Coffee is such a personal thing. If I like cappuccino, you like drip coffee black, and Bill Cosby likes a triple-tall nonfat extrahot no-foam latte (apparently true), we're not going to agree on what the best coffee shop is.
But I'm the guy with the
pen keyboard soapbox. So before I tell you what I think are San Francisco's Top Five Coffee Shops, I'd better tell you my criteria.
Foremost is coffee quality. But with coffee shops, atmosphere matters; it won't excuse bad coffee, but it elevates a good cup. I'm not counting food items' quality much toward the Top Five (sorry, farm:table), but not having any food is a negative.
Most important: What kind of coffee? I drink drip and French press in restaurants and at home, but almost never in coffee shops (sorry, Philz). If I go to a specialist it's for espresso drinks, which I can't do well at home, or iced coffee. Cappuccino is my favorite, and don't pester me that Italians would call me a girlyman for drinking it in the afternoon, because this is San Francisco, and girlymen are cool.
Also, what kind of atmosphere? Many folks like to go to a coffee shop, plug in headphones, and stare at their laptops. But to me, good atmosphere is friendlier than that (sorry, the Summit).
One last thing before I launch into the list (and return to SFoodie's preferred royal "we"). The most important factor in a good coffee shop is location. In a city with more than 200 coffee shops, a good one next to your office is better than a great one across town. I have favorites in practically every neighborhood, and just because I like these five best doesn't mean I don't patronize plenty of others -- indeed, some more than these.
But that said, these five are worth a special visit. Enough talk -- let's have some coffee.
Ritual has a lot going on for the coffee lover.
Ritual is one of the leaders in single-finca bean sourcing. If you love terroir in wine, it's great to taste its equivalent in coffees produced by a single farmer from a single plot of land. Ritual's excellent website even shows you pictures of the farmers.
We like that you can get espresso drinks or single-cup drip made from Ritual's regular blended beans, which are already quite good, or from a variety of other specifically sourced beans.
The atmosphere is a decent mix of locked-in computer users in the back, while sofas in the front occasionally draw people who don't recoil from opening salvos about the weather. The baked goods are locally sourced and usually include a few interesting things.
If we ding Ritual for anything, it's that the beans are among the priciest in town, and the shop does sometimes host a little more cooler-than-thou attitude than we like. But to be fair, unless thou art pretty darn cool, it's accurate.