When you think of American cities that love coffee, the first thought is Seattle and I don’t think San Francisco rivals Seattle in the amount of coffee shops or sheer volume of coffee fandom there. However, living in SF, and I’d argue that it’s a close 2nd. Sure New York will have more variety, more coffee lovers and perhaps more rabid bean fans but its size makes the coffee community more spread out. With that said, let’s talk about SF and its love for a good cup of coffee.
I’ve been living in downtown San Francisco for nearly 16 months and it’s been an exciting time. However, just yesterday when I had a favorite coffee shop dead set in my mind, I ventured into a popular place called Philz for the first time and was blown away by how amazing it was. I went back today despite it was a 20 minute bus ride away from my place. That’s the point about coffee is that once you think that you’ve found the best cup, the very next day another amazing cup will hit and it will be a revelation in coffee drinking.
I honestly drink coffee for the taste and not for the energy boost. Below are a few of my favorite spots in SF to drink coffee based on taste, service and how well that location can be used to open up your laptop and work. The best coffee places have some of the worst locations for getting work done as an Internet Cafe. These are listed in reverse. The last coffee shop on the list is my favorite.
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (4th & Market): Their coffee is drip style, there’s nothing fancy but the flavors are pretty darn good for a chain coffee place. There’s only a few in SF and they’re usually over-run with tourists. Good luck finding a seat but Internet is always fast & reliable. Their selection of Teas are also pretty darn good an I like that it’s an affordable standby for anyone looking for a good cup.
Starbucks (3rd & Market Street): This location is the best Starbucks in the city. It’s not open very late and it doesn’t always have a spare seat but it’s central to my work & home plus the place has high ceilings, comfy chairs and even couches. Plus, it’s one of the only Starbucks locations in San Francisco that has the new $11K Clover Coffee Machine which has a distinct taste. Other than that, it’s just a Starbucks. I like their service though and surprisingly non-rush hour lines are usually less than 60 seconds.
Peets Coffee & Tea (2nd & Mission Street): This Peets has an atrium with over 50 seats and tall glass windows. I like the open atmosphere a lot but it can be quite a wait during the weekday between 8-10AM. Local SF residents know all about Peets. Their coffee is strong with zero bitter after-taste and a distinct full body. They also have an excellent tea selection with tea from all over the world at a great price. I’m also a sucker for their blended ice coffee drinks. Peets can be on the pricy side ($1-$1.50 more than Starbucks) but well worth it considering the extra quality you receive in exchange for the premium.
The Creamery (4th & King): The creamery doesn’t have wifi and doesn’t have power outlets. All of the other cafes to this point do but the creamery isn’t for meetings & hanging out on a Saturday. It’s a place that’s strictly for on the go coffee consumption but I personally don’t like their coffee. Nope, The Creamery has the best Vanilla Latte I’ve ever had and reviewers on Yelp confirmed that I’m not alone. Go to The Creamery, grab a vanilla latte and then head to the office. It’s well worth it!
Sugar Cafe is my 3rd favorite coffee shop for a few reasons but it isn’t the quality of their drinks. I’d love it if Sugar started brewing coffee from my top 2 favorite places but they use some generic stuff and it’s not very good. They do have some good espresso based drinks and they make up for the bad coffee with amazing pastries, breakfast sandwiches & mimosas. Where Sugar Cafe wins is in their seating, myriad of power outlets, hours of operation and super fast wireless Internet. It’s the best freelancer hotspot in the city and one that I couldn’t live without. I can show up at 6AM, eat breakfast, lunch & dinner (keeping my tab open the whole day like a bar) and then at 2AM leave to go home when they close. At 5PM it remains a cafe, but they have a full liquor license and people are there working all day. I love Sugar Cafe and will always keep it in my top 3 but it could be #1 if their coffee improved.
Blue Bottle Cafe (Mint Plaza; 5th & Mission): Blue Bottle was first a dumb thing in my mind because you’d wait for 25 minutes to get a cup of coffee with lines going out the door and a 5 minute process just to brew a cup. The coffee isn’t that expensive either – $2.3 for a 12oz cup of freshly brewed coffee. I’ve never had their pastries but it’s like The Creamery where I usually just go once every 2 weeks for that special cup of coffee and then leave to head off to another location. They don’t offer wifi or power outlets and their seating is scarce so I am only rating it based on the fact that their coffee is just so damn good! They resell their coffee so other shops in town brew Blue Bottle but don’t have the lines and w/ free wifi. I’ll try to find one of those in the near future.
Philz Coffee (18th & Sansome): My new favorite cup of coffee also has free wifi good hours and decent seating. Philz is owned by a guy and his son and they only have around 5 locations at this time. The story is that the founders have spent 20 years mixing beans, traveling and experimenting to find the perfect coffee “recipes” meaning Jacob’s Wonderbar (an actual flavor) is a collection of different beans from all over the world brewed at a certain temperature and ground perfectly as each cup of coffee is made to order just for you. To top it all off, you can get a few mint leaves in your cup which really adds a sweet kick to your cup. Philz is usually open 7AM-8PM. Hey have 8 tables & decently fast Wi-Fi. The staff is super courteous but the coffee can be high. My favorite coffee – The Turkish Blend is $3.50 a cup. There are 4 Philz locations in SF and each one requires a bus or subway ride of 15+ minutes. This is my new Sunday work hangout for sure and it’s always a treat.
There are over 25 other notable and popular coffee places in San Francisco and I’m only going off of what I’ve tried and what my favorites are. If you’re ever in SF visiting, stick to my top 5 and you won’t be disappointed! Maybe I’ll update this in the future when I finally make it to ritual roasters, sight glass or one of the many more coffee shops that people rave about on Twitter / Yelp.