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Current Coffee Top 10?

  • Pei May 21, 2009 09:31 PM
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A coffee fiend from LA is descending upon my apartment soon, and I need to be armed with the city's best. What am I missing?

Blue Bottle
Graffeo (beans only)
Philz (no espresso)
Ritual Roasters
Four Barrel
Peet's

I believe his poison is a macchiato, followed closely by a latte with silky foamed milk. Also, are there general feelings about which roasters tend toward what flavors? For example, if he tells me he loves a lighter roast, do I pick one place over another? I don't think it's sane to hit all these places in the two days we have (or is it...?)

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  1. They have Peet's in LA, so you don't need to go there. And that's not a lot of coffee for a coffee lover.

    Graffeo has lighter and darker roasts, or can blend them for you. You could also go somewhere like XOX that serves Graffeo. Philz is also a darker, stronger blend, heavily spiced. We walked by the other night, and the spices were overwhelming.

    I don't like dark roasts and am a fan of Blue Bottle. Plus you have to see the pots and tubes at Mint Plaza.

    I've tried Four Barrel a bunch of times, but it doesn't taste like anything to me. It is a beautiful temple to coffee though, and I don't doubt Jeremy's sincerity. I haven't compared Ritual lately.

    Haus, the new place on 24th Street, serves both Ritual beans and De La Paz. If you're on this side of town, Bernie's on 24th serves La Coppa (Spinelli's newest company).

    Cafe Trieste should be on the list, although it's not my style.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Windy

      I don't know if you will be in Berkeley, but I really like the Cafe Fanny cappuccino. (The cafe au lait has too much milk for me, but those I know who like that quantity of milk love it.)

      1. re: Windy

        Thanks! I feel the same way about Trieste as you do about Four Barrel; I like the space but the coffee does nothing for me.

        To me, Four Barrel is very much on the light side, and I consider Blue Bottle and Peet's pretty light. But there's a slight burnt caramel taste to it that I enjoy, and it's so hard to find properly foamed milk that I would go back if they can just maintain that consistency.

        1. re: Windy

          It's been a couple years since I lived in LA, but my recollection is that there was a Graffeo outpost in Beverly Hills, so can probably cross that one off the list if you're looking for Bay-Area-unique roasters that he wouldn't have ready access to down south.

        2. For a light roast head over to Ritual.

          If he's a macchiato guy, he should try a Gibraltar at Blue Bottle (the one at Mint Plaza is especially nice).

          Pirate Cat Radio makes a bacon-maple latte that I personally can't stomach (I'm more of a coffee purist and was overexposed to maple-bacon in my short term maple-bacon lollipop making experience). They use De La Paz beans.

          If you're in the neighborhood of Mojo Cafe on Divis, they use Ritual and De La Paz. They also serve more than just coffee and pastries. Plus, they have a sweet little "urban garden" area in back.

          I'm not a fan of Philz or Peet's.

          1. It's about both the roast of the coffee and the brewing of the coffee.
            Cafe at Cafe du Nord (Market and 15th Streets) serves Ritual Roasters, and its baristas make great drinks, including Gibraltars (a perfect balance of milk and espresso for me). Plus, there is light fare and good art on the walls.

            1. I ditto the recommendation for a Gibraltar from the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle Cafe - with a bar of TCHO dark chocolate, it can't be beat. Ok, maybe it can...have you had the Blue Bottle Affogato with Humphrey Slocombe ice cream?

              Also, Ritual in the Mission does cuppings in the early afternoon - that could be awesome for your coffee-loving friend.

              Oh - and you could also grab a Ritual macchiato at Flora Grubb, which is such a cool place!

              -----
              Ritual Coffee Roasters
              1026 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Blue Bottle Cafe
              66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              Flora Grubb Gardens
              1634 Jerrold Ave, San Francisco, CA

              7 Replies
              1. re: PorktoPurslane

                FYI: I called Ritual Roasters and cuppings are free and open to the public every Friday at 1pm. You just need to show up. Unfortunately that won't work for my visitor, but I hope to try it some time.

