Friday, August 10, 2012

In search of that perfect cuppa joe

One of the things that I was really looking forward to in our move back to San Francisco was trying out all the coffee places that have sprouted up and taken root the couple of years that we've been away. When I was studying at State, Peets was as good as it gets. And Peets was good. Sadly, Peets is pretty awful now -- I would still pop in for regular brewed coffee, but gone are the days when I looked forward to a hot sunny day just so I can savor on the Swirl -- imagine drinking soft serve ice-cream with espresso; now it's just ice blended milk with some coffee, and you can barely taste the coffee.

So far, here are the coffee places that Zhuang and I have tried and in order of my preference:
  1. Ritual
  2. Blue Bottle
  3. Philz Coffee and Four Barrel (it's a tie for now)
Funny thing is, it also depends on what's your drink of choice.

In the cappucino vs latte corner -- at Ritual, I'd pick the cappucino over the latte. The milk brings out the espresso much better in a cappucino, and I find the latte slightly too weak. At Ritual, they steam individual cups of milk not an entire jug. Zhuang's not a fan of Ritual because he feels that the espresso has a tinge of sourness that he doesn't like. At Four Barrel, the latte kicks ass over the cappucino. My cappucino was really acidic and rough, had no smoothness at all. The latte though, was smooth and creamy. Definitely go for the latte at Four Barrel.

Personally, in terms of store ambiance, both Ritual and Four Barrel has the same vibe and even their store layouts are quite similar. Oh, and they both scream hipster. Plus point for Four Barrel, they have a public parklet outside their store on 16th Street at Valencia. I'm a big fan of Proxy -- great place to grab a bite, shop, get coffee, dessert and sit in the sun.

As for Blue Bottle and Philz, I haven't made up my mind completely about either of them yet but definitely tried some good ones and will be back for more.

The affogato at Blue Bottle is mind blowingly good. Helps that they serve the espresso with a scoop of Humphry Slocombe ice cream -- we forgot to ask what flavor it was, but the saltiness (yes, salty) from the vanilla-like ice cream is perfect for the strong espresso. Sooooo good. It's like a coffee and cream explosion in yoru mouth. I wasn't impressed with the Blue Bottle latte -- it was good, slightly better by Ritual's latte for sure. I was at the Blue Bottle store at Ferry Building, and there's always a line but if you're there and needing a caffeine boost or something sweet, look out for the Blue Bottle signage -- yes literally, a blue bottle.

As for Philz, I only had the iced mint mojito coffee. I'm not a fan of flavored coffee -- hazelnut and vanilla lattes give me headaches, but mmmm, Philz does it right. Iced coffee with milk and fresh mint. Yup, leaves and all! It sounds weird but if you're a fan of mint, definitely try it. If you don't have enough mint after a cup of that, go get a scoop of Smitten's mint ice cream. You'll be all minted out after that. Of the four stores, Philz Coffee's stores are probably closest to the neighborhoodie type of stores ala Peets and Martha's Brothers (with less old people, at least less than the one on Church and 27th).

Ritual Coffee Roasters
1026 Valencia Street at 21st St (Mission)
Proxy at 432 Octavia St at Linden (Hayes Valley) Pssst, Smitten ice cream is at Proxy too!

Blue Bottle
Ferry Building but they also have several other stores and kiosks in the city, in SFMOMA and on Linden St, a block from Proxy

Four Barrel Coffee
375 Valencia St at 15th St (Mission)

Philz Coffee
Locations all over the city and Bay Area, but the original Philz is at 3101 24th St at Folsom


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