Spending time outside normal surroundings can be strange: I can imagine living by walnut bread from Tartine and artisanal coffee alone.
Coffee in San Francisco is great, and has been since before the guys who started Starbuck's worked at Peet's Coffee & Tea. Alfred Peet worked at the now-closed Freed, Teller, & Freed before he opened in Berkeley, and the coffee pioneer list goes on from Cafe Trieste and Beatniks to the foundation of Hills Bros. and Folgers Coffee. Except for Palo Alto and Los Gatos, coffee around Silicon Valley used to be sad; even in Cupertino decent coffee was a bit like junior college.
As specialty houses expanded and now serve cups of uncertain quality, artisanal coffee houses have popped up, forming a "3rd wave" (more on that from the Man Seeking Coffee blog). What's cool about these places is that the coffee is about the same price as Starbuck's, and is ultra fresh because recently roasted beans are ground and brewed per cup, usually dripped through a brown paper filter. Then you can hang around drinking strong yet not bitter coffee and say clever things to your single-serving friends (or Tyler Durden).
I haven't gotten around to visiting the most recent offshoots, and despite the ratings for espresso by the dedicated blog TheShot, for me the best cup of regular coffee in SF is Ritual Coffee Roasters in the Mission on Valencia near 21st [later, Four Barrel seems consistently better to this consumer and closer to transport hubs].
The Blue Bottle Coffee Company is also quite impressive, especially with the vacuum pot coffee show at the siphon bar downtown; even the New York Times was interested. Plus, Blue Bottle has carts at other locations like the Ferry Building Farmer's Market.
Ritual, Blue Bottle, and Four Barrel Coffee people like to talk coffee, so here's some video on "proper" technique:
See Four Barrel on using a French Press and Blue Bottle's siphon bar in action at the SF Chronicle.
Ritual Coffee Roasters (see their YouTube channel)
Blue Bottle kiosk in Hayes Valley (see also James Freeman of Blue Bottle: brown paper filter gets clean water pass; Arno Holschuh of Blue Bottle: drip how-to)
There's more "best" specialty coffeehouse listings from around the US at Food and Wine and links from major newspaper round-ups at TheShot. Obscure equipment, beans, and a virtual coffee university can be found at Sweet Maria's, and freshly-roasted beans at Counter Culture Coffee. It's a matter of taste though: some Cuban-style coffees like NaveriA can be good despite the low price if it doesn't sit around long.
Update: AE-oriented Twitter following led to 3 interesting articles from I Need Coffee and Coffee Geek (which has a podcast):
- How Dark is Your Arabic Coffee?
- Roasting Coffee in a Popcorn Popper
- The Naked Portafilter
- A Ritual Coffee Experience
Stu Maschwitz has geek advice on coffee; follow his Twitter breadcrumbs to peek behind the curtain.