Guide

10 Most Exciting Bay Area Coffee Drinks to Sip Now

By Meesha Halm  |  February 24, 2014

With the furious rate that third-wave coffee shops are opening up in the Bay Area (with more hopefuls such as Andytown Coffee Roasters on their way), one could argue that we’re already on our fourth wave. But a funny thing has happened along the way as the artisanal-coffee world has matured: it’s gotten a wee bit less precious and serious. The days of the $20,000 siphon bar are largely over, and suddenly specialty roasters are touting the benefits of easy-to-drink espressos, batch brews, decafs and other previously déclassé coffee drinks. Make no mistake: the city’s best baristas still geek out on their sourcing practices and brewing methods, but it’s all so much easier to swallow now. In honor of Coffee Week, check out the slide show below for the 10 Most Exciting Bay Area Coffee Drinks to Sip Now, plus where to get them and what to eat with them.

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  • Credit: Meesha Halm

    The Drink: Las Nieves V60 pour-over from Saint Frank Coffee

    The Price: $5

    Why It’s Amazing: Kevin Bohlin, a regular on the regional barista competition circuit and the brainchild behind this Dwell-worthy coffee shop on Russian Hill, worked as a barista at Ritual Coffee, and he still works with them to roast his own proprietary blends. But what sets him apart are the personal relationships he develops with growers. Case in point is this single-origin Las Nieves espresso sourced from a tiny family-run farm in Honduras that Bohlin personally discovered. Saint Frank is the only coffee shop in the world to sell it, and when he runs out of his supply in the next few weeks, it’s gone for the season. To best appreciate Las Nieves’ clean, sweet, savory qualities in its most pure form, we recommend ordering it as a pour-over.

    Perfect Pairing: Mr. Holmes cream-filled brioche donuts, available only on Friday and Saturday. Get there early: the shop opens at 7 AM and the donuts typically sell out by 9 AM. Failing that, the cookies and scones from Marla Bakery and the croissants from Les Marais will make for a better-than-fine backup.

    Know Before You Go: The cafe is home to the first and only under-the-counter espresso machine, which Bohlin installed for the sole purpose of removing the social barrier between the barista and customers.

  • Credit: De La Paz

    The Drink: De La Paz’s Graceland cappuccino at The Contemporary Jewish Museum

    The Price: $3.50

    Why It’s Amazing: Although De La Paz is now owned by Four Barrel, the beloved local roaster remains focused on turning out seasonally rotating, signature blends roasted to achieve a more approachable, sweet balanced flavor. (They also offer three single-origin options.) One of the best places to savor its blends (currently, Big City, Graceland and Peel Sessions) until it opens its own SoMa cafe later this year is at its tiny kiosk at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a joint venture with Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. Its trained baristas pay excruciatingly close attention to all the details - temperature, milk texture, etc. - to coax out the perfect cappuccino, complete with the sweet chocolaty essence of the Graceland blend.

    Perfect Pairing: A slice of Wise Sons chocolate babka, rich and decadent cinnamon- and chocolate-streaked pastries, which are baked fresh daily.

    Know Before You Go: Pick up an extra bag of Peel Sessions blend and the single-origin Kenya Gichathaini, both of which just won 2014 Good Food Awards, making De La Paz the only roaster in America to win two such awards, and the first and only roaster to score a Good Food award for a coffee blend.

  • Credit: Socola Chocolatier

    The Drink: Truffogato at Socola Chocolatier and Barista

    The Price: $4.25

    Why It’s Amazing: Combining the best of both worlds, the sisters behind this new SoMa artisanal chocolate shop gild Four Barrel espresso with their own unique chocolaty confections. The so-called truffogato features a double shot of espresso poured on top of housemade liquid truffle that’s similar to their acclaimed truffles (fashioned from 61% Guittard chocolate and Straus cream and butter), only it’s kept warm and in liquid form for maximum blending. This drink comes garnished with a complementary housemade chocolate marshmallow. Customers can also order a Soco-latte, which comes with the marshmallow and steamed milk.

    Perfect Pairing: Order the plain butter croissant from Patisserie Philippe and be sure to dip the pastry into the drink.  

    Know Before You Go: Owners Wendy and Susan Lieu named their company Socola after the Vietnamese word for “chocolate.” The sisters turn out more than a dozen different whimsically flavored truffles in the shop’s exhibition kitchen - think burnt caramel, sriracha and guava beer, all of which are available individually and in gift packs - so if you’re lucky, you can watch them being made while you enjoy your coffee.

