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My Coffee Pilgrimage to San Francisco Part I

There are a few places where the coffee shops/cafes/houses that inhabit a city is just as important as the restaurants that are there. One of the top, if not the top, is San Francisco. Sure you can argue that cities such as Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and New York deserve the top spot, but for me the bay area has it going on. I recently spent a couple of days up there to sample all of the great coffee places that I’ve been reading so much about (in fact I’m writing this right now sitting in front of the Ferry Building) and I did not come away disappointed at all. In fact I’ve come back even more inspired to make my tag line about saving Las Vegas from the evil’s of bad coffee a reality.

You might ask what makes the shops I visited in San Francisco so different from the shops in Vegas. First off let me say that I love the independent coffee shops in the Vegas area and this is not to take away from the amazing things they are doing, but the coffee culture in San Francisco is just so much more refined then Vegas. How successful do you think a coffee shop in Vegas would be if you had to wait for 30 minutes to order and get your drink? My guess is not very. In over half the coffee shops I visited in San Francisco that was the norm. And this wait is not due to a lack of staff or inexperienced Baristas. No, this was due to lines out the door and people patiently waiting to enjoy drinks carefully crafted to be the best.

One of the biggest differences between San Francisco and Vegas would have to be the selection of drinks on the menu. All Vegas coffee shops have to cater to the Starbucks crowd regardless of how good they are, which means they have to have tons of flavorings available to make a variety of flavored lattes, but the shops that I visited in San Francisco you can only get the following:

  • Espresso
  • Latte
  • Cappuccino
  • Coffee (only french press or pour over…no drip coffee at these places)
  • Macchiato
  • Mocha
  • Americano

And thats it. No Caramel Mocha Latte, or Caramel Macchiato, or Vanilla Cappuccino. Just great tasting coffee period. Not to mention most places just have one size, 12 oz and that’s it. If you want more you have to order two of them.
One of the other things that they do to focus on the quality is that the majority of these shops roast their own beans and have strict standards for any outside coffee shops that wish to use their beans. This mean that no matter where you go that serves say Blue Bottle or Four Barrel coffee, you know you will be getting a quality cup of coffee.

Now on to the shops (these are in the order I visited them on my trip):

1. Blue Bottle Cafe (66 Mint St) – Now I’ve read about Blue Bottle Cafe and how the owner got his start roasting his own beans and selling them at locals farmers market and building a business based on quality not on quantity and this story is one of the ones that inspired me to start Grouchy John’s Coffee (along with Reveille Coffee later in this post). I was lucky to arrive when I did because the line was only to the door, but by the time I left it was wrapped around the building. The staff were friendly and knowledgable without a hint of coffee snobbery and made my espresso and latte with exacting care. Blue Bottle is known for being all about the coffee and that being said does not offer wifi or power outlets for people to hang out on their laptops all day. Don’t get me wrong they won’t kick you out or anything if you want hang out there all day (I was there at least an hour after I got my drink) and there were other groups of people enjoying there coffee with friends. I guess in Blue Bottle Cafes philosophy that’s how it’s suppose to be.

2. Philz Coffee (748 Van Ness) – I mainly focus on espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos, but at the several locations Philz has in the Bay Area they specialize in customized blends of coffee “one cup at a time”. That means no espresso machine (at least that I could see) and everything is made by first choosing one of the many blends they have on the menu, the coffee being freshly ground, and brewed in a 6 section brew station. I had their “Sooo Good” blend which was sweet and kind of smokey. It is very impressive and a little bit intimidating  how many blends they have available (at least 20 or 25) for you to choose from. Now at this store they did offer a small lounge with wifi and tables to hang out and get some one on one time with your computer, which was nice because it allowed me to recharge my rapidly dying phone battery.

Part II coming soon

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