Full disclosure: we’re San Francisco coffee snobs. Like, if it isn’t single-origin specialty coffee roasted to absolute perfection and brewed to order using a system of convoluted scientific-looking objects made out of glass and wood that takes at least 15 minutes longer than necessary to create, we just won’t drink it. We’re the kind of obnoxious coffee drinkers that have serious discussions with baristas about things like coffee notes, brightness, and acidity, and understand what “first crack” and “full city” mean without actually ever having roasted our own beans. When I met my husband, he was working as a barista – which was a huge check mark on my “Trophy Husband” list. Anyway, although he’s since moved on to a different career, several of his barista friends have actually stayed in coffee to become baristas and managers at some of the best coffee shops in San Francisco and California. We sat down with one of our favorite people, who is a manager and barista at an excellent San Francisco specialty coffee shop, to get his list of the 10 best coffee shops in San Francisco! His list focuses on coffee roasters in San Francisco serving up expertly roasted specialty coffee.
Our San Francisco Coffee Expert
Our local coffee expert, Tom, grew up in the Bay Area and has lived in San Francisco for years. He and my husband spent years working together – and even living together – which isn’t really relevant, but I just want to make it clear that we didn’t just go find some random San Francisco barista and start interviewing them.
Today, Tom is a manager at Paramo Coffee. Other fun facts about Tom: he’s actually from England originally, but disappointingly does not have an accent. Also, he looks exactly like this terrible/awesome rapper Yung Lean (terrible because it’s terrible, awesome because it’s hilarious). We used this picture of Yung Lean in our wedding program instead of an actual picture of Tom. Nobody noticed. If you go and visit Tom at his coffee shop, Paramo – and he’s promised to give a 20% discount to anyone who mentions this article or Practical Wanderlust, so you really should go! – please don’t hesitate to refer to him as Mr. Lean and ask him for an autograph. He’ll love it, probably.
What is Specialty Coffee?
Before we dive in, here’s a quick primer on Specialty Coffee, also known as Third Wave coffee. Born in Portland, Oregon and coined in 2002 (by one of the coffee roasters in San Francisco listed below!), the Third Wave Coffee movement is the latest iteration of coffee brewing. You may also hear it referred to as specialty coffee or craft coffee. Focusing on high quality, small-batch coffee, it is everything that Starbucks isn’t, and the difference in quality is easy to taste. Personally I never liked the bitter, burnt taste of coffee until I drank my first cup of single-origin light roast heaven and instantly turned into a giant coffee snob. If you’ve ever wondered how anyone can drink their coffee black, specialty coffee is your answer.
San Francisco is rich with amazing specialty coffee shops and coffee roasters, and we are full blown Bay Area third wave coffee snobs. Coffee to us is what wine is to… uh, people who know a lot more about wine than we do. But you don’t have to be a specialty coffee snob to find, appreciate, and enjoy a delicious cup of specialty coffee at a specialty coffee shop! Here are some tips for finding a specialty coffee shop near you.
How to Identify a Specialty Coffee Shop
- Single Origin Beans: The majority of coffee beans in a specialty coffee shop will be sourced from one country, region, and/or farm. Each bean variety responds best to different roasting and brew treatments, and mixing beans can mean losing the ability to let each unique bean shine – so you won’t find many blends. Feel free to pester your barista with questions like “what temperature do these beans prefer?” and “but were these coffee beans happy on the farm?”
- High Quality Beans: The best of the best from the crop. Every coffee farm harvests and sells both cheaper, imperfect beans as well as a top-quality crop. A specialty coffee shop only buys the best quality beans. So that means that your $4.50 cappuccino is actually perfectly reasonably priced – especially if you care about paying the workers who harvested it a living wage
- Each cup is hand crafted to order. While many specialty coffee shops will feature a drip coffee for those looking for a quick cup, most of the drinks at a specialty coffee shop will be created to order using no shortcuts. Each cup of coffee is hand crafted precisely for you, from a freshly ground bean to your preferred brewing method. So bring a book or load up Angry Birds, because chances are you’re going to spend some time waiting.
- Specialty brewing methods. Some of the unique brewing methods you’ll find at third wave coffee shops include V60, Chemex, Clever, Aeropress, Siphon, and Cold Brew. Each brewing method brings out different flavors for different beans, and many specialty coffee shops offer a variety of roasts and beans to best match its featured brewing methods. If you prefer espresso drinks, you’ll also find that latte art is a good indicator of a specialty coffee shop. And yes, the more complicated the latte art, the better the barista – that’s actually not BS. There are like, barista competitions where you have to craft 3D interpretive foam art that represents how the coffee felt growing up on its farm, or something.
