench inside or multiple tables outside), there’s a coffee selection that would put many larger shops to shame: house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, three single-origins on pour-over and another on batch-brew.Continue reading...
Ritual Coffee Roasters, Mission
Ritual Coffee Roasters a veteran of San Francisco’s speciality coffee scene, going strong since it opened its Mission location on Valencia in 2005. A roaster/coffee shop chain, I’ve had its coffee in various places across the USA, but until now, the only other location I’ve visited is Hayes Valley, when I was in San Francisco in April last year.
The Hayes Valley location is part of Proxy, occupying one of a handful of shipping containers, offering an impressively-full range of coffees despite its small size. In contrast, its original location in the Mission is a large, open space, with a distinctly minimalist vibe, a complete contrast to the stereotypical San Francisco exposed brick industrial spaces such as Sextant Coffee Roasters and Sightglass.
The focus is firmly on the coffee, with a blend (Emperor’s Cup), single-origin (Monte Álban, Mexico) and decaf (Los Gigantes, Colombia) on espresso, plus multiple single-origin filter options, including batch brew (La Folie, Guatemala) and three choices for the V60. Finally, there’s cold brew, nitro cold brew and a seasonal cascara drink. The coffee choices change seasonally, with all the beans (and more) available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s a small selection of cakes and pastries.Continue reading...
Saint Frank Coffee, Russian Hill
Once again, I find myself following in the footsteps of Bex of Double Skinny Macchiato. Saint Frank Coffee, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill area, was the very last stop of my final day-trip to San Francisco, part of my epic four-corners trip around America at the start of the year. It had been a good day, starting with a visit to Four Barrel in the Mission and ending at Saint Frank, both recommendations from Bex.
Founded in 2013, Saint Frank’s a relative newcomer to San Francisco's speciality coffee scene. This is its flagship store, with two other outlets, one on the Facebook campus (sadly, employees only) and a new venture, called St Clare Coffee, in the Mission (which sadly, has since closed). Saint Frank roasts all its own coffee (sadly off-site), working directly with a small number of coffee farmers around the world.
There are three options on espresso (house-blend, a single-origin and a decaf) through a bespoke, under-the-counter espresso machine. There are three more options on pour-over (all single-origins, one of which is a decaf) using the Marco Beverage Systems SP9. Finally, there are two further single-origins, one on bulk-brew and one available as an iced coffee. If you’re hungry, there’s a small but tasty cake range.Continue reading...
No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without a visit to San Francisco, so, with a day to spare before my meeting started on Tuesday, I hopped on the Caltrain, heading north to the city, where my first stop was Scullery, recommended by my friend Karen. In British English, a scullery is a small kitchen, a fitting name given Scullery’s size, although the actual kitchen area, behind the counter, is probably twice as big as the space allowed for customers.
Lack of size is no limit to Scullery’s ambition though. A multi-roaster, drawing from a range of local roasteries (“friends of ours” according to the manager), the concise espresso-based menu is joined by batch brew filter, several signature drinks, tea (including PG Tips) and a selection of toast-based items. These include plain toast, classic avocado toast and, in a nod to the country of my birth, Welsh Rarebit.Continue reading...
Sextant Coffee Roasters
Sextant Coffee Roasters is a relatively new name in the San Francisco speciality coffee scene, but fits perfectly into the model established by the likes of Four Barrel Coffee and Sightglass Coffee. Like them, it’s a coffee shop/roaster, roasting on the premises on a vintage cast-iron roaster and occupying an old, warehouse-like building with high ceilings, skylights, exposed rafters and bare brick walls. It’s also roughly halfway between the two, sitting on Folsom Street between the Mission (Four Barrel) and SOMA (Sightglass), just a block from the Wrecking Ball roastery.
