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Mar 30, 2014 10:24 AM

Great coffee in SD..?

I'm not a big coffee drinker, but lately I've been learning to appreciate it and enjoy it more. And I recently had some coffee (a cappuccino) at G&B in Grand Central Market in downtown L.A., and was very impressed.

Where in San Diego can we go for really good coffee--an espresso or cappuccino or something along those lines?


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  1. Zumbar, Caffe Calabria and Bird Rock are our three go to places

    3 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      Though I love Bird Rock's roasted coffee, for home brewing, I find their shots lacking. Something, I just can't put my finger on, is off... Zumbar, on the other hand, is just spot on. Time and time again.

        1. re: honkman

          Zumbar and Calabria are the BEST!!!!

          (Bird Rock...better than average, not the best)

          All judged strictly on cappuccinos.

          Well and the occasional Mocha ;) Which, Neekoman, at a good coffee place, is a totally acceptable "coffee drink" because you can actually taste the espresso and it isn't all sugar!

          Also Zumbar happens to have the best (masala) chai latte I've tried in town as well.

        2. Having lived in Rome, Italy for three years, I am partial to Italian style espresso. The best espresso coffee I have had in San Diego is from the no-name kiosk near the front door of Mary Birch Hospital (part of the Sharp Memorial Campus in Kearny Mesa). The family who owns and operates it is from just north of Rome and their coffee is exceptionally good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sandiegomike

            Also recommend. Totally forgot about this place, but it got me through the birth of my son. So, kudos are warranted!

          2. I like Caffe Calabria, the Coffee & Tea Collective (yes, in all its hipster glory), and Dark Horse.

            14 Replies
            1. re: jmtreg

              @jmtreg -

              Please indulge a question which is tangentially related to the core subject of this thread.

              I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend who is a national travel writer and who, like me, thinks C&T Collective would be popular and quality-competitive in even the most coffee-forward cities in the country (well, that part is directly on point to the OP, so there).

              Of course, in our conversation about C&TC, the word "hipster" came up. We mooted our thoughts about what that word means in such a context, and now I'm curious -- 1) what it is about C&TC that, for you, evokes the word/idea "hipster" and 2) how would you describe what you mean when you use that word in this context?

              I feel this question is somewhat important to understanding certain dynamics of the market for independent food businesses, and I'd love to understand it better.


              1. re: jayporter

                Your query was not addressed to me.
                I can't help but throw in my opinion. This topic comes up quite frequently when discussing coffee shops with my friends. Black Horse in Normal Heights seems subdued and not as obvious in its quest to be cool.

                C& T Collective exudes hipsterness once you walk in; the workshop-walls, minimalism aesthetics, typewriter vibe. Secondly, the owner and employees are dressed in hipster "gear" (far-reaching pun alluding to fixies) with their beanies, mustaches, flannels, skinnies, and boots.

                Third? The attitude. You know, that Look Past the Customer, "I'm so bored here", "yes?" greeting.
                And that is why I avoid the place and prefer Dark Horse.
                DH's coffee is just as good with way friendlier service.
                I hope to see a second location closer to me in Golden Hill. (Bonus for the vegan doughnuts.)

                Curious to get jmtreg's response.

                1. re: globocity

                  @globocity - can I ask what the word(s) "hipster" or "hipsterness" mean to you in this context?

                  I appreciate your willingness to engage, I'm really interested in the topic and I think it has a lot of relevance to the food scene.

                  1. re: jayporter

                    San Diego's fear of anything Craft/Handmade/3rd Wave and the type of people that those things also attract (+ a bunch of dated/irrelevant stereotypes)?

                    1. re: DougOLis

                      Well, yeah, it's easy to see it as kind of cultural conflict between craft/3rd wave people and the "mainstream" and of course I'm kind of well known (justified or not, probably mostly justified) for being disposed to that position anyway.

                      But I don't think the "hipster" appellation is that simple. For instance, in the conversation I was having with my friend last night, we both think C&TC is fantastic -- great quality, friendly service, etc, totally different than @globocity's take on the experience -- and yet we still referred to it as a "hipster" place. I know what we meant, but I don't think it's what @globocity meant and I'm not sure if it's what @jmtreg meant.

                      Simply put, I do think people must have an idea in their heads of what it means for something to be "hipster", but I also think that not many of us have the *same* idea. In fact, I wonder how divergent that idea is! And I suspect the differences may be illuminating. Certainly the readiness with which that label is attached to certain food and beverage endeavors must be relevant, too.

                      Basically, I'd just like to know more about where everyone's coming from. I don't really have a hypothesis.

                      1. re: jayporter

                        Again, I have never had any issues with the service at C&TC, but the aesthetic is hipster.

                          1. re: jayporter

                            I think I fall into the camp of "i know it when i see it," but I'm just not sure what it means or if there is anything behind hipsterism other than a look. In my book, fashion is always an option - I'm not sure how the outfit affects the quality of my coffee, but if it makes the guy behind the counter feel a little more authentic, have at it.

                    2. re: jayporter

                      Actually, the guys at C&TC have treated me quite well, and they are very knowledgeable about coffee. But the aesthetic is soooooo hipster-chic. We're talking, handlebar mustaches, tattoos, bicycles, overalls and/or skinny jeans, beanies, etc.