Now that you know what to look for in a specialty coffee shop, here are the best coffee shops & coffee roasters in San Francisco!
The 10 Best Specialty Coffee Roasters in San Francisco
Paramo coffee is in the Financial District of San Francisco, right on the Embarcadero across from the Ferry Building. But isn’t there a Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building? You’re probably asking yourself. Can’t I just go there for good coffee? And like, 5 years ago, sure. But today, Blue Bottle is specialty coffee’s Starbucks, and there’s always a mile long line out the door. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to spend my 20 minutes waiting for my barista to do an interpretive dance for my coffee rather than waiting in line to order. So instead, hop over to Paramo Coffee. Get an espresso or a drip coffee – I know, drip, gross, right? But their drip is actually bomb and incredibly well done. They don’t do cold brew or pour-overs, but what they do, they excel at. You can be in and out with an incredible cup of coffee in under 5 minutes, which is unheard of for a specialty coffee shop in San Francisco. Plus, ask for Tom and mention this article (or us, or Practical Wanderlust, or whatever) and he’ll give you 20% off your coffee!
- Website: Paramo Coffee | Address: 4 Embarcadero Center (Financial District) or 57 9th St (SoMa)
Created based on the concept of a Parisian library by the same name, Mazarine Coffee roasts and brews the best coffee from all over the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout California. Located right on Market Street in the Financial District, Mazarine Coffee is an awesome coffee shop for exploring different styles of roasts and brews all in one place. There’s truly something for everyone. Their extensive menu includes several pour-overs and espressos, plus Nitro Cold Brew Coffee … and Tea (what) and delicious food! Mazarine is a great place to go for breakfast or lunch. They have awesome salads and sandwiches (and Belgian Liege Waffles!!!), but our favorite food to pair with our coffee by far is the fancy toast. From fig jam & ricotta cheese to to avocado with chèvre and radish, nobody does fancy toast like Mazarine Coffee. And fancy toast is like, a San Francisco classic. It doesn’t get more San Francisco than specialty coffee and fancy toast, unless your coffee is served in a sourdough bread bowl, I guess.
- Website: Mazarine Coffee | Address: 720 Market Street, San Francisco (Financial District)
Four Barrel Coffee
Four Barrel Coffee is one of the classic great coffee roasters in San Francisco. I say “classic” but in San Francisco terms that just means they’ve been around since 2008, which is old, comparatively. Anyway, they’re legendary, for good reason: their coffee is excellent. They’re so good at what they do that they actually offer classes on things like cupping (that’s “coffee tasting” for non-snobs), extraction theory (ahem, that means making espresso, apparently), and even pairing coffee and chocolate. You’ll find Four Barrel Coffee served in third wave coffee shops across the country, but obviously, it’s best where it’s roasted, right here in San Francisco.
- Website: Four Barrel Coffee | Address: 375 Valencia St (The Mission) or 736 Divisadero St (Alamo Square)
Ritual Coffee Roasters
Ritual is even older than Four Barrel (it was founded in 2005. SO OLD) and it’s every bit as legendary and well-known. Many say it was Ritual that pioneered third wave coffee in San Francisco. According to Tom, Ritual Coffee is best for lovers of a super light roast – they do theirs to absolute perfection. Ritual also offers cupping classes and brewing demos, as well as super informative brewing guides so you can take a bag of expertly roasted coffee beans home and get to experimenting all on your own. (Pro tip: marry a barista to REALLY up your home coffee brewing game.) Ritual Coffee Roasters is San Francisco coffee at its best, so you definitely need to visit at least once to pay your dues.
- Website: Ritual Coffee Roasters | Address: 1026 Valencia St (The Mission) or 1300 Haight Street (Haight-Ashbury)
Saint Frank Coffee
Saint Frank Coffee serves up curated and directly sourced coffee from Central & South America and Africa, which it roasts in house to perfection. Each coffee farm and origin is featured front and center, and the brew is dialed in to best match the notes of each specific coffee. But unlike many purist specialty coffee shops, Saint Frank also has delicious and unique coffee drinks such as the Almond & Macadamia Milk Cappuccino or the Honey Lavender Latte. Or how about a single origin coffee tasting flight?! I don’t know about you, but “coffee flight” sounds like my idea of heaven.