When it comes to coffee, Sextant specialises in Ethiopian coffees, the owner, Kinani Ahmed, hailing from Ethiopian. However, it also occasionally roasts some Central and South American coffees, aiming to roast light and extract the maximum sweetness from the coffee. The house-blend, Maiden Voyage, is always on espresso, while there are two single-origins on pour-over, using the Kalita Wave filter, and another on bulk-brew, all changing on a weekly-basis. If you fancy tea, then there’s a selection of loose-leaf teas brewed using the Silverton drippers (which I’ve only seen at La Colombe, where they were being used for coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s the usual range of pastries and cookies.Continue reading...
Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery
The first thing to say about Sightglass (which practically everyone recommended that I visit when I went to San Francisco) is that it’s huge! It might not be as big as say, Caravan, King's Cross, but it’s getting there. This is Sightglass HQ, which is where it all started back in 2009. It houses the roastery, coffee bar and the company’s training room and offices. What’s amazing, from a UK perspective, is that other than the roastery and offices, which occupy less than half the space, all Sightglass does is serve coffee, backed up with a few pastries. There’s no food service here, something which I’d find unimaginable in a similar-sized (or indeed much smaller) operation in the UK.
This does mean that the focus is firmly on the coffee, however, which is all roasted on-site. There are two counters: the main one, downstairs, serves the Owl’s Howl espresso blend, with three single-origin filters, one on batch-brew and two on pour-over through the V60, all three changing daily. The smaller counter, which is upstairs at the back of the mezzanine, opens at 11 o’clock and serves two single-origin espressos, plus the Blueboon filter blend on V60. The two single-origins, a Kenyan & a Honduran, change on a seasonal basis.Continue reading...
Sightglass Coffee, Divisadero
The original Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery on Folsom Street was a highlight of my first Coffee Spot visit to San Francisco in 2017. Back then, Sightglass just had one other coffee shop (on 20th Street in The Mission), but it’s since expanded with a shop in Los Angeles and another in San Francisco, in The Haight, on the corner of Divisadero and Page Street. This opened not long after my 2017 visit, but somehow the news had passed me by, so it was completely by chance that I spotted it on the other side of Divisadero while wandering in the neighbourhood.
A large coffee shop, although not as large as the original coffee bar & roastery (which is huge), there’s plenty of seating in the spacious interior, while you can also sit outside on one of four benches which protrude, step-like, from the left-hand side of the shop as it climbs up Page Street. The coffee features Sightglass’s ubiquitous Owl’s Howl blend plus decaf on espresso, while if you want filter, there’s a single option on batch brew along with two on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a selection of cakes and a concise lunch menu.Continue reading...
Spro – Mission Bay/SOMA
I was tipped off about Spro Coffee Lab by the baristas at Devout Coffee, visiting Spro’s Mission Dolores/Castro coffee shop the following day. In typical Coffee Spot fashion, this was Spro’s second location, its first being a trailer in San Francisco’s Mission Bay/SOMA neighbourhood. Fortunately, this is close to Caltrain’s San Francisco terminus on 4th and King Street, my gateway for my various day trips to the city, so the very next day, I headed for the original Spro.
Spro is part of Spark Social SF, a large outdoor food truck park, beer & sangria garden and event space. Impressively, given that it’s literally a trailer, serving from a window at one end, the menu is identical to Spro’s Mission Dolores/Castro coffee shop. The coffee’s from Black & White Coffee Roasters, its Classic espresso and decaf on espresso, joined by a blend and two single-origins on pour-over through the V60, along with mocktails and other drinks. There’s also the full range of salads, open-face toasts, soup and sandwiches, plus the dedicated pastries and desserts menu.Continue reading...
Spro – Mission Dolores/Castro
Spro Coffee Lab was recommended by the baristas at Devout Coffee in Fremont, who marked it out as doing some of the best espresso in San Francisco. Spro began as a trailer in Spark Social SF, which is still going strong, followed by a bricks-and-mortar store in Mission Dolores/Castro, where I headed on the day following my visit to Devout. Occupying a bright corner with plenty of windows, there are five tables outside on the pavement and a similar amount of seating in the minimalist interior.
