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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

San Francisco's Top Five Coffee Shops

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Page 3 of 5

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3. Caffe Trieste

The coffee world has changed immensely since Giovanni Giotta opened this place in the 1950s. Back then, we imagine it would have been No. 1 with a bullet not only on a list of best coffee shops in San Francisco, but quite possibly west of the Mississippi as well.

Caffe Trieste still roasts its own beans, although the new wave of country-specific coffees has passed it by, not to mention shade-grown, fair-trade, and all that other stuff that nobody talked about in "Papa Gianni's" day. It still delivers a quality cup of cappuccino, but we don't go to its branch outlets when we're just after coffee.

When it comes to atmosphere, however, Caffe Trieste's original North Beach location has accumulated it in layers that no obsessive upstart can hope to duplicate. The wooden walls, with ancient photos covering one; opera on the stereo; old men discussing the world's problems outside with passersby and inside with each other; the ATM in a phone booth -- we love all of it.

You could lunch here on focaccia sandwiches or snack on a variety of cakes. The wine selection is terrible, but at least there is one; there's also fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Mainly, though, it's the steady stream of humanity interacting with the staff and each other that wins us. On a recent visit a group of firefighters trooped in after a long morning, shirts disheveled and slightly sooty. One of them got into a 20-minute discussion about the Giants with us, while behind him neighbors came in to gossip. As we went outside to take a photo, a woman came out from behind the counter to hug a woman on the street. We've never seen that at Ritual.

Caffe Trieste is the outlier on this list, but deserves a place all its own.

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W. Blake Gray

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