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Best coffee in San Francisco?

z
zk_don Oct 5, 2006 05:38 AM

Where do I find the best coffee in San Francisco? I heard Blue Bottle Coffee in Hayes Valley is pretty good. Anyone tried them?
Thanks

  1. Gary Soup Oct 5, 2006 05:48 AM

    It really comes down to your preferences (or if you have any). Blue Bottle Coffee may be the flavor of the month, but it's not your cup of tea if you like a robust, full roast. I would argue that Graffeo is the best, but that's based on tastes that were locked in stone 40 years ago.

    1. rworange Oct 5, 2006 05:50 AM

      For me, Blue Bottle's Hayes Valley blend is one of the worst coffees I've ever had. It tastes like Dunkin Donuts coffee gone wrong. They do an excellent iced New Orleans coffee though.

      It depends on what you like in coffee. Blue Bottle tends to be on the mild side (except that acidic HV blend). Out of all their coffee, I like the Africano the best. Don't know where it is sold in SF, but it is sold at Guerilla Cafe in Berkeley.

      I like strong coffee, so Graffeo's dark roast is my favorite, followed by Cafe Roma's coffee.

      1. Karl Gerstenberger Oct 5, 2006 01:45 PM

        Locally roasted "old school" - Graffeo
        Locally Micro Roasted with espresso drinks - Blue Bottle
        Imported Illy espresso drinks - Cafe Greco

        When it comes to espresso drinks the best beans in the world combined with amateurish milk handling yields a sub standard drink. It's not about milk art as much as it is the proper consistency of foam. No large bubbles, a dense moist consistency, and the proper temperature (not overcooked). Blue Bottle at the markets and at the kiosk has a talented barista corp.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
          Gary Soup Oct 5, 2006 03:36 PM

          Who said you have to put milk in espresso?

          Even if you do, your notion of excellence doesn't seem to address the issue of taste at all. Who cares if you've got perfect foam if the coffee tastes like otter water?

          1. re: Gary Soup
            Emily Hope Oct 5, 2006 04:26 PM

            "Otter water" is not the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about Blue Bottle's espresso :-) I've had very fine, intense straight shots from them at the Linden street kiosk, in addition to great milk-based drinks. (I don't drink drip, so can't speak to that.) My experience at the ferry plaza stands has been more mixed -- while it's usually great, I've had a couple of lattes from them when they were slammed that were practically undrinkable.

            I'd also second (and perhaps give a slight edge to) Ritual, although I think that if you're having milk drinks, they should be very short, as their espresso blend doesn't seem to be able to stand up to much milk.

            1. re: Emily Hope
              oakjoan Oct 5, 2006 05:33 PM

              Wow! I was just about to post that I've never had anything from Blue Bottle but their iced latte and it's been magnif both times.

              As a Peet's since the 60's loyalist, I usually dislike most other coffees (some, nay many, would say that my tastebuds have been ruined by the overroastingly burned taste, but BB was a pleasant surprise to me.

              1. re: oakjoan
                a_and_w Oct 6, 2006 09:00 PM

                oakjoan, me too!

            2. re: Gary Soup
              Karl Gerstenberger Oct 5, 2006 07:05 PM

              Who said the original post was about espresso?

              Most mortals drink their espresso with milk. Straight shots for me are an after dinner thing, otherwise it's the cappuccino, latte, machiatto rituals. IMO poorly handled milk in an espresso drink defeats the best tasting beans in the world.

              In terms of taste I think BB has the corner on freshness and subtlety - although alot of people here are miffed at them for something beyond their flavor profile. Graffeo is a great example of a San Francisco bedrock product - always darker than BB, never bitter. Illy is the original but never tastes as fresh as BB or as distinctive as Graffeo.

              Coffee in it's watery form is something I generally avoid, unless I'm in a rush and the barrista is weeded.

              1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
                Gary Soup Oct 5, 2006 08:58 PM

                Maybe you of the Starbucks generation want coffee flavored milk, but I don't think it's always been there or is the same way everywhere. Seems to me I've heard something about a taboo about putting milk in coffee after 10:00 AM or something like that in Europe.

