In middle school, I used to beg my mom to take me to Starbucks before school started just so I could walk up feeling all cool (plot twist: It was actually hot chocolate. She couldn’t justify buying a 12 year old coffee). Since those awkward years, I have cautiously dipped my toes into the Bay Area coffee scene. I thought Starbucks was so popular because it was the best coffee out there otherwise why would they exist literally everywhere? Ah, but I was mistaken in my youth.
I didn’t really start to enjoy drinking coffee until last year, when I had my first cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, it wasn’t artisan or gourmet coffee, but for the first time I could actually stomach the taste of it. What was happening to me? Was I undergoing a metamorphosis? It was then that I had an epiphany: Starbucks isn’t really *all that.* Yes, it has its perks with its extensive menu, the reward system, the brand name recognition, etc. but its central marketed good, the coffee, is simply average.
Thankfully, being in the Bay Area there is no shortage of underrated, artisan coffee shops to explore and elevate my palate.
1. Philz Coffee
Arguably the king of the Bay Area coffee scene, Philz has the popular brand name recognition (sure, nowhere near the level of Sbux) without sacrificing the quality of its product. In the Admissions Office at Saint Mary’s, we swapped out Peet’s Coffee – another Bay Area original – for the Ambrosia blend from Philz and I feel like my morning campus tours are that much more enjoyable.
2. Coffee Shop
This my personal favorite coffee shop to visit in Walnut Creek when I need a change of scenery to study in. Luckily for me (or unluckily, haven’t decided yet), they just opened up their new second location in Lafayette a couple miles from my apartment, so I know where all my money is going #noshame.
For my late morning or late afternoon pick-me-up, I’ll order the coconut orange iced latte (pictured above in the background), but after 5 pm they offer something revolutionary: the option to spike your coffee. Yes. Alcohol and coffee together. I celebrated my 21st birthday like the classy woman I am with a mint chocolate chip affogato with coffee liqueur poured over the espresso. Not even Starbucks can do that.
If Philz Coffee is the king, then Blue Bottle Coffee is the queen of the Bay Area. They have several locations in San Francisco each highlighting a unique menu. If you ever find yourself away from San Francisco, try checking out their new locations in L.A., New York, and Tokyo. My favorite ice cream shop, Lottie’s, will occasionally have a Blue Bottle flavor and it is perfection. Pure perfection.
Coffee connoisseurs have labeled this SF original as one of the premier coffee shops. The general consensus is that no matter which drink you order – even the pricey $5+ pour-overs – the quality is consistently top notch. Not only will the menu wow you, but so will the space itself. It’s hipster in all the right ways. Also, like Blue Bottle, their coffee tastes great in ice cream form at Lottie’s Creamery.
Oakland has a horribly underrated food scene, and this coffee shop is among some of the city’s finest spots. They brew the popular Stumptown and Verve, making it a destination for many coffee lovers. And their latte art is arguably the cleanest I’ve ever experienced.
Also located in Oakland, Coloso Coffee is a local favorite. Its menu is relatively limited, but it embodies the motto “quality over quantity.” This spot is definitely more a grab-n-go kind of coffee shop, but it’s an easy stop for morning commuters or lunch-breakers.
Timeless really pays attention to every detail in the coffee making process. They take care in scheduling their roasting to ensure the final coffee product is as fresh and delicious as possible, and it shows. Fun fact: Timeless is also vegan, but don’t worry, their almond milk is definitely the best I’ve had (not too watery…it’s silky smooth).
What makes the coffee at Pacific Bay that much greater is knowing that as a micro-roastery, they roast all of their beans in-house and in small batches to preserve the taste and freshness. They also have four-shot sized espresso drinks under $5 so if you ever want to know what it feels like to be on speed or something, go ahead and do you.
9. Artís Coffee
Similarly to Pacific Bay and many of the other places on this list, Artís also does live-roasting in their shop. If you are in need of a strong cup of coffee, this is for you. Most of their drinks are characterized by a strong, full-bodied taste that make you feel more awake with just one sip.
Most people come for the mochas or nitrogen cold brews, but leave because there aren’t any accessible power outlets. If you can live without charging your phone for half an hour or find somewhere else to study, Highwire Coffee is a great place to enjoy some good java and interact with humans.
Although Berkeley has no shortage of quality coffee shops, Catahoula Kaffeegarten is one you do not want to miss. Sure, not all of your cappuccinos will look like this celestial masterpiece (coffee art depends on your barista) but we can all but guarantee that your coffee will taste as good as this looks.
This list is far from comprehensive, so let us know if you’ve found your own Bay Area coffee gem that rivals Starbucks.