Coffee Shops with Character


From Los Angeles to British Colombia, the Pacific Coast is without a doubt one of the hottest spots on the planet for good coffee. With Coffee Klatch in San Dimas, Stumptown in Portland, and Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters in Olympia, some of the highest ranked coffees in the world are roasted right here on the West Coast. And although the Bay Area doesn’t have the same coffee-town reputation as Seattle or Portland, it boasts its fair share of exceptional grinds.

The atmosphere in Bay Area coffee shops runs the full gamut. Whether you’re looking for laid back digs where you can get a good cup of unpretentious java or you’re seeking a truly hipster experience where baristas endeavor to pull the perfect shot every time, San Francisco and Berkeley offer something for everyone. Here are some of the more interesting coffee shops to be found in the Bay, along with a bit about what makes them so special.

Spike’s Coffees and Teas

4117 19th St (Castro District)
(415) 626-5573
Mon-Sat 6:30am-7:00pm
Sun 7:30am-7:00pm

Spike’s is a wonderful little neighborhood coffeehouse and eatery in the Castro District,staffed with friendly, very skilled baristas, and offering a wide range of tasty coffees and coffee drinks. While offering nice little perks like a membership coffee card for quicker checkouts that are designed with locals in mind, travelers passing through will find the Spike’s just as welcoming, with a staff ready to make them feel equally at home.

Spike’s uses Mountanos Brothers coffees, roasted locally in San Francisco, and they offer a wide range of dark roasts, medium roasts, light roasts, decafs, espressos, and flavored coffees. Some must-try coffees here include their Sumatra Mandheling and their Jamaican Blue.

Java Jitters

1125 Ocean Ave (Ingleside)
(415) 333-3771
Mon-Fri 7:00am-8:00pm
Sat 8:00am-6:00pm
Sun 8:00am-2:00pm

A favorite among CCSF students, Java Jitters is a great coffee shop in the southern part of the city. With a laid-back vibe and affordable coffee, it’s a wonderful space to spend a day studying, reading, or chatting with friends. Java Jitters shares a space with La Parrilla Grill, so you can enjoy some fresh Mexican food with your coffee, if you can resist their own assortment of affordable sandwiches.

For a seemingly average coffee shop, what differentiates Java Jitters is the quality of its baristas. If you want to enjoy a shot of espresso in a place that doesn’t have the requisite snobbery associated with so many of the city’s best shops, but still want your drink to be properly pulled and tasty, Java Jitters can oblige. The baristas are friendly and well-trained, and will gladly talk with you about their beansand will even pull samples just to give you and fellow customers an idea of thelevel of quality Java Jitters strives for.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. Kiosk

315 Linden St (Hayes Valley)
(415) 252-7535
Mon-Fri 7:00am-5:30pm
Sat-Sun 8:00am-5:30pm

Consistently ranked as the best coffee roasted in the Bay Area, Blue Bottle provides coffee to many of the nicest coffee shops in the city. This is their flagship kiosk, located in an alley in Hayes Valley (just off of Gough St.), where they flawlessly serve up a small handful of their roasts. The baristas here are well-versed in the art of preparation, the ingredients are organic, and the atmosphere is casual chic.

The Kiosk is tiny, no more than 10 feet by 10 feet, so this isn’t a place to linger over a shot of espresso.  In fact, with the exception of a small wooden bench outside, there’s no seating at all. Still, the Kiosk is a great place to grab a cup of Blue Bottle coffee on your way to work – just make sure to leave plenty of time, as the line here can be a bit long.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. Café

66 Mint St (SOMA)
(415) 495-3394
Mon-Fri 7:00am-7:00pm
Sat 8:00am-6:00pm
Sun 8:00am-4:00pm

In January of 2008, Blue Bottle finally expanded from its simple kiosk and opened a full café in the SOMA neighborhood. The Café is everything the Kiosk isn’t – spacious, modern, and full of toys and trinkets that set it apart from virtually every other coffee shop I’ve ever set foot in. This is a place you can proudly bring your coffee snob friends to and get one of the most perfectly-prepared cups of coffee you’ve ever had – arguably one of the most perfect cups of coffee in the world.

The source of Blue Bottle Café’s coffee perfection is the Japanese-imported siphon bar, a steampunk-esque vacuum machine designed to brew the highest quality coffee. That’s brewed coffee – not espresso – and that’s what sets Blue Bottle Café apart from every other coffee shop in the Bay Area. It’s not that rare to see ten-to-twenty-thousand-dollar espresso machines at the nicest coffee bars, but to see a twenty-thousand-dollar machine dedicated to a drink many people still associate with drip is quite novel. And the siphon bar is the top of the line, edging out even the ludicrously priced Clover machine in terms of both dollar value and coffee quality.

All of this isn’t to say that they don’t serve espresso drinks – espresso-based drinks still remain the most-ordered beverages – but it does mean that if you’re in the mood to experience brewed coffee unlike anything you’ve tasted before, you need look no further than Blue Bottle.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

1026 Valencia St (Mission)
(415) 641-1024
Mon-Fri 6:00am-10:00pm
Sat 7:00am-10:00pm
Sun 7:00am-9:00pm

The golden child of the hipster coffee scene, Ritual is located in the heart of the Mission District. The line here tends to be long, but for people who love good coffee it is well worth the wait. Step inside and you’ll see a slew of hip twenty-somethings typing away on laptops and sipping their espresso, surrounded by the work of contemporary local artists adorning the walls and intentionally ironic nineties pop music playing over the speakers. This is where the urban laptop nomad dwells enticed by the abundance of seating, free WiFi , and the anonymity of a clientele that, like himself, is far too cool to try to strike up a conversation.

The baristas themselves are some of the most talented in the city, but their disaffected, sometimes snobbish, attitude isn’t for everyone. For those accustomed to shops in Seattle, Portland, or Williamsburg, this will feel like home, but for those in search of a broad smile and affordable prices, Ritual can come as a bit of a shock to the system. Still, for those who love coffee with a passion bordering on obsession, Chris Baca’s team is next to none. It is often said of Ritual that you either love it with every fiber of your being or you hate it in equal measure: there is no moderate position.

Ritual Gardens

1634 Jerrold Ave (Bayview)
(415) 694-6448
Mon-Sat 8:00am-5:00pm
Sun 10:00am-5:00pm

Away from the heart of the Mission District, Ritual’s outpost in the Bayview offers the same fine attention to detail, without the staggering lines or too-cool-for-you attitude. The coffee here is the same amazing roast, and the baristas are trained with the same intensity and passion.
In all other respects, Ritual Gardens is the counter opposite of its Valencia Street cousin.  While the Mission’s Ritual can be a virtual who’s who of the start-up tech world, there is no WiFi here, and not a laptop to be seen. Instead, Ritual Gardens is designed around the prospect of fully soaking up the rich and verdant flora in beautiful Flora Grubb Gardens while sipping on the perfect cup of coffee or shot of espresso.

For those enamored with the ideals of Ritual (the best beans, the best roast, and the best preparation) but unable to stomach the vibe of the original Café, Ritual Gardens is the answer. Even those who love Ritual’s flagship may find the virtually non-existent lines at the Gardens a welcome change of pace; for a quiet day with a book or friends, there is no finer café in southeast San Francisco.


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