                There's also a difference between being "beyond a flavor profile" and just flying below the flavor radar.

                1. re: Gary Soup
                  Chuckles the Clone Oct 5, 2006 09:22 PM

                  Milk in espresso is, in many large, espresso-drinking corners of the world,
                  regarded as infantile if taken at any time other than breakfast. So I think the
                  notion of "most mortals" in the above is quite wrong. But if we are bringing
                  milk-handling into the equation, then it's the Trieste, hands down.

                  Even without milk, the Trieste should be high on anyone's list.

                  1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                    larochelle Oct 5, 2006 09:41 PM

                    Trieste is high on the list with the caveat that its the original North Beach Trieste - the new Cafe Trieste on Market & Gough BUTCHERS the coffee. Of course, what you do with Trieste coffee in your own home is your own business....

                  2. re: Gary Soup
                    Karl Gerstenberger Oct 5, 2006 10:43 PM

                    Very few Americans enjoy a shot of espresso as Italians do. Instead Americans tend to prefer espresso in a cappuccino, latte, or mocha.

                    1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
                      Gary Soup Oct 5, 2006 10:52 PM

                      That may be based on your impressions of the places you hang out, but I don't think you can make such a sweeping statement. Most of my serious coffee drinking over the past 45 years has been in North Beach, and I have a quite different impression.

                      1. re: Gary Soup
                        Karl Gerstenberger Oct 6, 2006 01:40 AM

                        Oliveto Cafe, Berkeley Trieste, Cafe Greco, Espresso Roma (monterey, shattuck, college), 817, Blue Bottle (berkeley, linden, ferry plaza) all sell a lot of milk. The North Beach percentages are undoubtably different, as it's an Italian neighborhood (or was).

                        Multiple perspectives. In the flyover states where I now reside its a milk zone. In my own experience it's a crap shoot when it comes to quality espresso, and milk drinks all greatly dependant on the barista. As a result I've made my odds better by buying some decent countertop equipment and questing for the best tasting beans. I've found that freshness matters a ton. I have embraced lighter roasts as well as darker. There's some great information out there about home roasting, but so far I've left it ot the experts. Peets, Uncommon Grounds, Mr. Espresso, Graffeo, Illy have all passed through my machine. In SF I give it to Graffeo for tradition and Blue Bottle for keeping it fresh and moving the taste buds in a different direction. My drug intake today is too high and under the direction of Coffee and Tea Ltd. of Minneapolis. This guys been roasting beans since the seventies. I'd give graffeo and BB the edge by a mile.

                        Go A's!

                        1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
                          Gary Soup Oct 6, 2006 03:23 AM

                          Not trying to pick a fight here, it's just that I don't think I'm alone in always taking my coffee black regardless of its form or pedigree (even in New York where they look at you funny if you don't want "regular" coffee). I've been known to wimp out with a macchiato (in a glass) on occasion, however, mostly when hung over.

              2. re: Karl Gerstenberger
                m
                Malik Oct 6, 2006 12:40 AM

                I agree, oversteamed milk is a major problem at most places that serve espresso based drinks. Blue Bottle at their various locations along with Ritual in the Mission indeed have talented baristas that always steam the milk perfectly.

                1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
                  oakjoan Nov 25, 2006 01:29 AM

                  I agree. The cups I've gotten at both the Berkeley Saturday Farmers' Market and the market on Sunday in Temescal have been stellar.

                2. c
                  chowchowchow Oct 5, 2006 02:25 PM

                  I like dark French roast from Capricorn, roasted locally in SF (353 10th street) Sometimes, to get some variety, I often ask for what just came out of the roaster. Friendly people, very reasonable prices.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowchowchow
                    k
                    Kristine Oct 5, 2006 03:17 PM

                    I second Capricorn Coffee. They have been around forever and the people who work there couldn't be nicer

                  2. scarmoza Oct 5, 2006 02:42 PM

                    I like Ritual Coffee Roasters best but I've never tried Graffeo. I'll have to give it a try soon.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: scarmoza
                      sfeater Oct 5, 2006 05:09 PM

                      Ritual is now roasting their own beans!

