Last updated: July 4 2014
I drink coffee and move a lot. Here are some recommendations.
When possible, I avoid espresso in favor of anything else, so if you want espresso recs, you should go ask my friend Justine. Some of these cities I qualify as “avoid drip coffee, drink espresso.”
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco-proper has pretty good coffee, the problem is the prices. Starting at $3 for a 12 oz. pour over is a bit steep (IMO), especially when not every barista is equally great at producing a good cup. I won’t bother to recommend the usual triumvirate (4Barrel, Ritual, Blue Bottle) for this reason. If you want it, you know where to go. Here are some alternatives, that I think are just as good if not better:
- Mercury Cafe, in Hayes Valley, just up the road from the Ritual & Blue bottle stands. They use de la Paz beans, will sell ‘em to you for $12/lb (price from mid-2013) and have a great drip & iced coffee. Very sweet spot to hang out in and use the wifi, lots of sunlight, not to mention great food.
- Sightglass. Best pour over in SF. Very…“Silicon Valley North”, the space is full of Luluemon, venture capitalists, glazed over concrete and succulents, but the coffee is worth spending time in the atmosphere I promise.
- Contraband. Did I say that Sightglass has the best pour over in SF? Contraband gives them a run for their money. In lower Nob Hill area, really wonderful place, really wonderful coffee. I had an amazing Indonesian cup here once that I can still remember…
- Hollow, in the Inner Sunset. I actually think I’ve only ever gotten espresso drinks here, but they were great.
- Trouble Coffee, Outer Sunset. Great coffee to walk to the beach with.
- Local 123. Prices steep, probably as a result of the 4Barrel beans they serve, but it’s a really nice shop with a great backyard. I try to stop in every other visit to Berkeley. Best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had. Not sure where they source them.
- Barefoot Coffee. There’s a few locations, it’s the only coffee-shop-atmosphere in 30 miles and they also make a great brew.
- Only in Palo Alto, is the only good coffee in a combination running store coffee bar. Zombie Runner’s the jam, they keep weird hours though.
New York City
- Everyman Espresso. It hurts to pay $6 for a chemex, it really does, but when in Manhattan... (This coffee is great, the baristas know what's up and they carry Counter Culture which is like the key to my heart.)
- Joe Coffee, all of ‘em.
- Grumpy’s in Greenpoint. I haven’t been to the other Grumpy’s locations, but this one is spacious enough to do some serious cafe shop (co-)working.
- Crop to Cup in Gowanus. A friend and I refer to this as the "best keep secret in Brooklyn", and it certainly feels like that with excellent, excellent pour overs of mostly Ugandan coffee for the low cost of $2.50 a cup. Also there's almost no one ever there. Also they have a backyard. Also the coffee is maybe the best in this entire list. Go.
- Pedlar in Cobble Hill has maybe my favorite latte in all of Brooklyn.
- Sweetleaf in Long Island City. There's two of 'em, and the one closer to the water serves cocktails after 5PM. Ever wanted a delicious Revolver? Go there. The coffee is quite good too, but I find their specialty drinks more consistent than their drip coffee.
Somehow, despite the Green Beanery, this city is definitely filed under, avoid drip, drink espresso. I haven’t lived here since 2009 though, so it’s entirely possible there’s been a sea shift.
- Dark Horse Espresso Bar!! Back when I was living in Toronto in 2009, they only had the cheerfuly lit Chinatown branch, but the internet tells me they’ve expanded to 2 others! Go! Go! What are you waiting for??
- Manic Coffee. I remember taking the subway an extra 20 minutes (one way!) so I could get a cup here after work. I think this was the first place I saw a pour over and I was all boggle-eyed.
- Can’t complain about Bridgehead, any of the locations. If you’re an American travelling, the thing that might strike you about Canadian coffeeshops is that the wi-fi is not ubiquitous! Frequently, it’s slow.
Chapel Hill / Carrboro
I can wax poetic for hours on the Piedmont’s excellent, excellent drip coffee. I think some of it is the pressure from having Counter Culture roasted locally—everybody else steps their game up!
- Caffe Driade / Open Eye Owned by the same folks, and they use the same beans (Carrboro Roasting Company). Driade has a super pleasant patio out into the woods to sit on and you pay for the wi-fi (2013). In contrast, Open Eye is more of an undergraduate collegiate hangout. Good memories, but it’s startling how much demographic shit has occurred even in 4 years. Pastries from Gugulhupf.
- Looking Glass With approximately 100 more outlets than Open Eye, this place is the jam for computer-work. Great iced coffee.
You might be scoffing at this, but seriously, one of the best lattes I’ve ever gotten was at this shop off Davis Drive.