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Good coffee in San Diego?

Again, just moved here from SF and am dying for a good cup of coffee. All my coffee paraphernalia (aka - press, chemex, pour over gear) is in storage b/c I'm in between places. Please, where can I find a cup of coffee that hasn't been sitting in an urn for 3 hours???? Four Barrel was my favorite in SF so anywhere that is even remotely close to them in quality would be so greatly appreciated!


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  1. What part of town are you in? We love the made to order coffee at Extraordinary Desserts with 2 locations - 1 in Little Italy and 1 in Bankers Hill/Hillcrest.

    1. In San Diego, one needs to break it down between brewed and espresso. For espresso, right now my top recommendation is a small roaster/cafe called Zumbar in Sorrento Valley. Since their best baristas are also the ones who spend most of their time up on bar, your chances are pretty good. The ones to look out for are Nicole, their best, followed by Aaron.

      They'll often feature a special coffee in their third grinder that they'll pull shots for 50 cents more, and is almost always worth the charge. Typically it'll be, but not always, a DP SO Ethiopian, but they've also had some stellar blends as well. (Still long for their Red Sea Blend...)

      For brewed, you can find shops here and there, but the big standout in terms of a broad selection of SO coffees is Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, who also won roaster of the year in last year's Roast Magazine roundup.

      In fact this might be a good time to go as Chuck, their owner, just came back from a buying trip to origin. Also keep in mind that every Friday at 10:30 Chuck conducts a free coffee cupping that's open to the public.

      4 Replies
      1. re: cgfan

        Second Bird Rock.

        If you're up in OC, I really recommend Kean Coffee also. cgfan let me know about them and I was pretty impressed with their single origin Tanzanian

        1. re: karaethon

          Normally like Kean Coffee but the last few times their espresso and cappuchino were just plain awful and a few of their barrista simply don't know what they are doing. Very disappointing after some good experienced before.

          1. re: karaethon

            To be clear, though, Kean is not my top rec in OC. In regards to technical execution, that vote would go to Portola Coffee Lab, in the OC Mix Mart. ...they also have a very nice cheese shop a few doors down where one can pick up a light bite.

            ...and while there one might consider oggling over the dream-house goodies at the Fixtures for Living store in the same complex, where they'll serve you a complimentary espresso drink from their very prominently displayed La Marzocco right at their entrance/reception area. (Not to say that one would go there for their espresso drinks, but the price is right...)

            1. re: cgfan

              Having had the two, I think I actually preferred the taste of the free drink at Fixtures than the one I had at Portola last night. Maybe they were having an off night, because it was the put a lot of work into something that I thought was just above corporate-chain quality (it was about as good as Influx-Little Italy, which I never bother with for good reason).

        2. If you're near North Park, I'd look into Cafe Calabria, which brews a damn fine french press. When you get your stuff out of storage, you can also take advantage of the fact that Cafe Calabria is its own coffee roaster.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jmtreg

            Sad to report that the last time I was at Calabria, about 2 weeks ago, Max said that they don't do french press coffee anymore.

          2. In order to avoid the "stale" urn phenomenon and still get a respectable cup of drip style coffee, it's best to go for a high volume shop. Peet's in Hillcrest fills that bill. The coffee itself is not great but very good and they serve a lot of customers all day long.

            For Italian style espresso you can't beat the small kiosk just outside the front door to the Mary Birch Hospital on the Sharp Main Campus. The family that operates the stand is from a town just outside of Rome. Very authentic. They have good drip coffee as well but their forte is espresso, latte, and cappuccino.

            For a good balance of quality coffee, proper brewing, and a nice place to drink it at your lea sure, consider "Red's" on Rosecrans in Point Loma. A good coffee shop with some very nice baked goods as well.

            1. This really does depend on where you're at. Cafe Moto is pretty good their coffee is also whats used at Influx and a few other places. I've heard Santos is decent, Calabria does quality coffee as well. All these places are closer to downtown... sorta.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kriot

                i miss philz in sf - we still order their beans and have them shipped to us.... down here good places to try are bird rock coffee roasters in la jolla, ryan brothers coffee, zumbar in sorrento valley. we just buy the whole beans and do it all at home - i don't like bird rock as much as philz but 10:30am you can go to a cupping and try it for yourself. to me, bird rock has a weird "weed-like" thing going on...not as round as philz - not for me. zumbar is more blends so it's like philz, and bird rock is mostly origin, so it just depends what you like. although i love the atmosphere at pannakin - the coffee is not good. kean and cafe calabria are good but inconsistent.

              2. Good luck, manzanita. My husband, the SF/Seattle coffee snob tried everything in town, over and over. weighing his options. He'll drink a cup from Bird Rock and Calabria (never gone so far afield as Zumbar) but for at home french-pressing, his favorite is Peets beans. He believes they're more consistent and freshest of bunch. However, one trick of his is to always order an americano. (only way to drink coffee at starbucks when you're on the road.) That beats the urn thing.

