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San Francisco Coffeehouses

by Rosemary Furfaro

According to the history books, coffeehouses first appeared in Mecca during the fifteenth century. Since then, the popularity of coffee has risen to epic proportions and it has become the beverage of choice for many people around the world.

In San Francisco, coffee is consumed 'round the clock at hundreds of establishments. The reason for the appeal of coffeehouses ranges from their atmosphere, a strong customer following, convenience of location or the quality of coffee served. Here, I will review just a smattering of my favorite coffeehouses in San Francisco.

Angelina's Cafe
6000 California Street at 22nd Avenue

Angelina's owner is Italian and she makes wonderful salads and Italian specialties for the coffeehouse. The shop features many Italian deli products and is a favorite shopping spot for its Richmond denizens. The cafe features a great latte using Has Beans coffee. Enjoy your treats inside in the clean, narrow interior or at one of the few small outdoor tables. Both sides of this business has large windows that make great spots for people watching. This is definitely a local spot but it warmly welcomes new customers.

Baker Street Bistro
2953 Baker Street

I enjoy stopping at this coffeehouse when I find myself rushing around Cow Hollow and I need a little TLC to help put things back into perspective. Maybe it's the music that gently floats through the cafe, or maybe it's the smooth, dark roast coffee that snaps me back on track, but I find that I leave this coffeehouse feeling a lot more peaceful than when I walked in. Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood between Lombard and Greenwich Streets, this cafe offers an inviting atmosphere inside and out. Its walls are painted with trompe l'oeil vines and leaves. If you can grab one of the few tables outside, do so. You'll be surrounded by flowers and bushes while you bask in the gentle bay breezes.

Cafe Baby Cakes
1295 Baker Street

Located between the Panhandle extension of Golden Gate Park and Pacific Heights is this wonderful establishment. Baby Cakes produces some of the lightest muffins, the most crumbly scones and delicious pastries and pies (wholesale and retail). It can be somewhat chaotic at times, but if you are lucky and hit it just right, you can sit back and relax with an espresso or cappuccino, made with Java Bay coffee, and sample some of their famous desserts.

Caffe Centro
102 South Park at Jack London Place
415- 882-1500

This is my favorite coffeehouse because of its location. Perched in the center of trendy, chic and devastatingly hip South Park, this south of Market coffeehouse attracts the nineties version of the bohemian as well as the hip business person (plus an occasional outsider like myself). I go because the tall, tree-filled oval park near the coffeehouse reminds me of my former home in New York. But, I also think the cafe offers an almost perfect formula for a San Franciscan coffeehouse: large windows that open onto the neighborhood's activities and allow you to people watch, rotating works from local artists, a diversity of customers and a decent cup of coffee. Caffe Centro has about ten tables inside and as many out front. Consider yourself lucky if you manage to grab an outside front table, blessed by the Gods if you can find a parking space around the park! Minimal parking is the one draw-back of South Park -- it's too small to accommodate the growing interest in this little jewel-like oasis in the city. Don't let this stop you. Persist and you will eventually find a spot so you, too, can drink your latte and join in the people watching crowd at Caffe Centro.

Caffe Trieste
601 Vallejo Street at Grant Street

This cafe appeals to me even though it appears quite funky on the inside. I guess the owners know that their customers come for things other than the interior, because they pack the house routinely, particularly on Saturday afternoons. This is when Cafe Trieste shines. Neighbors, local celebrities and employees join in an afternoon of singing well-known, Italian arias. It's really an experience you don't want to miss. Apart from the Saturday shows, this coffeehouse draws people for its lighter version of dark roasted coffee, roasted in the building next door. The pastries are not the greatest, but this North Beach landmark is worth the trip to sip a latte and get a good dose of local color.

Jumpin' Java Coffee House
139 Noe Street

The Castro District offers many coffeehouses from which to choose, but my favorite is Jumpin' Java. It sits on an idyllic tree-lined residential section of Noe Street, just north of bustling Market Street. It's quite an oasis amidst the craziness of this area. This small, rather funky, place serves a great cup of coffee. It's aging Victorian facade affords the lucky person who can get a window table a pleasant, calming view of the street. Parking may be a problem, as it is in many residential areas of San Francisco.

Martha & Bros. Coffee Company
3868 24th Street

Although this is only one of several locations of this company throughout the city, I enjoy their shop in Noe Valley the most, probably because it is small, cozy and neighborly. The interior has warm wood wainscoting and seems jam-packed with coffee-related items. This company roasts its dozens of flavors of coffee beans for its stores so you are getting a deliciously fresh cup every time. The small shop appeals to a faithful, local patronage who love the wide selection of pastries, muffins and scones from Cafe Baby Cakes (see above). Seating is not available, but the store does provide a bench for a few lucky patrons out in front.

Le Petit Cafe
2164 Larkin Street at Green Street

Snugly tucked away on a corner in Russian Hill is this charming cafe. From first appearances, it looks rather small -- but don't be fooled. An extra room full of comfortable tables, chairs and a big window for watching the world go by is connected to the main room. The atmosphere is a mix between a British pub and a French bistro. It's dark, partially paneled walls, shelves of books for patrons' reading pleasure and half curtains evoke a quaint, European quality. This effect is only enhanced by the French servers who can help you select a continental breakfast of croissant and steaming cup of dark roasted Spinelli coffee. Espresso drinks are available, along with an impressive assortment of fresh, delicious-looking croissants, pastries and bagels. This is definitely a neighborhood hangout but, although I live outside this tiny community, I felt very comfortable and welcomed both by the staff and the regulars. An added bonus is that the cafe turns into a bistro in the evening, serving some very tantalizing comfort food at reasonable prices. Desserts also sound appealing, especially if they are complimented by a delicious cup of their Spinelli coffee.

San Francisco Coffee Company
848 Cole Street

This is quite an impressive coffeehouse considering it freshly roasts dozens of varieties of coffee beans, provides an ample selection of pastries, muffins and lighter foods and offers a few small tables in the clean, art-lined interior and on a peaceful backyard patio. The SF Coffee Company is like a gem in the eclectic Cole Valley/Haight mix of business and residential buildings. This is a must on your list of coffeehouses!

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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