Growing up, my idea of coffee wasn’t the kind brewed with roasted beans. It was pouring boiled water into a cup, and releasing the contents of a Nescafe sachet into the water, topped off with whole milk. To my family, coffee wasn’t a lavish $5 experience, it was part of the mundane. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in college that I began regularly drinking drip coffee. Given my credentials, I wouldn’t call myself a coffee connoisseur, not in the least. But I do enjoy a cup o’ joe every now and then.
SF has 2 major coffeehouse chains, Philz (philzcoffee.com) and Blue Bottle (bluebottlecoffee.com). Having tried neither, I was excited to give both places a shot. Before hitting up Union Square for some Uniqlo shopping, we decided to squeeze in 2 coffee runs nearby.
BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE
We made the first stop at Blue Bottle, on Mint Street. Very slick and clean interior, and baristas busy honing their craft. I was actually tempted to try their siphon coffee, but twas prohibitively expensive, at least for me. That Blue Bottle branch made me feel a bit a out of place, as if I couldn’t enjoy my coffee in peace, without glares from coffee snobs who knew better than me.
I ordered the brewed New Orleans iced coffee, seeking a cool drink to stave off the sweat. It was very creamy and rich (evened out by the melting ice), and slightly sweet. The drink’s moniker was a nod to New Orleans style coffee, typically brewed with coffee beans and chicory (an herb with a bitter and slightly acrid taste). The drink gave me instant deja vu, as it was very reminiscent of those Cafe Du Monde beans found at most Chinese-Vietnamese supermarkets in Socal.
Janet ended up getting a latte. Despite ordering it to go, the barista still prepared the drink with some latte art.
After recharging at Blue Bottle, we powerwalked over to Philz on Golden Gate Ave, a brisk 13 minute walk away, on the same city block as UC Hastings Law School. Philz was in completely different terrain, a seedy district better known as the Tenderloin (good primer here). It was quite a depressing walk.
Philz had a completely different feel. I felt welcome, and the place just felt accessible, relaxed, even homey, whereas Blue Bottle’s atmosphere felt suffocatingly highbrow. And Philz’ menu was completely packed with blends from around the world, ranging from decaf to dark roast. However, I wasn’t sold on Philz’ interesting protocol for roasted bean storage. (By the same token, I can’t stand tea shops that store their tea leaves in glass and/or open containers.)
I opted for one of their specialty drinks, the iced mint mojito, apparently one of the favorites. The stream of customers wasn’t overwhelming, yet the baristas took what seems like an eternity, to prepare our drinks. After a complaint to the counter, Janet got a free upgrade (and if you’re reading, I’m still reeling from this injustice). At last, my drink was ready. Beautifully presented with fresh mint leaves almost sprouting from the ice cubes, and an absolute joy to sip, with a generous number of mint leaves steeped in the espresso and served with cream, sugar and ice.
If there’s one thing I ask, it’s that Philz set up shop in LA.
P.S. My wish has been granted! An informant let me know that Philz is setting up its first LA shop in Santa Monica. More details on LA Eater. No details on the opening date.
Blue Bottle Coffee
66 Mint St
San Francisco, CA 94103
399 Golden Gate Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102