Did you know that Oakland is one of five ports of entry for green (unroasted) coffee beans in the US? Knowing this, you shouldn’t be surprised by the plethora of third wave coffee shops in nearby San Francisco. I won’t go into the semantics of “third wave,” since I apparently missed wave 1 and wave 2, or we’re doing the coffee craze backwards, Star Wars style. Suffice it to say that “third wave coffee” is something of a hipster addiction, complete with home and commercial roasting, multiple forms of consumption, and various levels of dependency. If your dependency level is high, not to worry. At least not in San Francisco.
Blue Bottle Coffee
First, for the non-locals and non-local-chaperones, let’s talk about Blue Bottle Coffee. This is essentially the Starbucks of third wave Californian coffee. At the quieter end of the Embarcadero, a large coffee kiosk blends into a corner of the open market style building known as the Ferry Building. If you plan to peruse Pier 39 or take a ferry to any of the further destinations, stop by this (busy) spot.
Being partial to espresso I can only speak to their well-crafted lattes and cappuccinos, with a slight preference to the latte. Adorned with the requisite latte art, you can definitely judge this cup by its cover. Smooth shots are pulled from a Marzocco machine, and then organic Clover milk is steamed and poured over with delicate flair coaxing a heart or flower shape from the mixture of espresso crema and microfoam. The real drink lies below this art, occasionally a touch too hot or too cool, but 100% perfect, 95% of the time.
The cappuccinos have the same silky shot, but are 50/50 steamed milk and mircofoam versus the 80/20 milk/microfoam of a latte. Be prepared to wait up to 10 minutes, and to pay up to $4.50 for your drink; this is the waterfront of San Francisco after all. You will be mixing views of the Bay Bridge with the scent of freshly ground, freshly roasted beans, precision coffee brews, and very high demand. For those who find this coffee experience exquisite, check out their fresh bean delivery service or browse their useful brewing guide for new methods of brewing.
Secondly, I bring you Front Café. This spot eats, breathes, and sells third wave culture with coffee as the bonus. Located on Potrero Hill, I stumbled on this place while in between work meetings. The setting is a remodeled loading dock complete with roll up door and rough finishes. Hosted inside this spot is a quintessential café: white tile, reclaimed wood, and freshly roasted single origin coffee. Being a latte lover, I was thrown off my game when the menu boasted only a couple options. Coffee, espresso, or espresso + milk.
My initial unease was definitely mollified when I noticed the menu offered an affogato (ice cream + espresso… yes this exists and is awesome) and an impressive list of options for single cup v60 pour-over coffee options. My “espresso+milk” was surprisingly sophisticated. Creamy, bitter yet crisply sweet with a smooth oil blended beautifully with microfoam. I do judge a shop by the number of espresso shots to cup size, and this shop did not disappoint. With only a 5 oz and 8 oz option, they pull a risteretto shot (strong double) for both with the 5 oz essentially mimicking a true macchiato, and the 8 oz mimicking a cappuccino. Major gold star for not skimping on grounds and bold flavor.
I think the thing I liked most, however, was the array of test tubes filled with the different bean options. Pulling open the stopper released the aroma and hinted at the flavor, allowing the coffee bean choice to be based on senses rather than just a location and name of the bean type. New, hip, and unique, this spot is worth the visit.
Ritual Coffee Roasters
Lastly, Ritual. One-third of the Mission District third wave trifecta, this coffee shop has only a couple locations, and all of them serve epically delicious coffee. With a simple plan of espresso or v60 options only, this shop dedicates its time to making the perfect cup of coffee.
Same white tile, branded diner mugs, and reclaimed wood as usually found in a third wave shop, Ritual finished the interior with all white equipment. Then, they offset the dress whites with a bold slash of red. Their symbolic sideways cup with a floating star is vaguely reminiscent of Che Guevara or the Islamic flag, mainly thanks to the red and the star, but in keeping with the suggestive symbol, this shop has proudly championed a change in the coffee culture on Valencia Street in San Francisco.
I tried a pour-over (Colombian) and a cappuccino. Although I was not a fan of the Colombian flavor, the v60 coffee was warm, flavorful, and smooth. My espresso drink, on the other hand, knocked my socks off. I was caffeinated from here to eternity and I loved it. Silky smooth microfoam, oily crema, and a huge flavor from a freshly roasted espresso blend.
For the inquisitive, there are two other equally (so I’ve heard) amazing spots in the Mission. However, without actually testing their quality, I’ll decline to comment till later. Happy caffeinating!
Thanks Sam! If you have a favorite SF coffee spot to recommend to Sam, please leave a comment below!