Three years ago, those looking for a cup of specialty coffee in San Francisco’s Financial District were presented with few, even no options. Though the area from Market Street to North Beach, from The Embarcadero to Union Square, was brimming over with Starbucks, Peet’s, Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs, and Specialty’s, the presence of San Francisco’s already legendary specialty coffee scene was non-existent here.
Flash-forward to present day though, and the Financial District is on the verge of being a coffee destination, a melting pot of new and old coffee faces alike—some established Bay Area roasters, other big guns from around the nation—melding together to feed the caffeine needs of San Francisco’s crowded financial center. Join us for a wee tour of these FiDi (as the locals call it—if there are locals in a financial district) coffee hotspots.
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 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.
With an eye towards keeping its near constant line moving, while providing a source for excellently prepared coffee, the space features two La Marzocco Strada MPs, two Fetco setups (for grab-and-go), and a Kalita Wave pour-over bar for the roaster’s wide range of single origin beans. If you’re able to eschew your coffee snobbery for a moment, the shop handcrafts its own syrups for a bevy of admittedly delicious flavored drinks. I prefer the caramel latte, but popular opinion tends towards the condensed-milk-sweetened Havana Latte.
Just across the street from Coffee Bar is the bustling Workshop Cafe, a hybrid coffee shop and cooperative workspace that uses an Apple-approved online concierge system to allow people to book out work spots for a paltry two dollars an hour. Though from the outside, the space looks small, cramped even, walk through the orange-tape-covered barrier in the back and you’ll find the space sprawls into a massive back area with individual conference rooms and quite literally hundreds of electrical outlets to ensure that your computing devices don’t die.
The interior screams start-up—a primary color scheme, random, though appealing art, etc.—and it does so for a reason. The next Mark Zuckerburg might just be enjoying a shot of Stumptown’s Hairbender pulled on the shop's GB5, tapping away in the seat next to you. The cafe also features beer, wine, an extensive menu of food, and two Kyoto-style cold brew set-ups. Go for the buzz of a communal workspace, stay for a great cup of coffee.
Started by one-time Coffee Bar co-owner Jason Paul, Coffee Cultures is one of the first coffee outposts on the West Coast to solely offer North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee. The cafe—tiny, warm and cozy—has become a portal of sorts for some of the Bay Area’s new wave of coffee kids. Designed with the theme of early 20th century travel in mind, Coffee Cultures features beautiful globe lights and a fairly stunning palette of chocolaty browns and periwinkles spread across wall-sized murals of planes and hot-air balloons
Though there is limited space for seating—a handful of stools near the looming picture windows—the few seats up for grabs offer some of downtown San Francisco’s best people watching. The skilled baristas on staff pull shots from a three-group GB5, and if you want to taste Counter Culture at its very best, this isn’t a bad bet. Even if you don’t like coffee, stop in for a cup of fro-yo (yes, fro-yo) or even better, the selection of baked goods from the very popular Tenderloin bakery, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse.
Tucked away on upscale Maiden Lane in the dark, front hallway of drinking establishment The Romper Room, it’s apt to say that you probably won’t stumble across Iron Horse unless you’re really looking to. That said, this is one of the better Ritual wholesale accounts in the city, and seeking it out is worth your while. The space is basically an indoor kiosk—look for the bright blue tables for guidance—with a tidy GB5 setup and a wall of Ritual Coffee bags. It’s simple and to the point, the perfect place for a grab-and-go cup in the morning, or a casual outdoor meeting in the afternoon.
With a moniker pulled from the Parisian library of the same name, you’d expect that newly minted cafe Mazarine wouldn’t look too shabby. And you’d be correct. The space features white granite tabletops, a poured-concrete floor, mid-century modern tables, a trio of Nuova Simonelli grinders, and a gorgeous Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine that glows like a heavenly light box. This spot is goddamn gorgeous. Pair the stunning space with a rotating selection of California roasters (that includes Ritual and Klatch amongst others), a savvy wine and beer program, an elegant menu of food prepared on-site, well educated and friendly staff, and a fine selection of some of the city’s best pastries, and this might be the best thing to happen to the Financial District in years.
Noah Sanders helms Sprudge.com's Bay Area desk, and is a contributor to SF Weekly, and The Bold Italic. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.