                      1. re: sfeater
                        m
                        Malik Oct 6, 2006 12:36 AM

                        I don't think that's true. They did try it for a bit, without great success, and I'm pretty sure they've gone back to using beans roasted by Stumptown in Portland.

                        1. re: Malik
                          c
                          Calvinist Oct 6, 2006 06:20 PM

                          We purchased warm-from the roaster beans at Ritual within the last week. I think thay have just started roasting there regularly.

                          1. re: Malik
                            sfeater Oct 6, 2006 08:54 PM

                            From: Eileen Hassi <eileen@ritualroasters.com>
                            Date: Oct 6, 2006 12:42 PM
                            Subject: Re: stump-tizzle

                            heck yes.
                            - Hide quoted text -

                            So y'all roastin' your own beans yet?

                            1. re: sfeater
                              Atomica Oct 7, 2006 12:44 PM

                              From the Oct. 3 Tablehopper: "Okay, you coffee phreeks: ~RITUAL COFFEE ROASTERS~ in the Mission has switched over from Stumptown coffee to their own roast. (As if the café didn't smell amazing enough already.) Ritual's plan was to roast their own beans from the beginning, but they just weren't totally ready when they opened, so they had the beans shipped from Stumptown in the interim. Jeremy, one of the owners, is apprenticing with the Stumptown roaster, learning how to roast and source beans to perfection."

                              1. re: Atomica
                                rworange Oct 7, 2006 04:05 PM

                                So how are the beans? Is this another case of customers paying for a business to learn their own craft. Sorry, but I've been really turned off this year by restaurants practicing or trying to get up to speed. That is fine that he is apprenticing, but one hopes someone with actual experience is roasting those beans.

                                1. re: rworange
                                  Atomica Oct 17, 2006 01:17 PM

                                  Shouldn't craftspeople always be learning and honing/fine tuning? Maybe the stars aligned in the right time and place to open Ritual, and to wait would mean not opening at all. I don't know. I don't think they should be slammed for changing the source of beans, since they have pretty much been universally loved since they opened.

                                  1. re: Atomica
                                    rworange Oct 17, 2006 04:59 PM

                                    No, that's not the point. If they are honing fine, good. However, if the batches turn out not so good, or they aren't there yet, don't make me pay for it. I don't know if Ritual is successful in their efforts or not, but, again, too many 'craftsmen' have been charging me big bucks while getting their businesses up to speed. I'm not so into subsidizing the learning curve at this point.

                                    While I haven't had bad luck, reading about those rancid sausages at that Fra whatever sausage company is wrong. Then there is ICI and ... well, there have just been way too many places for me this year. I have craftsmen burn out.

                                    1. re: rworange
                                      Atomica Oct 17, 2006 05:04 PM

                                      Do you have a thread about this somewhere? I'd love to see what you're talking about. How about those people who decide to open a business but have zero business sense? I think the customer suffers a lot more in that case, and it's so prevalent. But that's another thread.

                                      Ritual is very successful. They've been serving a good product to an admiring public. I see nothing wrong here. I think their "worst" beans would be better than anything from Charbucks, for example. Also, who said that Ritual's beans were no good?

                                      1. re: Atomica
                                        rworange Oct 17, 2006 05:10 PM

                                        Not me. It was a question, not a statement. I wouldn't start a thread about this because it is discussing bad food rather than finding good food. Interesting, but not all that helpful. You are right though about new places that never operated a restaurant before. That happened to me way too much this year also. But that's what Chowhound's for, eh? Someone always bites the bullet and reports back saving the rest of us from tasteless bullets.

                      2. l
                        Louise Oct 5, 2006 03:40 PM

                        Coffee is something that inspires religious arguments on CH. Along with BBQ, pizza, Michael Bauer, and Chez Panisse.

                        If you make it out to the East Bay, try Cole Coffee in Rockridge. It used to be Royal Coffee. They grind beans fresh for each cup. Mostly dark roast stuff, which in the spirit of full disclosure, is my preference. And it's one of the few places that puts enough coffee in the coffee.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Louise
                          oakjoan Oct 5, 2006 05:36 PM

                          I must admit I haven't been there in years (it was still Royal Coffee when I last went) but I wasn't impressed.

                          Putting just enough coffee in the coffee reminds me of the old WC Fields' story. He carried around a hip flask on the set which he claimed contained pineapple juice. Crew members played the prank of emptying out the flask of the whiskey or whatever was in it and refilling with pineapple juice. Fields took one swig, grimaced, and shouted "Who put pineapple juice in my .... pineapple juice!?"

                        2. s
                          shellfood Oct 5, 2006 04:33 PM

                          I too love Graffeo- but where do you find it in the City? I never get to San Rafael, but i drug that coffee all over Scandinavia with me!

                          I love Peets Arabian Mocha Java in my French press, I also really am fond of Cafe Reverie on Cole and Carl's "Equator" espresso for the same method. This coffee company also did the special blend for the French Laundry according to the Manager.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: shellfood
                            rworange Oct 5, 2006 04:47 PM

                            You can get Graffeo in North Beach just off Washington Square.
                            http://www.graffeo.com/

                            Equator coffee can be bought at Mokka on Telegraph in Berkely.
                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                            1. re: shellfood
                              s
                              SteveG Oct 5, 2006 07:12 PM

                              I think I've seen it in bags at Bryan's on California Street (the butcher store front, not necessarily the full market). I have no idea how fresh the roast will be, but Bryan's is usually pretty good.

                            2. g
                              Grubbjunkie Oct 5, 2006 04:57 PM

                              The French Roast Italian at Coffee Cantata in the upper Haight is my favorite for home use. It is roasted locally - I'm fairly certain it is primarily a restaurant supply business with just this one retail location. Graffeo is good too. I've always preferred dark roasts - not burnt like Peet's, but dark - so the more subtle offerings from Blue Bottle don't do it as much for me.

                              1. Robert Lauriston Oct 5, 2006 05:37 PM

                                Espresso depends a lot on the skill of the person operating the machine. Everything else can be the best but if it's not packed and pulled right you'll get bitter, watery brew rather than the creamy, nutty essence it's supposed to be.

                                1. larochelle Oct 5, 2006 06:22 PM

                                  Philz is quite good. http://www.philzcoffee.com/

                                  I recommend going to one of their coffee tastings - Tues, Thurs, Sun 2-5pm.

                                  We go to their new Castro location because its walking distance, but many devotees remain loyal to the original location on 24th.

                                  1. c
                                    Calvinist Oct 5, 2006 06:33 PM

                                    Four things go into coffee drink quality:

                                    1) The quality of the unroasted beans.

                                    2) The quality of the roast, and how appropriate the roast (light or dark) is for the bean type.

                                    3)Time since roast is done. Beans chemically break down after roasting.

                                    4)The barrista's deftness making drinks or brewing coffee.

                                    FYI I buy beans from both Ritual and Blue Bottle. To me they are a cut above everyone else in San Francisco.

                                    1. Mmmonica Oct 5, 2006 10:11 PM

                                      Ritual is absolutely my favorite coffee. Blue Bottle is great too as is Coffee to the People. I miss Cafe Organica. Before they closed they were right up there with Ritual, maybe even better than Ritual.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Mmmonica
                                        c
                                        chipman Oct 6, 2006 12:18 AM

                                        I miss Organica too. But, it's unfair to compare Ritual and the dearly departed Organica with BlueBottle. Both of the former got their beans from outside sources. Ritual used Portland based Stumptown and Organica used a variety of beans, (Barefoot, Zoka, among others. While BB uses their own beans.
                                        While all the variety of beans used were first rate sometimes toward the end of the week Ritual and Organicaa coffee got a little stale. BlueBottles beans are never more than 3 days old.

