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An Insider’s Guide to San Francisco Coffee Shops

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If you’re used to getting coffee from places that add the milk and sugar for you — if they have non-powdered add-ins at all — prepare to be surprised in San Francisco. Coffee is something of a local obsession, with not one, not two, but three chains competing with Starbucks to be the local stop for java on the go (if you count Peet’s, Tully’s and Coffee Bean). And those are just the options for convenience, predictably produced.

If you are anything close to a coffee connoisseur, San Francisco has a bevy of cafes and roasteries, several of which are within walking or urban hiking distance from the Moscone Center — a.k.a., Joint Meeting Central. To get you ready for the morning fuel-up or afternoon espresso, we’ve picked our favorites. Get a firsthand look at three of them — Coffee Choice, Blue Bottle and Chatz Coffee — in our video.

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Coffee for the Time-Crunched

  1. Starbucks. The cliché that there’s one on every block isn’t far from the truth in this part of San Francisco. In fact, the chain’s Web site shows no fewer than 10 stores within a two- to three-block radius of the Moscone Center. Distance from Moscone: Varies.
  2. Peet’s. While Starbucks may offer an ambiance that’s consistent from Austin to Atlanta, many locals swear by Peet’s, a chain with deep roots in the community, with the original store just across the Bay. If you like their brew, pick up a bag of beans to take home! Stores toss any bag with a roast date older than 90 days, so you can count on freshness. Plus, Moscone Center serves Peet’s coffee! Distance from Moscone (for an actual shop): 0.28 miles.
  3. Tully’s. If you live east of Arizona, odds are you might not be familiar with this less-expansive, Seattle-based chain. But if you crave variety in your coffee drinks, Tully’s is the place for you. Stores boast a rotating menu of novel flavors (they once sold lavender lattes!) as well as standard syrups and espresso drinks. Distance from Moscone: 0.55 miles.
  4. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Another mainly West Coast chain (unless you've been to stores in Asia or the Middle East) Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has been brewing hot drinks for more than four decades. Popular in Southern California, they put a different spin on chai lattes than Starbucks. Distance from Moscone: 0.3 miles.

Java with a Side of Ambiance
Looking for more of a coffeehouse vibe with your cuppa? Check out these independent shops near Moscone.

  1. Chatz Coffee. One of San Francisco’s many roasteries, this shop averaged four-out-of-five stars among reviewers on Yelp, who praised its affordable coffee–bagel combos and taste-of-New-York egg-and-bagel sandwiches. Don’t go expecting WiFi or a machine that takes your plastic, though. Cash only. Distance from Moscone: 0.65 miles.
  2. Coffee Choice. An indie option practically in Moscone’s backyard, Coffee Choice averages four-point-five-out-of-five stars on Yelp, whose reviewers dig the “Mom and Pop” vibe and friendly owners. (Possible) downside: another cash only, no WiFi shop. Distance from Moscone: 0.38 miles.

Mud for Connoisseurs and History Buffs
If you’ve ever used terms like “tiger striping,” “shade grown” or “single origin” to describe a caffeinated beverage, we figure you’d probably walk a bit further if it means a better brew. Here are two shops to check out.

  1. Blue Bottle Café. There aren’t many shops that boast as many methods of brewing coffee as Blue Bottle can — stop by to take a gander at its expensive siphon bar, even if you get the cheaper, brewed-in-cup joe — but it’s only to be expected from the roaster than many people consider the reigning king of premier coffee in San Francisco. Best of all, the company’s only café is just a few blocks northwest of Moscone (0.47 miles to be exact). They are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. (Kitchen usually opens a little later than the coffee service begins.)

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  2. Caffe Trieste. They don’t have fancy machines here, but if you’re looking for a piece of San Francisco history, this is your stop. For a weekday fix, you can wander east to the satellite store on New Montgomery (which is closed Saturdays and Sundays), but we think the original store is worth the 1.2 mile hike from Moscone. A San Francisco staple since 1956, legend has it that much of The Godfather was penned in this local landmark. Cash only, but they make a mean espresso (we’ve heard words like “caramel-y” applied to it) and you’ll get to rub shoulders with plenty of North Beach locals, including a few that have been around since the Beat poet days. Distance from Moscone: 1.2 miles.

Want even more of the city’s coffee culture? Sign up for the North Beach Java Walk tour from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 26, for a taste of local coffee history going back to the 19th century.

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About the author: Christi A. Foist is the managing editor for YO Info and the Web and Member Communications Editor for the Academy. Her pick for the best local latte is Blue Bottle’s — beating out Caffe Trieste only because of the patterns Blue Bottle staff sometime draw in the milk foam with the last bit of espresso.