                1. re: Pei

                  I think they're interesting, but it's not exactly great tasting. (Guess I'm not enough of a purist).

                  If you really want to compare beans from different regions, straight coffee's probably better than espresso drinks. You can do that at Ritual or Epicenter or anywhere that has a bunch of grinders. Hard to beat Blue Bottle's $20,000 magic pots though.

                  1. re: Windy

                    Cupping's interesting because it's the same way buyers and blenders evaluate the coffee ... so it's sort of like going to a concert and sitting by the sound board, eh?

                    Cole Coffee in Oakland does multiple bean types fresh ground. Cafe del Doge in Palo Alto always has three blends for espresso, which is (I think) pretty unusual.

                    None of which helps the OP, but there you go

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      I always have trouble getting past the 10 kinds of hot chocolate at Cafe del Doge. Although occasionally it's worth having a mocha.

                      1. re: Windy

                        i heart cafe del doge.

                        1. re: Windy

                          Even though I mentioned them, I'm still peeved they wouldn't make me a triple because "that's not how it's done in italy". Freaks.

                        2. re: bbulkow

                          Speaking of Palo Alto, we really like the coffee at Ikea.

                  2. One comment:

                    I also order a lot of macchiatos. A true macchiato is just a spot of foam, not a "dry cappuccino", which is now what I'm served universally unless I damn near scream at them. Depressing.

                    But I drink macchiatos simply because I like an espresso with crema, and most places can't pull a decent espresso. Blue Bottle's beans (and my espresso machine) make espresso with crema for miles, and I got to believe the BB baristas are good, so, if your friend's like me, they'll take a BB pull without the milk.

                    Or maybe your friend actually likes dry caps. In which case we part company.

                    Otherwise, the question to 'hounds might be which shops pull a good, crema-rich shot. I'd be thinking of Trieste. My hidden gem in this regard is the espresso cart outside of UCSF on Parnassus, but my info's a few years old. My trick is simply watching the speed of the pull, which hopefully you can see before ordering. When a line gets long, it's tempting to loosen up on the tamp, pull 10 second shots, and clear the line. A barrista who holds to a 30 second shot in the face of a long line gets the nod for an espresso order.

                    No comments on the hot beans in the city right now, I've been limited to the peninsula.

                    (Pensinsula-wise, I've been grooving on Conisseur Coffee in RWC's Mexican light roast, which they source from Chiapas - and I love Barefoot in Sunnyvale)

                    Yeah, ditch peet's. Sorry, peet's.

                    1. Blue Bottle for the more traditonal coffee drinks including and the best of all...great cup of coffee. Buying beans? typically, the beans you buy were roasted just two days before you purchase. Give a try a Sicillain Gold beans at Cafe Roma on Columbus in North Beach.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Ron Rubia

                        Unless they've changed, Blue Bottle roasts on monday and has them in the mail monday night. If you have a mail-order account, you get your beans usually weds. morning. Given that beans seem best about 3 days after roasting, you're getting pretty good coffee.

                      2. I like the coffee at Old Jerusalem. It's not traditional American or European style coffee. It's a spiced and sweetened coffee with the mud at the bottom, like a Turkish or Greek coffee but heavily spiced. Cardamon and nutmeg are most obvious.

                        For more "traditional" coffee, I like Trouble's espresso. It's more fun than most places and you can walk to the beach afterwards. I buy my beans there, they seem to work beter in my esperesso machine than any others I've tested so far.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: realspear

                          Trouble uses De La Paz beans which you can find retail around town as well.

                        2. House of Coffee on Noriega at 23rd Ave.

                          1. I'll add a reply to my own question. Royal Ground Coffee on Geary near 17th makes one mean soy latte.

                            I have never tried anything else there, and the other Royal Ground locations seem to be pretty subpar, but the ladies who work at the Geary/17th location really know how to make soy milk frothy and silky while bringing out creamy vanilla flavors in both the coffee and soy. People who just plain hate soy milk will probably still not like this, but I really enjoy it when I'm in the area because it's such a surprising change of pace.