According to its website, Spro Coffee Lab serves “specialty craft coffee, experimental mocktails, inventive eats and artisanal goods using advanced techniques in culinary food science”, which is as good a description as any. There’s a selection of salads, open-face toasts, soup and sandwiches, while if you want something sweeter, another menu, just as extensive as the savoury one, is dedicated to pastries and desserts. There’s even a (smaller) menu for dogs!
When it comes to coffee, Spro currently uses Black & White Coffee Roasters from North Carolina, with its current Classic espresso, plus decaf, on a concise menu, while there’s a blend and two single-origins on pour-over, plus the aforementioned mocktails and other drinks.Continue reading...
The Coffee Movement
This time last week I was in San Francisco, where the highlight of my day, coffee-wise at least, was The Coffee Movement, a recommendation from a barista at Saint Frank Coffee in Menlo Park. The Coffee Movement is in Chinatown, on Washington Street, roughly halfway up the hill. It opened in September 2019, so has spent most of its life operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, whose effects are still being felt. This includes no indoor seating and a queuing system to limit the number of customers in the shop. Instead, seating is provided outside, either at a bench in front of the window or standing at the back of a converted VW van.
However, the real draw is the coffee. The Coffee Movement is another multi-roaster, with the coffee changing every week, drawn from around the USA and beyond. There are three choices at any one time, available through an extremely concise espresso-based menu, along with filter (hot or cold). There’s a range of signature and seasonal drinks, although best of all is the tasting flight, where you can try all three coffees (filter) or one coffee as espresso, piccolo and filter. There’s also a small selection of pastries if you’re hungry.Continue reading...
Verve Coffee Roasters, Market Street
Verve Coffee Roasters, the international coffee shop/roaster chain, is primarily California-based. Starting in Santa Cruz, where it has four outlets, including its flagship Pacific Avenue store, it’s spread to Los Angeles (three, soon to be four¸ locations), San Francisco, and across the Pacific to Japan, where there are now three outposts. Having visited its Omotesando store in Tokyo last year, and its Spring Street location in Los Angeles earlier during this trip, calling in on today’s Coffee Spot, Verve’s solitary San Francisco location, meant that I’d visited all four cities where Verve has stores. Except that Verve is also in Kamakura in Japan. Bugger. Oh well, I’ll be in Japan later this year…
You’ll find the usual coffee options, the Streetlevel seasonal blend joined by the featured espresso (another blend, Sermon, during my visit) and decaf, all the shots pulled on a custom four-group Kees van der Westen. Meanwhile, the batch-brew option is joined by three single-origin pour-overs through Kalita Wave filters using the Modbar modular system. If you’re hungry, there’s a small brunch menu until two o’clock, with cake/pastries served all day. All the coffee’s available in retail bags, along with a selection of merchandising and coffee equipment.Continue reading...
Wrecking Ball, Union Street
Wrecking Ball started life as a coffee roaster in San Francisco around 10 years ago. However, the coffee shop is a relatively new venture, having only been open for a couple of years when I visited in February 2017. It’s in Cow Hollow, slightly off the beaten track for the average tourist, west of North Beach/Russian Hill. However, it’s easy enough to get to on one of the many bus routes that criss-cross the city.
The coffee shop is an interesting space, underneath an old townhouse in what, I believe, was the parking garage. This gives it very much a basement feel, although it is directly accessible from the street via a long, corridor-like passage that slopes slightly upwards. It’s easily the smallest of the speciality coffee shops I visited on that trip, with three benches and three chairs inside and three small tables on the pavement outside. I admire the consistency!
As you might expect from one of San Francisco’s leading roasters, there’s a range beans for sale or to try, with a blend on espresso, along with decaf, and several single-origins, two of which are available as pour-over (Kalita Wave), one on cold brew and another on bulk-brew.Continue reading...
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