                                        The freshness issue only comes into affect if your buying beans for home consumption. The drinks at Ritual, BB, and Barefoot Roasters in Cupertino are so far above all the rest there is no comparison! My opinion.

                                        On a side note If Ritual is roasting their own beans now, has anyone tasted them, especially if you have a home espresso machine? I'm curious.

                                        1. re: chipman
                                          Emily Hope Oct 6, 2006 11:08 PM

                                          I haven't had a chance to try out Ritual's beans yet (I wonder if they're getting the Hairbender blend from Stumptown and roasting it themselves?), but, since we've digressed into beans, I wanted to mention that I love the beans from Barefoot roasters in Santa Clara. Their Element 114 is the most amazing thing I've ever put into my home espresso machine -- consistently good shots, even from me! I'll have to pick up some from Ritual now, strictly for the purposes of scientific comparison :-)

                                        2. re: Mmmonica
                                          Windy Oct 7, 2006 05:40 PM

                                          For Organica fans, Brian (who once made me a cappucino brulee in a paper cup) now works weekdays at Acre in the Presidio and Saturdays at the Blue Bottle stand at Ferry Plaza.

                                        3. zameloy Oct 7, 2006 04:45 PM

                                          So I wandered into this spot near castro called Philz that brews one cup at a time and I have to say, if you like your coffee full flavored, this is a MUST. If you order the "philharmonic" they throw in a pinch of freshly ground cardamom as it brews, an intense and addictive addition. Do yourself a favor and try a cup from Philz.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: zameloy
                                            rworange Oct 7, 2006 04:49 PM

                                            I really like Philz for a stop in cup. For a while I hit the shop and tried many of the roasts ... always works in progress ... the only thing with the beans, and I don't know why this is, but they were mainly highly acidic. I do like that philharmonic though.

                                            1. re: rworange
                                              zameloy Oct 7, 2006 05:13 PM

                                              Yeah, the other thing I did feel was that it was pretty unclear what each blend was. Staff seemed busy so I got lucky on my first try.

                                              1. re: zameloy
                                                rworange Oct 7, 2006 05:37 PM

                                                There are some good blends at Phils, so try a little here and there. They also (at least on 24th St) will grind and brew a cup to order. Phil is always coming up with new things. The bottom line is I have this thing for the Graffeo dark roast and always seem to find myself back there.

                                            2. re: zameloy
                                              Tripeler May 20, 2007 08:45 PM

                                              Cardamom in coffee -- VERY interesting. A practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine advised me many years ago that if I couldn't give up coffee I should put cardamom in my coffee to "balance out the negative effects inherent in coffee" and make it more suitable for my body. Cannot confirm the validity of that scientifically, of course, but I like to put in cardamom every now and then for an interesting flavor shift. Also reminds me of that Chinese doctor...

                                            3. zameloy Oct 7, 2006 05:51 PM

                                              So I can order from any of the blends behind the counter? I just thought those were if you wanted to buy a pound or something. Good to know. Thanks.

                                              1. d
                                                drjacthevet Oct 7, 2006 08:45 PM

                                                And so all over Italy, as I'm sure most of you well-travelled ones are aware, espresso is a somewhat different experience than what most of us are speaking of here. (In my experience, of course.) The setting: mid-day, walking somewhere, or waiting upon something, or someone, or relaxing or shopping, or....Ah, a quick duck into the bar. A moment and nice pull later, we have a tiny cup of intensely deep, oily brew, with the temptation of several small squares of sugar to stir with such a cute little spoon. Milk? I think not. From observation, general goal is to make an intensely sweet blast of intravenous coffeeness, which is generally (but not always) first sipped, then swallowed, then tossed down in a frighteningly rapid style. Standing, of course. Then, no time to waste, out and about, until time for another break and another blast. Still my heart.

                                                1. b
                                                  Buzzz May 19, 2007 02:56 AM

                                                  After living in SF in the 80s and now living in the wastelands of Arizona, where do I get my beans? Espressos and nice tight little cappuccinos are my drinks.