                            -----
                            Royal Ground Coffee
                            5301 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Pei

                              I just wanted to chime in here, because had I just read a Royal Ground rec. I probably would have written it off....but I can confirm this location is doing some special things, soy or not. They have a really loyal following, doing really good business....and while I wouldn't go out of my way to visit this one, it's probably one of the best if not the best coffee stop in the Richmond. Good tip.

                            2. Based on my personal tastes, which lean toward medium roast, I'd scratch Peet's, Graffeo, and Philz. I like some roasted flavors and caramel flavors, but I also like the berry flavors that remind me that coffee is indeed from a berry plant. I find light roasts (Ritual) don't develop enough roasted flavor for my taste, but Blue Bottle and Four Barrel seem to strike a balance that I like. When I'm in the mood for a really roasted coffee, I like Peet's, but I've never really gotten Graffeo.

                              I would also add Coffee Bar to your list. I'll probably get some of the details wrong, but it was started by one of the kids of Mr Espresso, an old east-bay coffee roaster that's been focused on restaurants and cafes rather than direct to consumer efforts for decades. Coffee Bar seems to get some of the more exotic Mr Espresso roasts and some of its own batches as well. They were one of if not the first place in San Francisco to get a Clover machine, before Starbucks bought them--which doesn't mean they're the best, it just means they could be interesting for a coffee geek.

                              In order of preference, I'd pick Four Barrel for straight espresso, Blue Bottle for across the board excellence, then Coffee Bar at a slightly less competitive third place. Ritual is not a place I enjoy visiting due to the roast style, the barista style, and the holier than thou approach to coffee.

                              -----
                              Coffee Bar
                              1890 Bryant St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: SteveG

                                Coffee Bar still uses Mr. Espresso which is now available retail around the city. Some of their bags look like they have a white label but it's hard to tell if they're getting custom roasted beans. It's also an italian style roast closer to Graffeo's but with a different technique to bring out flavor.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Thanks! From the website, it looks like Coffee Bar would also fit the bill in terms of giving us a place to hang out for an hour and providing our non-coffee drinking visitor some breakfast-y options. Is the menu decent, or should we just get our coffee to go and eat elsewhere?

                                  1. re: Pei

                                    Not a ton in the immediate area that I can think of unless you go towards the Mission, or maybe Universal Cafe or Slow Club.

                                    Coffee Bar does have an extensive menu though I'm not sure of their breakfast offerings. There is a mezzanine level where you can hang out, and it also has a nice bar that overlooks the coffee service below.

                                    Expect a dark thicker roast with proper milk that's more creamy than foamy.
                                    If you worry about coffee being bitter, this might be a little too intense/muddy, and I'd suggest Ritual instead. The problem with Ritual is, they're not the most consistent, and they change up their beans, so if you read a review from February, it might be meaningless by May. If you like candy, fruity, novelty flavors that are still natural to the bean, then I think Ritual has the most playful selection. The room and their snacks are fun too though it's a younger trying to be hip crowd at times. Four Barrel is an in between, and if you sit away from the windows which get a little too much light at times, the big open room is really nice. They have have Dynamo Donuts but no other food offerings. They too have the assortment of flavors thing but so if you want interesting beans, it's there as well. Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza location has a fair amount of food offering, but not a full menu or anything. They have a big selection of snacks, and a wide menu of coffee which makes ordering a little tough. If you don't like heavy coffee avoid their Three Africas blend. Their coffee can range from light as tea, to total sludge, and that's without getting into how they service it....through a drip? Through a syphon?

                                    Then there's a whole range of places just carrying Ritual and Blue Bottle, or De La Pazz beans now. There's also Verve coffee being offered in the city too.

                                    Here's a link to a site devoted to keeping track of all these places, and what means, techniques they use. They focus on espresso but it's probably as comprehensive as you'll find.

                                    http://theshot.coffeeratings.com/
                                    http://www.coffeeratings.com/