  • Credit: Jeff Shaw

    The Drink: The “One and One” house espresso at Linea Caffe

    The Price: Macchiato: $3.50; Espresso: $3

    Why It’s Amazing: This nano-coffee shop in the Mission launched by Ecco Caffe founder Andrew Barnett and staffed by a who’s who in the coffee world carries a selection of coffees that have won The Cup of Excellence (which is widely considered the Oscars of coffee) that changes every six weeks. In a departure from the much-maligned “sour coffees” that pervade other cult roasters, Barnett aims to achieve a “sweet, clean, balanced” profile that captures the inherent sweetness of the coffee fruit. The style is more akin to a Northern Italian blend, only better, because he sources better beans and they’re freshly roasted. We recommend ordering a “one and one” of the namesake Linea espresso, that gets you a single espresso and a single macchiato, served side by side in Heath Ceramic cups with a sparkling water chaser, so you can see what it tastes like both straight up and with milk.

    Perfect Pairing: Get an order of the heavenly Lt. Waffle’s buckwheat waffles topped with mascarpone and honey, courtesy of Anthony Myint (of Commonwealth, Mission Chinese Food and Mission Bowling Club fame) who runs an incubator waffle and fresh salad business in Linea’s microscopic storefront. Enjoy it alfresco at one of the handful of tables set up in the alley.

    Know Before You Go: While most coffee snobs talk smack about decaf drinkers, Barnett has the utmost respect for them, pointing out that they’re actually the ultimate coffee drinker because they only consume for the pleasure and the flavor, not the buzz. He’s recently introduced a super high-quality Swiss Water process decaf blend from Ethiopia called Busa Bechane that has notes of sugarcane, vanilla, malted milk and stone fruit. The shop is also one of the only spots in town to offer the AeroPress method, which is gentler on the grounds than a French press.

  • Credit: Blue Bottle Coffee

    The Drink: The Shakerato at Blue Bottle's W.C. Morse Building

    The Price: $3.50

    Why It’s Amazing: In addition to its regular slate of drip, espresso and ice coffee drinks, the Blue Bottle baristas are shaking things up (literally) at the spanking-new W.C. Morse Building in Oakland, where they’ve introduced three unique-to-that-location drinks, including the Shakerato, a popular Italian ice coffee drink that’s all the rage during the summertime. Never mind that it’s technically still winter. Comprised of espresso, ice and simple syrup, and shaken in a metal canister à la Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” the Shakerato is positively thirst-quenching.

    Perfect Pairing: Counterbalance your cold drink with a not-too-sweet, piping hot made-to-order Belgian-style Liege waffle. Better yet, to gild the lily, order a waffelgato - a single shot of espresso served over a Liege waffle and Ici Vanilla ice cream.

    Know Before You Go: The Morse is the first Blue Bottle outlet to sell a full line of home coffee machines for purchase. The front showroom will also house a service and repair shop, and a training space for brewing classes and seminars.

  • Credit: Four Barrel

    The Drink: Four Barrel’s batch-brewed black coffee at The Mill

    The Price: $2.50

    Why It’s Amazing: Say adios to those frustratingly long waits for one-cup-at-a-time pour-overs. Brewed coffee fell out of vogue for a while, but thankfully, Four Barrel’s baristas have cracked the code on how to brew high-quality drip coffee in large quantities - it's less prone to human error, quick to make and still tastes incredible. The Mill brews up 1-gal. batches approximately every 20 minutes or so, so your 12-oz. mug of joe is always fresh.

    Perfect Pairing: What could be more iconic and comforting than a steaming cup of black coffee and toast. And thanks to speed with which you get your coffee, you can begin sipping away while the fabulous Josey Baker boys prepare your thick-cut slice of its infamous $4 toast, slathered in almond butter, cream cheese or cinnamon and cultured butter.

    Know Before You Go: Although Josey Baker loaves aren’t always available to purchase until 8 AM, the kitchen always has enough on hand to serve toast as soon as the cafe opens. If the lines at the Divisadero shop are too long and trendy for your liking, both the cafe’s batch-brewed coffee and signature toast are available at the new Four Barrel Portola outpost.