                                                  Graffeo Half and Half, Cafe Flore influence in my formative years.
                                                  Illy medium or dark espresso, depending on my mood, or again some of both.
                                                  Blue Bottle Espresso Temescal and Hayes Valley Espresso.

                                                  All are intense either as straight shots or caps with no more milk than espresso. I tend to prefer non straight dark roasts as the ashy spectre of french roasts seems all too close. That's just me though.

                                                  1. cafecreme May 19, 2007 09:53 PM

                                                    Peet's French Roast. I get it at the Peet's at Broderick Place and Christian (the very nice barista) remembers my grind "number," that is, #6 for gold filter. It is my favorite for home brewing--I need my F.R. really dark and smoky. The only other one I have found that compares is Whole Food's own brand F.R. Not quite as good, but the price is right.

                                                    1. l
                                                      lintygmom May 20, 2007 08:34 AM

                                                      We had great coffee last night at La Ciccia. The food was pretty damn good, too. Cafe X-O across the street at the corner of 30th and Church has wonderful coffee and great pastry. Nice place to hang out and watch the J-Church try to negotiate the corner when some numbnut has parked too close to the tracks.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: lintygmom
                                                        Atomica May 20, 2007 12:18 PM

                                                        I seriously differ with you on Cafe XO. Every time I've gotten coffee there, it has obviously been sitting around for a loooong time. Old tasting, burned, and horribly bitter. Makes me never want to try their coffee again. I also don't like the afternoon staff--getting their attention is tough to begin with, and they aren't friendly at all. They'll barely grace you with telling you how much you owe, and the total on the register is not visible to the customer. This is after many experiences there. Attractive place, consistently subpar experience.

                                                        1. re: Atomica
                                                          l
                                                          lintygmom May 20, 2007 12:45 PM

                                                          Well, your advice could be fresher than mine! We sold our house in Noe in 2003 and moved to the East Bay and I've only had it once since then so don't trust my word!

                                                          1. re: lintygmom
                                                            s
                                                            sylphi May 21, 2007 04:51 PM

                                                            I've had really good coffee recently at Martha's in FiDi. They also have various other locations. Their website states that they roast their own coffee beans.

                                                            http://www.marthabros.com/locations.html

                                                      2. i
                                                        isaac1972 May 22, 2007 03:23 PM

                                                        I just moved out to the Sunset and am quite enjoying that place on Noreiga and 24th, House of something or other roaster? Nice vibe in there too.

                                                        Philz is indeed very delicious. Ritual is good, if severely lacking in the behind-the-counter infrastructure. Free wifi is silly. I was in Sac this weekend and really enjoyed the coffee at Naked Ground as well.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: isaac1972
                                                          rworange May 22, 2007 03:30 PM

                                                          So what's the Chowhound coffee buzz on ...

                                                          Sugarlump Coffee Lounge

                                                          2862 24th Street
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94110
                                                          (415) 826-5867
                                                          www.sugarlumpcoffeelounge.com

                                                          Sundance Coffee

                                                          3000 24th Street
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94110
                                                          www.sundancecoffeesf.com

                                                          Mission Beach Cafe

                                                          198 Guerrero St
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94140
                                                          (415) 861-0198
                                                          www.missionbeachcafesf.com

                                                          1. re: isaac1972
                                                            s
                                                            sylphi May 23, 2007 08:20 AM

                                                            I think it's House of Coffee... :)

                                                            1. re: isaac1972
                                                              n
                                                              Nancy Berry May 24, 2007 12:51 PM

                                                              House of Coffee is on Noriega and 23th Ave. and it's our favorite place to buy coffee beans (and spices, and tea.) We've been buying coffee there for over 30 years. Henry Kalebjian roasts his coffee beans in 20 lb. batches right in the shop (in a fabulous roaster that he had custom-made in Reno.) His coffees are very high quality and he knows more about roasting and brewing coffee than anyone I know and he's incredibly helpful and friendly to all of his customers. He'll also send coffee anywhere in the U.S. -- you can order on his website:

                                                              http://www.coffeesf.com

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