My Top 11 Coffee Roasters in the SF Bay Area

I was interviewed last month as a coffee expert for an article listing the best coffee roasters in the San Francisco Bay Area. That article just went live.

The Definitive Top 11 Bay Area Coffee Roasters, According to Experts

This is how you do a TOP LIST article. You involve multiple judges and disclose their backgrounds. Then you use a weighted point system and add everything together. Most top coffee lists are the opinions of lazy or uneducated journalists that know little about coffee. Thrillist gets it right.

My Top 11

Anyway the article just discloses my top 3. Since I have a blog, I thought I’d share my top 11 and some thoughts on the roasters as well my analysis of the list itself.

  1. Chromatic Coffee – Santa Clara
  2. Devout Coffee – Fremont
  3. Front Cafe – Potrero Hill
  4. Ritual Coffee – Mission
  5. Counter Culture – Emeryville
  6. Verve – Santa Cruz (coming to Castro)
  7. Blue Bottle – Oakland
  8. Contraband – Nob Hill
  9. Andytown – Outer Sunset
  10. Four Barrel – Mission
  11. Peter James Coffee – San Leandro

Chromatic was #1 on my list and #1 for the entire list. Glad to see them get the credit they deserve. If they were located in the Mission District, everyone in specialty coffee would know about them.

I was the only one that gave points to Devout Coffee in the East Bay. It is hard to get there, but it is worth it. I invite my other judges to visit them. You will be hearing more from Devout.

Looks like my points for Counter Culture were not added. Maybe because they are based out of North Carolina? Darn. I would have added Linea to the list had I known Counter Culture was not eligible.

I also see Temple got some votes. I would have added them as well, but didn’t consider Sacramento to be part of the Bay Area.

All my picks were based on espresso, except for Peter James. It was one of the best darker roasted coffees I’ve ever had. I’m still not a fan of dark roasts, but it really impressed me.

3 That Disappointed

I did not care for Sightglass Coffee, which I refer to as Sourglass. Every espresso I had from them was under developed and sour. Wrecking Ball was another disappointment. Not only was their espresso bland, but so was their pour over. And almost every shot I had from Equator was just nasty. Ashy notes and no flavor.

New To Me

If I ever return to SF, I now have a few more places to try. Turning Point, Boot, Scarlet City, Sextant and Oudimentary. And I thought I covered it all in one year. 🙂

san francisco


Add yours

  1. So no consensus on #1? Seems odd even with the subjectivity of taste. It would seem more likely that experts would congregate towards one roaster.

  2. @thomas – Great point. I think one reason for that is the SF Bay Area is geographically very spread out. If you live in SF, you may never go as far as Santa Clara to try Chromatic. I’m sure that is the case with Devout. It is a haul to get there from SF or South Bay, but an outstanding roaster.

  3. Thanks for this great post. I learned a lot from your sf coffee guide while spending extended time in sf last summer. Now I’m back home in SoCal and brewing espresso at home for the first time. I like your worry about sourness: many of the espressos I tried in sf were too light, bright, and sour for my tastes. Do you have a recommendation of espresso beans I can order that are at least a bit on the side of a darker roast than is fashionable nowadays? I see that you liked contraband, and they have a darker one, but they don’t ship small orders. Any other ideas? Thanks!

  4. @Jk – Thanks. Instead of mail order, I’d seek out something local. Search for ideas for LA and San Diego. Caffe Calabria or Bird Rock in SD or Intelligentsia in LA might be good places to start.

  5. Thanks. I am close to Klatch Coffee, but their Medium Dark was too bright and sour for my taste currently. Maybe intellegentsia have something darker — will look.

  6. @Jk – Klatch was too light? Hmm. Three thoughts.
    1- Maybe your espresso machine water temp is not getting hot enough.
    2- Slightly increase the volume out on your shots that are on the light side.
    3- Let it cool for a minute before drinking. That is blasphemy for dark roasts, but for lighter roasts it reduces the sour edge and increases the sweetness.

    If all that fails, Espresso Vivace has mail order. I prefer lighter now, but for years the Dolce was my favorite blend.

  7. MAS:
    Hopefully this post won’t get me banned from this site.
    I’ve been using an aeropress for 90% of my coffee making for the last several years.
    Totally unsolicited, my aunt just gave me a Keurig k-cup machine.
    I have to admit, it’s a very quick and efficient way to make an (average) cup of coffee, with super easy clean up.
    It’s also very handy when hosting small get togethers.
    While obviously not for the coffee connoisseur, I think it’s a good product for the average 1-2 cup a day coffee drinker.

  8. @Jim – Keurig is to coffee what fish sticks are to seafood. 🙂

  9. MAS:
    i think that’s overly harsh. Folger’s would be fish sticks. Keurig would be more like canned salmon. 🙂

  10. Do you need to also change the grind size when going from lighter to darker roasts or just the volume or both? I’ve been having a hell of a time with my machine. I have a Saeco Aroma espresso machine and baratza preciso grinder. I use the non-pressurized portafilter. The shots are very inconsistent. The volume of grinds is what confuses me the most. Should I use 14g ,16g, or 18? It’s an entry level machine, so maybe its not powerful enough for 16 or 18?

  11. @Steve – Extraction time will determine the grind size. You’ll be aiming for a number of seconds to hit a certain volume out. If the shot pulls too fast, tighten the grind. Too slow or stalls, loosen the grind.

    I have found darker roasts take a finer grind, as the beans are putting up less resistance. But that might be an over simplistic answer. It could depend on other factors as well.

    I’d experiment with the volume in and volume out. Once you know the limits of your machine, you can try and pull different flavor components out by playing with grams in and grams out.

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