When I moved to San Francisco as a freshman at USF, I remember constantly hearing one word to describe the USF and San Francisco community: Diversity. We, as Jesuit scholars, love our diversity. Luckily, we live in a city that loves endorsing culturally diverse neighborhood communities (emphasis on “diverse,” just to hammer this point home). Unrelated to this, I love coffee. So what better way for me to spend my time than exploring coffee shops and cafes in each of San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods? Because the Haight is the closest cultural hub to USF’s campus, I will start there.
There are at least ten different cafes in the stretch of Haight Street between Masonic and Stanyan, but this article will only cover a few of them. If your favorite coffee shop isn’t listed then, hey, maybe it’s time to explore a new one! First up, the infamous Coffee to the People. This establishment embodies all things Haight-Ashbury– its rotating gallery of abstract art work, its 1970’s-esque politically radical collages, the permanent group of street kids at its stoop, and its comfy couches. Coffee to the People is a bubble of socialist utopia. If you don’t mind the wafting scent of customers who don’t shower very often, then this cafe is a great place to settle in and read or browse the Internet. The baristas could stand to be a tad more cordial; then again, their blasé attitudes are probably just the manifestation of their hipster obscurity. When it comes to coffee quality, Coffee to the People is a winner. Their drip coffee always seems to have a bit more flavor than the competition. They also have a fantastic assortment of teas, although I stay away from the Chai- you have to be feeling really spicy to handle a chai latte here. If you’re looking to hang out, do homework, or just people watch in the Haight, Coffee to the People is my number one suggestion.
Somehow, after living a block from it for almost a year, I didn’t manage to visit the Red Vic Cafe until this semester. Luckily, I stopped in to visit a friend at work (the baristas are mostly USF students) and realized that the Red Vic is not just a bed and breakfast– It’s also a great place to study in a peaceful, quiet environment. Free wifi, exceptionally friendly baristas, and the tranquility of their meditation room keep me coming back to the Red Vic whenever I am feeling the hankering for some “me time.” Anything “latte” is good at this place, whether it be a chai latte, vanilla latte, caramel soy latte… It’s good. The drip coffee leaves something to be desired though, so if you are going to go here, go for the fancy drinks. Bring your laptop, sip on the something sugary, and let yourself enjoy the tranquility!
The last stop on this week’s coffee exploration is Cafe Cole, a small little coffee house right off of Haight Street. For me, Cafe Cole is always a hit or miss affair. They have a few strikes against them from the get go. First, they don’t provide free wifi. Second, they are cash only (as are many places in this city), but their atm tends to be persnickety and doesn’t always like to work. Third, there isn’t much seating within the cafe, so if it’s a rainy day, you probably will want to get your goods to go. With all that being said, Cafe Cole does have one unique and amazing thing to offer: wonderfully delicious smoothies. They are one of the few places in the Haight were you can get vegan (or non-vegan) smoothies of all flavors and varieties. They are my go-to for fruity drinks. Their muffins, additionally, are the best in the area (not to mention they are exceptionally large). The downside? The drip coffee is pretty bad. As is the chai. Regular lattes are acceptable, but nothing to write home about. Since this is a coffee-based review, Cafe Cole is, unfortunately, not a place I would recommend for anything espresso related.
Other coffee places to check out in the Haight: People’s Caf and the Blue Bottle coffee counter in the Haight Market. Places to stay away from: Whole Foods Coffee Bar, The Cantina, and Rockin’ Java.
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