  • Credit: Michael O'Neal

    The Drink: Single-origin Guji, Yetatebe pour-over at Sightglass

    The Price: $4.25

    Why It’s Amazing: You can’t go wrong with any of the offerings at Sightglass’ state-of-the-art SoMa flagship, but these days we’re favoring the single-origin Ethiopian heirloom coffee Guji Yetabe that just won a 2014 Good Food Award. Sightglass is the only U.S. buyer of the beans, which yield a smooth and juicy cup of coffee with hints of bergamot and ginger. The cafe showcases Yetabe as a pour-over using a Japanese-style Hario V60 with a paper filter, but the beans are also found as a component of their Owl’s Blend espresso.

    Perfect Pairing: Sightglass has a reciprocal relationship with Dogpatch’s Piccino. They supply the cafe with fresh baked goods, and Piccino Coffee Bar serves Sightglass coffee. For the ideal Yetabe pairing, we recommend Piccino’s dense yet delicate ginger scone that’s studded with candied ginger.

    Know Before You Go: Be sure to check out the gorgeous German cast-iron 1961 Probat roaster located on the main floor, which brothers and founders Jerad and Justin Morrison insist is the secret to their delicate small-batch roasts. The small window on the side of the machine, aka the “sight glass," allows the roaster to observe the color of the beans while they are roasting.

  • Credit: Ritual Coffee Roasters

    The Drink: La Libertad V60 pour-over at Ritual Coffee Roasters at Proxy

    The Price: $4

    Why It’s Amazing: There’s nothing static on this cult roaster's arsenal, including its famous “Sweet Tooth” offering, that showcases a different single-origin espresso each month, found at all its locations. But Emily Dobies, manager of Ritual’s shipping-container-turned-espresso-bar at Hayes Valley’s Proxy project, is particularly jazzed about the return of La Libertad, an organic blend from Equador that’s a blend of 18 small producers in the small village of the same name. The coffee is best described as bright and floral, with flavors of chrysanthemum, dried apricot and McIntosh apple.

    Perfect Pairing: Black Jet Baking Company's apple galette accentuates the coffee’s inherent apple undertones.

    Know Before You Go: La Libertad is available at all the Ritual branches, but the presentation is the prettiest at the shop in Hayes Valley, where it is served in a ceramic carafe and cup and arrives on a wooden tray. Just be sure to bring a jacket: the Hayes Valley branch is entirely alfresco. 

  • Credit: courtesy of Mavelous

    The Drink: The Musake at Mavelous

    The Price: $10

    Why It’s Amazing: This off-the-menu warm coffee drink at the ultrachic Downtown coffee shop is owner Phillip Ma’s Japanese-inspired take on an Irish coffee. Named after the 17th-century samurai Miyamoto Mushashi, the spiked drink features a lukewarm shot of Junmai sake with a single-origin espresso pulled on top. Ask for it to ward off cool, foggy mornings.

    Perfect Pairing: Starter Bakery’s bite-sized seasonal fruit tarts or kouign-aman, depending on what they’ve gotten delivered that day.

    Know Before You Go: Speaking of danishes, Mavelous just began importing from Coffee Collective, an acclaimed specialty coffee micro-roastery in Copenhagen whose founders include World Cup Tasting Champion Casper Engel and World Barista Champion Klaus. Mavelous is the only shop in the U.S. to carry the coveted Danish beans. They’re currently offering two roasts: a single origin served as a pour-over and an espresso blend, cost $9 each.

  • The Drink: Scarlet City’s Warp Drive Cappuccino at Barkada Bakery & Cafe

    The Price: $3.00

    Why It’s Amazing: This Star-Trek-themed espresso blend from Oakland’s Scarlet City takes its name from the popular sci-fi show, but the blend itself was inspired by the Vita blend of Seattle’s legendary Espresso Vivace, where owner Jen St. Hilaire (a self-confessed Trekkie) earned her roasting chops. That blend in turn was inspired by the traditional Northern Italian espresso blends. Look for a velvety crema with dark chocolate flavors.

    Perfect Pairing: Scarlet City currently doesn’t have its own retail space, so the only place to sample its coffee drinks is at Oakland’s Barkada Bakery and Café. Be sure to grab one of her stellar almond-cardamom morning buns, which go perfectly with the cap.

    Know Before You Go: In approximately four months, Scarlet City plans to open its own espresso bar, which will be sci-fi-themed (replete with a post-apocalyptic marketplace or transit hub decor), serve only espresso drinks (no pour-overs), offer food from Barkada and other local vendors, and eventually sell beer and wine.