                1. I have to drink Caffe Calabria in North Park everyday, or else it's just a waste of a day :)

                  1. If you are in NC, La Costa Coffee Roasters at El Camino Real and Dove Lane is my go to spot for drip and beans.

                    1. I've heard Bird Rock and been meaning to go..then one morning I ask my wife "Where'd you get this coffee?" It's UCC coffee, bought from Nijiya (also Mitsuwa). Gold blend is my recommendation. I've tried the usual suspects in my area, and this has been the most consistent for me. I had just bought Peet's a few weeks back and it was immediately clear she didn't brew Peets. This was way better.

                      1. Just want to thank everyone who has mentioned Bird Rock on this board. i finally made it there and brought some bags with me back to AZ. The Rwanda co-op stuff was good, but the Carmelo Yurja from Bolivia is maybe the best coffee I have ever brewed. Complex, rich, rounded, flavorful -- and no hint of burnt flavors. Can't wait to try the other Bolivian I bought. Thanks again, everyone.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Ed Dibble

                          I go for Pappalecco in downtown (north end by Little Italy). There was also a cart at Broadway and 4th (?) by Union Bank or BofA that was really good.

                          Also +1 for Zumbar

                        2. Lately been enjoying the pour over coffee at the Roast Coach located in front of SeaRocket in North Park. There Monday-Saturday, mornings until about noon-ish. Not Blue Bottle quality but some of the better coffee in town.

                          1. Manzanita, I moved from here to SD after 8 years in SF and have carved out my own little SF lite. Check out Coffee & Tea Collective, just opened on El Cajon. They are definitely the closest to Blue Bottle or Four Barrel, both in quality and aesthetic; and the owner, Daniel is super passionate and helpful. Also, at the City Heights Farmers Market (as close to Alemany as you can get here!) there are a few cute girls who run Agora Bean + Leaf, a pour-over coffee situation, like Philz. They are great too, and the market is amazing.
                            If you would like to pick my brain about any other SF to SD withdrawals, let me know!


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: loghia

                              V60 pour-over is good and all (depending on the roast/bean of course), but are there any coffee shops that use an Aeropress in San Diego?

                              1. re: DougOLis

                                DougOLis, I use an Aeropress at home (inverted brewing method) but haven't really run across anyone in San Diego using it commercially. There is, however, 1 location in Tijuana that does use the Aeropress. Sospeso, which is a block south of the Camino Real Hotel, in back of the Calimex, offers Aeropress as one of 4 methods for brewing coffee.

                                That said, an acquaintance of mine who is way into coffee also offered up this information:
                                "..in concept it's very similar to the Bunn Trifecta single-cup brewer. as in the Aeropress, after steeping it ejects the brewed coffee using air, but of course in the case of the Trifecta this is all carefully automated. (Though as you probably know, many who use the Aeropress expel any trapped air as part of their technique such that the plunger itself, and not air pressure, ejects the brewed coffee.)

                                ...Cafe Virtuoso still uses their Trifecta in service. Loic Patisserie in RSF also uses a Trifecta, though of the two you'd be better off going to Virtuoso.

                                I doubt you would find many who would use an Aeropress in actual service. As simple as it is for home use, it's not very well suited for cafe use. However you might check with the folks at Coffee and Tea Collective as a long-shot try. If anyone's crazy enough to try it in service, it'd be them."


                              2. re: loghia

                                Thank you so much! I will be sure to check these out. I actually had recently thrown in the towel on finding a good fix in SD and ordered some Stumptown! Nice to know that there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, thank you so much for your farmer's market advice. I'm also a big fan of the Saturday Little Italy mercado. It's no San Rafael civic center or Ferry Bldg, but it fills the void. Do you know of any place for good oysters? Hog Island style oyster bar is what I'm after.
                                Thanks again!

                                1. re: manzanita

                                  I hit up the Fish Market Oyster Bar downtown for my oyster fix of kumamoto, chowder, steamers..do not dine at the pedestrian resto...sushi bar is quite good or Top of the Market upstairs...the bayfront patio is great for drinks and apps watching the boats go by.

                                  1. re: manzanita

                                    The SR farmer's market must have improved substantially since I lived in Marin. It was always a good market, but certainly not great and did not compare in any way to the LI market...except for the tomato vendor :-). Those were some seriously good tomatoes. You had to get there early and people were always 3 or 4 deep around their stand.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Yeah, next time you're in the bay area you should check it out. It's the third largest in the state. Perhaps you were thinking of the awful one downtown that has subsequently closed. If you think LI is great you'd really appreciate the San Rafa. Civic Center Sunday. It's pretty incredible.

                                2. MY go to place is Zumbar. Ambiance it does not have but very good roasts and barristas who know how to properly work a French press it does have.