- Website: Saint Frank Coffee | Address: 2340 Polk St, San Francisco (Russian Hill)
Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters
Wrecking Ball is more than just a Miley Cyrus reference (thanks for ruining that phrase for everyone, Miley). It’s also the name of an incredible coffee roastery in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. The owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco is actually credited with coining the phrase “third wave coffee,” which makes sense to me because I’d never heard the term before moving to San Francisco. The award winning head barista actually does guest lectures around the country – like, at colleges and universities – about coffee. So they know their shit. Their excellent coffee is all sustainably sourced and is even sold in biodegradable bags for extra social-responsibility cred. Try a pour-over or their famous seasonal specialty drink, Karl the Latte (named after San Francisco’s own Karl the Fog).
- Website: Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters | Address: 2271 Union Street, San Francisco (Cow Hollow)
Andytown Coffee Roasters
Way out by Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset – which is like another country for most San Franciscans, but actually an awesome neighborhood to explore if you don’t mind the long schlep via public transit – you’ll find Andytown Coffee Roasters. Andytown Coffee Roasters totally embraces the Sunset vibe, with drinks and coffee beans all named in an Ocean theme. Andytown roasts all of their coffee – and bakes all of their pastries – in house. Pair your delicious coffee with a slice of Irish soda bread, baked that morning from the owner’s grandmother’s recipe (so you know it’s legit AF). Don’t miss out on the famous Snowy Plover: it’s a sweet, bubbly coffee soda made with espresso and topped with fluffy home-made whipped cream. Yum
- Website: Andytown Coffee Roasters | Address: 3655 Lawton or 3629 Taraval St, San Francisco (Outer Sunset)
If you’re a fan of medium and dark roast coffee, with chocolatey, nutty complexity (but not that burnt taste) Linea Caffe is your spot. Formerly famous for their waffles, Linea sadly no longer serves much more than a few choice pastries from Tartine Bakery. But don’t let that dissuade you: Linea is a fantastic and central stop in the Mission to pop in for an in-house roasted espresso or a foamy, bubbly Nitro Cold Brew. If you don’t mind, do us all a favor when you go and badger them about the waffles thing. Like, who gets rid of delicious waffles on their menu?! Tragedy.
- Website: Linea Caffe | Address: 3417 18th St, San Francisco (The Mission)
Specialty coffee and social responsibility are a match made in heaven, and no San Francisco coffee shop realizes that relationship better than Equator. Equator is the first San Francisco coffee roaster to become B-Corp Certified, which essentially means that as a company, they’re committed to solving social and environmental problems. From micro loans for farmers to advocating for women’s land rights in Nicaragua, Equator has a number of projects focused on making the world a better place, one cup of perfectly brewed coffee at a time. Equator’s owners even have their own sustainable, experimental high-altitude coffee farm in Panama. They’re hella extra, but in the best way. If you want to branch out from pour-overs, their Nitro Cold Brew is excellent, or try a cashew milk latte or a Scratch Caramel latte (made with from-scratch caramel, of course). Oh, and order an arepa: they’re one of our favorite Colombian foods!
- Website: Equator Coffees | Address: 222 2nd Street (SoMa) or 986 Market Street (Civic Center)
Flywheel Coffee Roasters
Located in the famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Flywheel Coffee Roasters are a new coffee shop on the block with deep coffee roots. The owner of Flywheel Coffee grew up on his family’s coffee farm in Nicaragua, which gives a refreshing authenticity to an excellent coffee shop and roaster. The space, converted from an old bike shop, feels as hand crafted as the coffee: pretty much everything in it is built by hand, using sustainable materials, of course. Flywheel Coffee is passionate about coffee, and delight in sharing that passion: you’ll find excellent home coffee brewing guides on their website. Try a complex, rich cold brew, a foamy Nitro, or a scientifically-brewed Siphon if you want coffee & a show.
- Website: Flywheel Coffee Roasters | Address: 672 Stanyan St, San Francisco (Haight-Ashbury)
Don’t forget to visit Tom at Paramo Coffee when you visit San Francisco and mention this post for 20% off! Also, he’s just a cool dude, so stop by and say hi. We love you, Tom!
Map of the Best Coffee Shops in San Francisco
Use our handy map to locate the best coffee shops in San Francisco!
Travel Tip: download this map to your smartphone for offline browsing (click here for instructions).
Looking for more delicious coffee roasters in San Francisco? Thrillist has a comprehensive list of the best Bay Area coffee roasters, including most of the ones on our list – and more!
What’s your favorite specialty coffee shop in San Francisco? Leave us a comment below!
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