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Best coffee in San Francisco?

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

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  1. 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. 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. 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

          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

            "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

              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.

            2. re: Gary Soup

              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

                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

                  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

                    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

                    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

                      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

                        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

                          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

                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

                  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. 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

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

                  2. 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

                      Ritual is now roasting their own beans!

                      1. re: sfeater

                        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

                          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

                            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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

                                    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

                                      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

                                        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. 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

                          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. 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

                            You can get Graffeo in North Beach just off Washington Square.

                            Equator coffee can be bought at Mokka on Telegraph in Berkely.

                            1. re: shellfood

                              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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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

                                        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

                                          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

                                          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. 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

                                            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

                                              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

                                                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

                                              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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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

                                                        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

                                                          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

                                                            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.


                                                      2. 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

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

                                                          Sugarlump Coffee Lounge

                                                          2862 24th Street
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94110
                                                          (415) 826-5867

                                                          Sundance Coffee

                                                          3000 24th Street
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                          Mission Beach Cafe

                                                          198 Guerrero St
                                                          San Francisco, CA 94140
                                                          (415) 861-0198

                                                          1. re: isaac1972

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

                                                            1. re: isaac1972

                                                              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: