Sacramento, California is known by many names, both beloved and hated. It’s the state capital, the city of trees/allergies, Sacto, home of Lady Bird and—if you really want to get underneath a Sacramento local’s skin—call it a cowtown. Though, good luck finding any actual cows here. Just under 100 miles northeast of San Francisco, Sacramento is an easy jaunt for those wishing to explore the capital and soak in some history. One thing locals agree on these days is that Sacramento is a great town for coffee. There’s something for everyone. Here are a few must-stop-shops to get you caffeinated while you take in the sights of the capital.
Opened in 2005, Temple Coffee is a pioneer of the local coffee scene. Owned and operated by Sean Kohmescher, Temple Coffee found its niche quickly among locals and visitors alike. While you’re almost guaranteed to wait in line at one of their five locations (and counting) around Sacramento and Davis—don’t let this deter you—efficient baristas greet you almost instantly behind shiny La Marzoccos. Next to the register, you’ll be tempted by a dazzling pastry case and a wall of enticing teas.
Whether you prefer one of their single-origin espresso shots or a pour-over, the K St location is a must-visit to check out their famous penny floors, and for their popular Dessert Program, which features specialty desserts such as cakes, tarts, and cheesecakes, all from local bakeries. For vegan and gluten-free fans, this menu will not disappoint.
Temple Coffee is nothing if not laser-focused on education, quality control, and maintaining its approachable, friendly-neighborhood-shop atmosphere, including free weekly public coffee tastings.
Andy and Edie Baker opened Chocolate Fish downtown in 2008, inspired by the espresso culture in their native New Zealand. After moving to Sacramento, they knew they wanted to have a shop that celebrated their Kiwi culture—and even named their shop after a fish-shaped treat indigenous to New Zealand that is given out as a “thank you” for a good deed (you may also “catch” your own at the shop). The couple now operate three shops, each a haven for those that appreciate their coffee with a nice, dog-friendly patio. Unlike most cafes in the grid, you’ll rarely see a gaggle of computer-tapping students here. In fact, there is no free WiFi, to encourage conversation rather than work.
The East Sac location on Folsom and 48th is where Chocolate Fish roasts coffee, with a meticulously-designed floorplan that allows patrons to watch roasting in action. Besides a full menu of award-winning coffees, the must-try item here is their nitro flash brew, which they pioneered and perfected in 2014. Many shops have tried to match the quality of this rich brew, but the nitro at Chocolate Fish remains the supreme summer drink for locals.
Since opening The Mill on I St in 2014, Nicholas & Ilah Rose Cookston-Minton have created one of the most unique shops in town—and I’ll say it began the minute they cranked up the waffle iron with a homemade liège-style yeasted batter so sweet you can smell it down the block. Their flagship cafe is conveniently located within walking distance of the Lavender District on J St, which is a weekend destination for hitting the Saturday farmers market and street festivals.
The Mill roasts its own beans under the brand Bouquet, which are worth purchasing if only to have the beautifully-designed bag grace your countertop (the coffee is consistently stellar, as well). Like their bag designs, The Mill’s interior is stunning and graceful, with hand-designed arrangements so lovely you’d think that animated Disney woodland critters decorated it when no one was looking. Likewise, their new East Sac location off Elvas Avenue promises much of the same cozy atmosphere.
The Mill’s playful seasonal menus keep everyone curious and begging for one more dose of a seasonal drink or jam before gearing up for what’s next. During the summer, look for the Wildwood flower latte or the Root Beer Espresso Float, or one of their signature beverages that highlight the delicious magic of herbs and roots in each house-made syrup—truly bringing the bouquet to the cafe.
Camellia Coffee Roasters
When business partners Robert Watson and Ryan Harden opened the doors of Camellia in 2018 in the WAL Public Market on bustling R Street, they were on a mission—to serve great cups of coffee and specialty pastries to the close-knit community of the newly hip R St corridor. Their coffee is stellar, but the food (all made in-house) is unlike any other coffee shop in town: it’s all about the pie.
Snag a hand pie filled with sweet or savory fillings, like apple, soyrizo with queso and hashbrowns, or broccoli with ham and cheddar. Or opt for a breakfast sandwich, which are super-stacked egg sandwiches with cheese, green onions, and veggies, bacon or sausage on a brioche bun with Cholula mayo (or a secret house-made hot sauce.)
Aside from their breakfast options, Camellia is a great stop if you want to see the growth of Sacramento in action: the open-market floorplan is full of local boutiques that will keep you busy for hours after the caffeine hits. During summer months, there are often street fairs and the hustle-bustle of locals that are happy to celebrate the end of the rainy season.
Since 2006, Old Soul has been a tried-and-true favorite of locals before “coffee snob” was a badge worn with honor. Owners Jason Griest and Tim Jordan were just a couple of guys roasting coffee in an alley (now a hugely popular area known as the Handle District), and little did they know what was in store for their humble shop.
Griest and Jordan set out to create a business where they would “make it ourselves and if we don’t, we’ll know who does,” Griest says. A dream actualized, Old Soul produces all its food (you’ll find a very generous breakfast and lunch/dinner menu) in-house and partners with various farmers around Sacramento Valley to ensure all products are fresh. Each of the three locations are very cozy, inviting, and serve as locals’ go-to spots for small meetings or dates.
Be sure to check out their seasonal menu with gems such as the Lavender Lemonade, and in the fall try the Mandarin Masaya, made with homemade cascara simple syrup and the local favorite, Ginger Elizabeth Chocolate.
Located just on the edge of midtown on 28th& O St, Identity immediately welcomes you with a sandwich-board sign stating “Hella Open Right Now,” which leads your eyes to the friendly exterior tucked away behind palm trees.
Inside, the spacious open-concept floorplan is a rare find in the grid—with custom tables and a bar designed and handcrafted by one of the owners, Lucky Rodrigues, who (along with his business partner, Ryan Rake), wanted the space to have a minimalist vibe by utilizing local, fell trees. Step on up and order a medium-roast pour-over, and delight in drinking your beverage in a vintage mug (barista’s choice). Complement your coffee with a locally-sourced pastry, bagel, or quiche. Head over to the Westside location (near the I St bridge) for heartier breakfast burritos, vegan waffles, and sandwiches with kettle chip nachos.
Oblivion Comics and Coffee
Inspired by the pocket universe inside DC Comics called the Oblivion Bar (a neutral zone where heroes and villains alike peacefully coexist), Oblivion Comics and Coffee has created its own peaceful world a stone’s throw from the Capitol building, right off K Street and 11th. The goal of Oblivion is to provide a safe, diverse, and welcoming place for everyone, and promotes acceptance, imagination, and creativity—all over an amazing cup of coffee.
Since opening shop in 2017, owners Laura Benson and Neil Estaris have indeed created the dream scenario for self-appointed comic and coffee geeks in the Sacramento area; utilizing Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters coffee and local bakeries for their pastry and quirky toast options, Oblivion knows as much about how to maneuver their way around an espresso machine as they could help you find your next favorite comic, which can be found right around the corner after picking up your Latte of Truth. They’ll even dust a comic-related stencil on top of your drink.
Oblivion has a jam-packed events calendar and regularly hosts open mic nights, trivia nights (sometimes Jeopardy-style), and educational Cosplay Crash Courses. After you’ve had your Thunderer’s Brew and Edible Hulk toast, the spoils of the vibrant downtown/K Street adventures await you.
Mollie Hawkins (@molliebat) is a freelance journalist based in Sacramento, California, writing for Marie Claire, Salon, AOL, HelloGiggles and others. Read more Mollie Hawkins for Sprudge.
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.