The Bay Area is home to a coffee scene unrivaled in richness, history, and cutting-edge options. From globe-spanning field leaders like Blue Bottle Coffee to quality-focused independent brands like Wrecking Ball Coffee, Four Barrel Coffee, and Ritual, the Bay Area has given us years of features here at Sprudge, with cafes that are admired and imitated all over the world. Here's 10 of our favorites, anchored by the work of our Bay Area staff writer Noah Sanders, with additional features by Leif Haven and Alex Bernson.
The cafe is an elegant hole-in-the-wall, but not one you’re likely to stumble upon. It’s hidden, just off Chinatown’s main drag on pipe-cleaner sized Commercial Street, under a tattered red banner advertising for massage. The cafe’s presence is announced by a sleekly carved signboard and a large plate-glass window with a gold-inked logo shining in the late afternoon sun.
The Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, in that very typically Oakland way, is at once bustling—the constant rush of cars, the small parade of people marching up and down the sidewalks—and yet calmly residential. The commercial hubbub feels LIKE more of an extension of the surrounding residential neighborhood than anything else. Inside Pizzaiolo, with its exposed brick and warmly glowing burnished hardwoods, a similar feeling exists, as if the residual energy of Hallowell and his friends had long ago morphed and evolved into a communal living room for the neighborhood. Gerber’s dog, Maude, can be spotted most mornings shyly asking for a pet from her favorite customers. “It’s actually a neighborhood spot,” Gerber tells me, “and not some pre-fabricated intentional vibe.”
In the last ten years, the Bay Area has become a mecca for nascent coffee roasters looking to make their mark on the exploding specialty coffee scene. It can get crowded, and certainly competitive, with fresh faces like Supersonic, Andytown, and Hearth butting up against the existing stalwarts like Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Sightglass; all of them fighting to make an impression, to make themselves known on a local and, hopefully, national level. Even without the crowded field San Francisco presents, newly minted roasters start off on a bad foot as the costs of a roasting operation in the city—the roaster, the rent, the permits, and on and on—can be sky-high and a brutal deterrent for those looking to experiment with the idea of seeing their logo on their own bag of beans. Luckily, Oakland’s Highwire Coffee is offering a Tenant Roasting Program to do what it can to not only give the next generation of coffee roasters a foothold but to help educate those who might even harbor a spark of roasting interest.
Amidst the hubbub of construction, traffic, and the din of human existence in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood, our friends and partners at Mill Valley’s own Equator Coffees have thrown open the doors to their hotly anticipated first San Francisco cafe. Designed by Boor Bridges Architecture, the cafe features large picture windows that peer out onto this slowly evolving section of San Francisco’s main thoroughfare. Or if you’re Devorah Freudiger, Equator’s Director of Training and Education, you hope the windows will invite passersby to peer in.
In late April 2015, Counter Culture Coffee threw open the doors on its 12,000-square-foot roasting and training facility in Emeryville, thereby firmly announcing the brand’s intentions to make their mark on the West Coast. I ventured out to the space to get the full tour of this beautiful, light-filled warehouse and sit and chat with a few of Counter Culture’s notable employees.
These new Blue Bottle cafes in San Francisco are coming fast, with Sansome opening just two weeks after the company’s new Mid-Market location. The cafes are quite different; Mid-Market is simple, attractive but shed of frivolities—a place to come and get a cup of coffee, not stare at the 100-year-old tile work. 115 Sansome is a sort of minor “flagship” store, set up in a beautiful, tourist-friendly space, with a subdued dramatic flair to it that naturally draws a crowd. A crowd of 40 or so people queued up in the lobby on opening day. Early returns indicate that Sansome’s a hit.
Before Coffee Bar, the FiDi had next to nothing. An offshoot of Bay Area coffee godfather Mr. Espresso, Coffee Bar had cemented itself as an up-and-comer with a massive two-story retail location in The Mission. With business booming, owner Luigi Di Ruocco made the move to expand into one of the city’s driest specialty coffee locales. Though he now runs two solid retail locations downtown—the original on Montgomery Street, and a newer one on the edge of Chinatown—the original is this author’s preferred choice. Aimed at the fast-paced Financial District nine-to-fiver, the Montgomery location is a brightly lit nook (it’s only 476 square feet), stylishly clad in light wood in a way so the ceiling forms a geometric dome above its customers.
Come to Evernote‘s new headquarters for a meeting with CEO Phil Libin and there’s a good chance that your meeting will start with a cappuccino in their lobby espresso bar. If you’re an Evernote employee, your mornings probably start the same way. Seriously tricked out office espresso bars are nothing new in the Bay Area tech scene, but at Evernote, there’s a twist: depending on which morning you visit, that coffee will be made for you by Mr. Libin himself.
Opened by the husband-and-wife team of Ariana Akbar and James Kafader (one-time owners of the now defunct Parkside coffee haunt, Brown Owl), Hearth Coffee sits a hundred feet off Market Street, tucked in the shadow of the gorgeous and historic Castro Theater. A one-time tanning salon, Kafader and Akbar have gone the distance in converting the room into a bright, airy space marked by a distinctively Scandinavian design aesthetic. White walls soar upwards from the untreated wood floors (reclaimed pier pilings) and a gleaming and polished wooden bar zigs and zags its way almost the entire length of the shop, with polished white steel and wooden chairs tucked beneath it.
Snowbird Coffee is a dimly lit, low-ceilinged, cozy cave of a cafe tucked away beneath the salmon-colored window frames of a faded apartment complex. An assortment of vintage paraphernalia line the shelves and walls—ancient Golden West coffee cans filled with succulents and an Attack of the 50 Foot Woman movie poster, amongst other items. On both of my visits to Snowbird, the smattering of plush seats and wooden banquettes were filled with locals absorbed in conversation, diligently pounding away at their laptops or nose deep in a book. It’s a spot that seems to encourage you to sit down for a minute, take a breath, and get comfortable. Kim, a filmmaker-turned-coffee-shop-owner, wouldn’t have it any other way.
JoEllen Depakakibo recently joined the fray with Pinhole Coffee in Bernal Heights at 231 Cortland Avenue. She told me that the landlord had been so eager to have a cafe in the building, she’d done a build-out even before Depakakibo arrived. Luckily, Depakakibo swooped in and grabbed it. Knowing full well that the café would be host to a veritable army of strollers—the neighborhood’s nickname is, of course, Maternal Heights—Depakakibo designed the space accordingly. It’s wide open, with plenty of room to bring about a double-wide.