Category Archives: San Francisco

Cafe Hounding: Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery – San Francisco

270 Seventh Street
San Francisco, CA
sightglasscoffee.com

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Sightglass Coffee Bar & Roastery has already garnered a lot of attention even though they just opened the kiosk three months ago and the “real” coffee bar and roastery are still under construction. It is located in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood on 7th Street at Falsom– a short walk from BART Civic Center station.

I visited Sightglass in the morning of a weekday. At first, I was a bit disappointed that the cafe seemed to be closed and there was construction inside the building. A second later, I smelt strong coffee aroma coming from inside so I kept walking down to what was once a driveway to a warehouse. Finally, I spotted the coffee kiosk inside the garage gate.

Sightglass is owned and run by the two brothers who are also the roasters, and apparently the contractors and constructors, of this coffee bar. They were originally from the Pacific Northwest so coffee is in their blood. They helped start Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission, and before that worked at Blue Bottle (which we reviewed here). People from Blue Bottle also help the brothers set up their new cafe. Jared also worked together with Eileen Hassi, the owner of Ritual Coffee, back while they both were in Seattle. All of these confirmed what Eileen told me during an interview with her that the gourmet coffee industry in San Francisco had a healthy “friendly competition.”

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I enjoyed my latte while watching Justin and Jared working and supervising the construction of their new coffee bar. Right now they use coffee beans from Verve Coffee Roaster in Santa Cruz, CA, but plan to roast their own beans in a month. (I already spotted a Probat roaster there.) With their past roasting experience at Blue Bottle  among other places, the quality of the beans they will offer is likely guaranteed.

I had a conversation with Justin who shared with me their vision. According to him, the building was a paint warehouse so it has gigantic size as compared to the usual neighborhood coffee houses. The ceiling is high and the place is very airy. They will have a mezzanine that people can sit and enjoy their drink. The coffee bar will be in the back while the roasting area will be in the front. They plan to have seating area around the roaster as well. They hope that the construction should be done in a few months. And I am looking forward to going check out the place and tasting their own roasted coffee soon.

Cafe Hounding: Local 123 – Berkeley, CA

2049 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA
www.local123cafe.com

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Local 123 is a new cafe in Berkeley, CA. Even though it has been open for just five months, this coffee house has attracted great reviews. I visited Local 123 during the day on Saturday. The location is a bit far from the campus so either you have to walk quite far or you can take a bus to University and San Pablo.

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Local 123 uses coffee beans from Flying Goat Coffee in Healdsburg (near Santa Rosa), CA. The beans are generally medium mild roasted. For espresso drinks, the default beans are Flying Goat’s espresso blend No. 9, but they are also available with single origins upon request. When I visited the cafe, the featured single origin was Costa Rica Puente Tarrazu. For drip coffee, Local 123 offers several single origin beans for you to choose. Then they freshly grind your beans and make your drip coffee cup-by-cup. I find this attention to quality as a big plus. I ordered latte as usual. My drink was prepared by Frieda, who was also a co-owner of Local 123 along with her sister-in-law. The latte was beautiful. It was mild and taste great. Frieda was friendly and attentive to the coffee she brewed.

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Local 123 has minimal decoration with some artworks on the wall. The cafe is clean. It seems to be famous for people who come with their laptops or books and spend time working while enjoying their drinks. The cafe offers free wifi throughout but also has the “wifi-free” area that encourages conversations among customers. There is also outdoor seating area in the back. They also have selected homemade pastry, sandwiches, and salad available. And they make jams from locally-grown fruits. The only problem that some customers may have is that this cafe takes cash only and do not accept credit cards. There is an ATM machine nearby however.

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Overall, Local 123 is also a lovely neighborhood cafe that not only provides good coffee but also pays a lot of attention to sustainability and local community. (Big kudos on that!) As some of the reviews on the internet proclaim, if you are in Berkeley and don’t want to travel to San Francisco to get Blue Bottle coffee, Local 123 is the place that you will unlikely to get disappointed. So far, I do agree with them.

Cafe Hounding: Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza, San Francisco

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. – Mint Plaza, San Francisco
66 Mint St. (corner of Jessie), San Francisco, CA, 94103
bluebottlecoffee.net

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Blue Bottle Coffee is a household name for coffee geeks living or visiting San Francisco.  San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with James Freeman about a month ago. I have been frequented this cafe, both getting a latte at the cafe or buying their beans to bring back to my home in San Diego. The flagship Blue Bottle is at the Mint Plaza, not too far from Civic Center and Union Square. However, it is not located on the main streets so this place is ideal if you want a quick escape from the hectic people traffic on Market and Powell.

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The cafe is easy to spot if you know exactly where it is. Otherwise, try to locate a cute “blue bottle” logo on the wall of the building behind the Mint Building. Once you enter the cafe, you will find yourself in a craftsman-decorated 17ft-ceiling room with modern, industrial redecoration. Looking around, you will see glassware of Blue Bottle’s Kyoto-style coffee maker and other coffee-related appliances on cafe’s long countertop. It really makes you feel like being in a chemistry lab rather than a cafe, which is very cool.

I usually visit Blue Bottle in the afternoon of weekdays, and always find the cafe packed with customers. Sometimes, the line even goes beyond the entrance. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer your questions (including those related to the chemical reactions that might be happening in one of those glass beakers!). Since the cafe was very busy during the last time of my visit, I did not have a chance to talk to the barista although my latte was very good as expected. (Last month, my cappuccino was prepared by Sally, who had worked with Blue Bottle for 8 months. The drink was great, too.) Blue Bottle uses their 17ft Ceiling Blend for their espresso drinks. It mimics the Italian espresso blend but substituted robusta with high-quality organic arabica, resulting in a very smooth coffee with nice aroma. Blue Bottle also uses organic milk for their latte and cappuccino. If you are an ice-coffee guy, try Blue Bottle’s Kyoto or New Orleans ice coffee. (The Kyoto-style coffee takes over a day to prepare, slowly brewing drop by drop at room temperature.)

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In terms of its ambience, the cafe is good for those who want a short break with a cup of coffee. The high ceiling makes the cafe airy, open, and relax. People also meet here for some quick informal business discussions. Although the cafe seems to be crowded and people have to wait for their drinks at times, I never have problem finding a seat in this cafe. There might be just around 20-30 seats in total, all with communal high bars rather than individual tables. Customers tend not to sit for a long time. One of the reason is that this cafe is not laptop-friendly (no electrical plugs and no wireless internet). However, I concur that this is a good policy after all, given the size of the cafe and the number of customers it serves. This is the place that you can come to enjoy your drink, relax, and leave your work behind– at least for a short moment.

–Kris Hound

Cafe Hounding: Caffe del Doge – Palo Alto

Caffe del Doge

419 University Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-3600

www.caffedeldoge.com

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Caffe del Doge in Palo Alto is a franchise of an Italy-based company but owned by a group of local shareholders. It is a fine cafe located on University Ave near Stanford University and within a walking distance from the Palo Alto CalTrain station. I have frequented this cafe for several times and finally had a chance to write about it.

I visited Caffe del Doge earlier this week. It was in the late morning during the summer time so the cafe was not as crowded as it usually was during the school year. The place seems to be a meeting place for local business people as well as a study place for Stanford students. The cafe has a high ceiling with an upstair loft providing extra seating. The interior decoration is in bold yellow and presents various pictures of beautiful Italy in general and Venice in particular. There are a couple of outdoor tables and indoor high bar stools overlooking outside if you would like to enjoy people watching. But free wireless internet and electrical plugs are also available if you prefer working on your laptop instead.

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Ironically, my most favorite drink at Doge is not coffee. Most of the time I ordered their thick and dense “drinking hot chocolate” (which got quite a lot of hostile reviews in yelp!). It turns out that there are not so many places that you can have this kind of hot chocolate so I tried to take the advantage of this offer when I visited Doge. The pastry is also delicious.  But your total bill can add up quickly as the price of food and drink sold in this cafe is on a relatively high range. But remember that the cafe is located in Palo Alto and the ingredients they use are of high quality so we should not complain here. The cafe also sells selections of roasted coffee beans (both blends and single origins from the America and East Africa) and chocolate bars.

Since I was on cafe hounding mission, I decided to order a cappuccino instead of the usual favorite hot chocolate. As always, the staff was very attentive and carefully prepared for my drink. They used their own classic blend “Doge Nero” for my cappuccino. According to their description of the blend, Nero was introduced in 1996 and became the best selling blend in Doge’s Venice cafe. For me, the blend was not too strong (both in terms of body and aroma) but seemed to work quite well with the foam in my cappuccino due to its dark chocolate aftertaste. Given the tradition and trend in specialty coffee that promote 100% Arabica blends, I was surprised to learn that Nero was in fact a blend of Central and South American Arabica and also ROBUSTA from Karnataka region of India!

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

Overall, what is lacked at Palo Alto Caffe del Doge is the good smell of roasted coffee beans that you usually expect to get when you visit a cafe that roasts their own beans on premise. This is because Palo Alto Doge does not roast their beans at the cafe. In fact, the beans were roasted and shipped to the cafe directly from the roasting facility in Italy. If you are a cafe geek looking for coffee aroma upon stepping inside the store or someone who is very obsessed with very freshly roasted beans, then you will have to knock some points out of Palo Alto Caffe del Doge. But overall, the cafe is a very fine place to have coffee in Palo Alto. Will I revisit there again? YES, of course.

–Kris Hound

Buzz: Coffee obsession becomes business