                      But here's the thing - coffeehouses are full of strange people (especially the staff), and that's part of what makes a good coffeehouse. I expect my barista (hate to use the Starbucks terminology) to have a few tattoos, some odd body piercings, etc. C&TC is no different, but they pretty much hit every stereotype someone of my generation (Gen X/Gen Y) has of a hipster. So, I ignore the aesthetic and focus on the coffee, which is usually excellent.

                      1. re: jmtreg

                        Thanks @jmtreg. I think you're saying that to you, "hipster" refers to the fashion & design aesthetic you describe. I get that. I feel like some other people use it differently, but I don't have a lot of evidence.

                        1. re: jayporter

                          Just to add another position, I use "hipster" as a pejorative term now (combined with a variety of offensive words), especially with the current fashion/aesthetic built into restaurants. Thankfully the waxy mustaches + Prohibition-era garb + old timey desk stuff + dinner plates in earlobes thing is now saturated and commandeered by large corporate interests (quick example: the upcoming OB Warehouse by the Cohn group) so I expect hipsters to rapidly move to some other ridiculous fashion + relic combination.

                          I ignore the dumb outfits and overplayed decor if the place makes solid food though haha

                    3. re: jmtreg

                      Dark Horse doesn't sell espresso drinks, only excellent pour over, unless something has changed since my last visit. (OP was asking about espresso drinks.)

                      Coffee & Tea Collective is a solid third place in my rankings, below #1 Zumbar and #2 Calabria.

                      My #4 is Cafe Bassam since I've had some decent cups there, even if the owner of the place is notorious. Also, it is open very late which is nice on the weekends.

                      #5 is Black Rock Coffee in Oceanside. It's a fantastic drive through coffee stand that I always hit on my way to LA. (Technically not San Diego city, but thought I'd throw it in.) Sometimes I'll also hit Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa if I need another kick later on.

                      Other than those gems, not much stands out otherwise. I have never been impressed with Bird Rock's coffee, especially their espresso drinks. I've been to the coffee cart in front of Mary Birch several times (wife was in the hospital there for a week) but I wasn't really impressed by it at all.

                      1. re: ikeg

                        Tried Black Rock in Oceanside, and really enjoyed their take-out cappuccino. Even though it was inside a to-go cup with the lid on (I feel like the look of a good cappuccino inside a nice coffee cup or mug is half the fun--and adds to the enjoyment), I was impressed. Thanks for the tip!

                    4. Zumbar Coffee & Tea is terrific, but is located in no man's land in Sorrento Valley.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: wanker

                        If that is no man's land, then why is there so much traffic in the area?

                          1. re: jayporter

                            No appreciation for the San Diego industrial park vibe (which is mostly biotech in that area). It was an area so ripe for picking, Jay. :)

                            1. re: RB Hound

                              Oh, I spent plenty of time there in my car or cubicle - 7ish years in tech. You are right about me having no appreciation for the vibe! :-)

                              1. re: jayporter

                                Could my sarcasm have been any more dripping?

                                I can understand why a good coffee joint would take off there, though. And New English Brewing, too.

                        1. re: wanker

                          Lucky for me it is right next to no man's land Mira Mesa! (Where I live.) All hail Zumbar! And though it doesn't look it, it is a train station as well. Lots of train commuters must drink coffee because their parking lot is tiny and I always find a spot.

                          They also have a location in Encinitas.

                        2. Wow, these are some great replies (including Jay's question on what exactly makes a food business "hipster"--good question).

                          After reading sandiegomike's post about the coffee at Mary Birch Hospital (and CampySD's agree) I got excited to try it because that sounded like a fun almost hidden/secret recommendation. But then I felt conflicted after seeing that ikeg doesn't think it's worth raving about after all. So I guess I'll push that one a little further down my list of places to try, and start out with Zumbar, which everyone so far seems to agree is very good. I also like the idea of having places to stop on the drive north toward LA, and Zumbar will fit nicely into that category (and then if I want to try some something else next time, I can check out Black Rock, and maybe even eventually Portola).

                          As far as my original question, I did sort of ask specifically about espresso or cappuccino, but that's just because I don't know much about coffee, being so new to it. I think I have good taste in food, beer, wine, and cocktails, so long as I'm eating/drinking items I'm familiar with. But when it comes to coffee, I've never really gotten into it before now so I'm just not very familiar with it. I have a feeling as I try more kinds and get to know it better I'll branch out into "pour over" and whatever other styles there are, but for now I think I'll stick with espressos and cappuccinos, because I have at least a little experience with them. (Them, and Mochas, which I think probably most non-experienced coffee drinkers like me usually prefer when it comes to "coffee drinks".)

                          : )

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Neekoman

                            If you are strictly going for espresso, then Caffe Calabria is probably your best bet.

                            1. re: Neekoman

                              try a macchiato - it's a good in between - less milk than a cappuccino, but just enough to take the "edge" off. If it's a really good shot, it doesn't need anything - except a glass of water on the side. :)

                              1. re: aliceqfoodie

                                aliceq - excellent advice!

                                When there's a really stellar single-origin espresso on offer, especially a berry-forward natural Ethiopian, I'll often order BOTH an espresso and a Macchiato. They both highlight and complement the fruit differently, with an edge favoring the Macchiato if I were to order just one drink.

                                Another really nice and less-known drink to consider is the Gibraltar or the Cortado - basically a very short Latte. It still has the wet foam and the steamed milk of the Latte, but in a much better proportioned drink. In fact at home I pull all of my "Lattes" as very short Cortados.