SF Coffee Tour
Three years ago, I took a coffee tour in NYC. Last month, I did just that in SF and visited some of the major popular artisan coffee shops. I don’t know a lot about coffee like the experts but I do know when I get a good cup in my hand.
My first stop on the tour was Blue Bottle in the Mint Building. On a mid Saturday afternoon, tucked in a quiet street in the financial district, this shop was buzzing with patrons and a line that went out of the door. The line went super fast without a fuss. We also surprisingly quickly found some seats in the shop, which was filled with light pouring from the large cut out windows looking out to the backside of the Mint building. I was impressed with the barista’s efficiency. The opposite of snobbery was also refreshing. My macchiato was alright, but not too bad. I walked away with hope that there might be some good coffee in this town to look forward to.
My second stop is Jane on Fillmore, visiting an old friend Matt. Mike had known Matt for years working in the Seattle coffee business. Matt had moved down to SF to manage this new bakery/coffee shop. The decor in Jane is whimsical and charming, completed with stylized staff wardrobe with a personality. They serve coffee made with beans roasted at Four Barrel. Matt made me a delicious shot of espresso despite of the fact that he said he hasn’t been on the machine all day. Although in the back of my mind,I thought I have had much better from Matt when he was in Seattle.
Third stop was Sight Glass, which happened to be right next to our hotel on Market Street. The open warehouse look of Sight Glass put an emphasized the fact that it’s a roaster. An old beginning of the century roasting machine sits front and center to the shop, albeit surrounded by railings. We would order our coffee at the cashier along with pastries before walking over to the side where the barista would whip up our drinks. Perhaps our barista was really serious about his work. I shrugged off his aloofness and took my macchiato to the side. Upon first sip, I felt disappointed: so much grandeur and pretentiousness for such a crappy cup of coffee. The sight of a small group of “expert” looking people cupping next to the roaster turned me off.
With a glimpse of hope from Jane, I decided to visit Four Barrel itself in the Mission. Rumor says that Stumptown from Portland had helped this SF local roaster at its start. Does it mean it would at least roast decent coffee? Unlike Sight Glass, the store has a rustic feel to it. The roasting machine, also an antique, sat in the back of the warehouse sized store. A friendly cashier took my order and a grumpy looking barista made my macchiato. The taste of of the coffee finally convinced me that SF is far from producing a good cup of coffee. There is a lot of money poured into creation of the shops but the scene has yet to mature if people could give up that pretentiousness.
The trip wouldn’t be complete without a final stop at the local favorite Philz Coffee in Castro. Philz makes drip coffee of your choosing from some 15 blends. I chose the classic blend and got a free cup which was made per the prior homeless customer who couldn’t afford it. Mike asked why they would rather give the cup to me instead of just giving the cup to the homeless guy. Sadly, the coffee was so bad that I almost threw up. Mike and I walked for blocks with our coffee in hand without drinking any. We finally found the homeless guy that was desperately looking for coffee in some trash can and gave our coffee to him.
Well, this concludes my little coffee adventure in SF. I might return to Blue Bottle or Jane for a decent (but not great) cup and a good experience. This foodie-filled city has a long ways to go in coffee. It would certainly never fly on its hipster altitude.