By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
If you’re not into the culture of look-alike coffee shop chains, San Francisco counter culture is alive and well in its independent coffee bars. Even better, take a seat and stay awhile to absorb the unique vibe of locally-owned spots.
601 Vallejo St.
San Francisco, CA 94133
It was April 1, 1956 when “Papa Gianni” Giotta opened the doors of Caffe Trieste on a light-filled corner of North Beach. It was the first espresso coffee house on the West Coast. April Fool’s Day, yes…but more than 60 successful years later, this establishment was clearly no joke. Decades’ worth of celebrity photos hang on the walls. “Brew each cup like it’s for you” is the old world philosophy that has served the family well from that day forward. The unique formula at the intersection of Vallejo Street and Grant Avenue is a combination of great espresso, a convivial “everybody’s welcome” atmosphere and, on occasion, the family’s signature live music. When placing your order, look beyond tempting biscotti and cannoli to see the Magister Sistema Caffe espresso machine at the heart of the brewing action.
2123 Fillmore St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Always packed (with too many people, frankly), Jane’s on Fillmore has been a destination coffee shop since 2011. When you can’t find a seat at a black-and-white chevron topped table, walk past the custom graffiti mirror and take the 12 steps at the rear (above the wall mounted moose head) that lead to a small upper level seating area overlooking the whole shop. Everything at Jane’s is prepared in-house from scratch and there are plenty of gluten-free bakery items. The coffee is a Stumptown medium dark roast, the cakes and pastries are tasty and fresh, all-day breakfast is a real find. Owner Amanda Michael says healthy eating is all about balance, so a salad and a cookie is A-OK! And did we mention free Wi-Fi? Note that the front tables are kept laptop-free until after 3 p.m.
1890 Bryant St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
When you realize that claustrophobia and relaxing coffee time don’t mix all that well, Coffee Bar comes through with plenty of room in a space that’s open and lofty with big and bright south-facing windows. As the stomping ground for KQED staffers, it can get busy at lunchtime on weekdays, but it’s also open on weekends until 4 p.m. Sit outside at a cute red table on the patio or plug in (plenty of outlets) and hope for the best without tethering, as the Wi-Fi can be dodgy. Alternatively, conversation is always an option and the playlist is catchy. The breakfast burrito, oatmeal with fresh fruit on top and Vietnamese cold brew are hits. House coffee is from the family-owned and operated Mr. Espresso in Oakland, America’s first and only to hand roast beans over oak wood-fueled fires. The must try is Vanilla Bean Latte, suggests Dreamforce to their delegates.
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2821 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Expect to wait. And don’t count calories. Sweet and buttery, layered Kouign Amann Natures are all the rage here. Indeed, all sorts of pricey pastries are standouts at this popular place where Four Barrel coffee is served. Co-founder Belinda Leong began her career as a pastry chef at Gary Danko, trained further in the art of Parisian and Viennese pastry in Europe, and returned as head pastry chef at Manresa before opening this shop in 2013. Patisserie partner, Michel Suas, wrote the book on artisan bread and pastry education for professionals. On a sunny day, snag a seat at the sidewalk parklet. Regulars continue to be disappointed that they’re closed on Mondays.
Jackson Place Cafe
633 Battery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
It’s really a kiosk enhanced by the placement of outdoor lounge furniture plus cafe tables and chairs. Perfect for sipping good Italian coffee under the palm trees in a great Financial District location. So, forget the Wi-Fi, although you’ll want to linger here anyway. (Take a pass or get some takeaway when it’s raining.) Tucked away down a brick path, Jackson Place Cafe is a cute and cozy courtyard find for the Monday through Friday grind. Get Sightglass coffee at breakfast or order a lunchtime panini (duck confit, prosciutto, vegetarian) with a fresh fruit salad — all “served with Italian love” from your culinary team, Giovanni and Gino.
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