Caffeinated Cravings: The Quest for the Best Cup of Joe in San Francisco

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Even in food-obsessed San Francisco, a cup of great coffee should not be taken for granted. For every sip of a fresh roast that warms your insides with its tendrils of caffeine-laced bliss, there are five dreary cups of joe that have been burning on hotplates or stagnating in some five-liter carafe behind the counter.

In this semi-regular series, I will be braving DMV-like waits, parklet fracas, and better-than-thou baristas to find the best coffee in San Francisco. Recognizing that preferences for coffee run the gamut from the grittiest of espressos to venti triple-pump gingerbread soy latte frappucinos, I will set some ground rules for this caffeine-fueled crusade.

I will stick with only ordering the standard cup of black coffee, if possible, trying coffees of different origins and blends. I will not add any sugar or milk, even if the beverage tastes like a steaming mug of caffeinated gasoline.

Risking disdain, I will try to ask the employees some questions about the coffee that they’re serving.

Where do their beans come from? Where are they roasted? How is the coffee prepared?

I’m also interested in the environment of the café itself. Is this a good place to hunker down with your laptop and your pharmacology syllabus, or are most customers chatting away with friends and colleagues? Does the café host any events such as cuppings (think wine-tasting for coffee lovers), musical performances or open mic nights?

Of course, I can’t forget to talk about the coffee itself. Does the coffee taste fresh? Are there any pleasant notes or unwelcome aftertastes? Is the coffee strong and full-bodied, or does it taste like the last dregs (or first sips) of those complimentary coffee packets that they put in mid-tier hotel rooms? How expensive is the coffee that they serve in-store versus the beans that they sell for you to take home?

Sure, sometimes you just need that extra jolt of cafeteria coffee to make it through the next meeting or small group, but wouldn’t it be nice to head out one Saturday morning with a good friend or a good book and sit down to enjoy a truly wonderful cup of coffee?