Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coffee shops in Berkeley

My favorite coffee-shop drink is a mocha with soy; I'll occasionally order it iced, or I'll get a house coffee. There are many, many coffee shops in Berkeley, and I'll never evaluate all of them. But here's some thoughts.

  • Au Coquelet. Decent food, and not bad coffee. Desserts look great, and taste fine.
  • Berkeley Espresso. Not very good. Coffee is too bitter, but the tea selection is good. Environment is a little dark.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee. Mostly certified organic and shade-grown, but not certified fair trade. They have a stand at Farmers' Market, selling bags of coffee and fresh-brewed drip coffee, but no espresso drinks. Their drip coffee is the best coffee I have ever had. (Their coffee is featured at, for instance, Chez Panisse, Guerilla, and Intermezzo.)
  • Brewed Awakening. Always abuzz with mathies and folks from the seminary around the corner. Decent coffee, but uninspiring tea collection. Very fast, and friendly.
  • Cafe Cacao. Absolutely the best mocha I've ever had. They use their own (Scharffen Berger) chocolate, and the mocha is perfectly sweetened, the soymilk steamed womderfully, and the leafing is gorgeous. Be sure to make reservations, and go for brunch or lunch after taking the factory tour.
  • Cafe Intermezzo. Second best mocha. They mix their espresso, soy milk, and chocolate first, and then steam it; then they add more steamed milk for the leafing. The barista I had (who was, incidentally, pretty cute) gave me a lovely five-petaled flower. I appreciate that they take your order and then ask for details (how many shots of espresso, what kind of milk).
  • Cafe Milano. Decent food, decent coffee, fun environment.
  • Cafe Strada. Decent mocha, lovely outdoors environment, but no food.
  • Espresso Roma Cafe. Decent mocha, lovely outdoors environment, good-looking food, and very good iced coffee.
  • Fertile Grounds. Lousy mocha, one of the worst I've had. They use unsweetened Scharffenberger cocoa powder, but not enough, end unsweetened soy milk. Small shop, with good-looking food (and good-looking barista). But an all-around disappointment. My roommate says that their spiced mocha is also lousy.
  • Free Speech Movement Cafe. Very fast, and they are good about using only organic, fair-trade coffee. Iced mocha is not mixed well.
  • The French Hotel. Mocha is fine, although they don't use nonfat in spite of the request, and they were out of whipped cream. Prepare to stop, drop, and role at the counter: I was spurted by (well-)creamed soy milk.
  • Guerilla Cafe. Serving Blue Bottle coffee and espresso (French-press for house coffee, and you can get a whole pot), Guerilla has fun decor and a great vibe. The staff are consistently smiling and up-beat, in an honest, funky way. The cafe composts and serves organic produce, and best of all the menu brags about the farm they get their organic free-range eggs from, and the chocolate (Dagoba) and bread. The poached-eggs-and-toast is nothing to write home about, but the waffles — with different flavors each day (e.g. we had spiced-carrot) — are divine. Guerilla is my new favorite brunch place, provided I live on waffles and coffee: the line is shorter and prices are better than at Venus, and it's around the block. We had mochas on a Sunday afternoon. The barrista was friendly, but seemed new to barristaing; the mochas were fine. The cayenne in their spicy mocha burns in the back of the throat, and the regular mocha tastes strongly of cinnamon. (On a later, weekday trip, we got a mocha "for here", which was quite pretty.) The teas are loose and excellent. Guerilla is closed on Mondays.
  • La Note. The line is usually more than an hour, and the coffee (not to mention the brunch) is quite good. Not as good as Venus, down the block.
  • Musical Offering. Expensive, upscale, and there's a very rude woman who works there. But the rest of the staff is friendly, the coffee good, the music great, and the food fantastic.
  • Nefeli Cafe. Decent coffee, pretty good food. Iced mocha is not mixed well.
  • Peet's. Fast, chain, and their mochas are only slightly too sweet.
  • People's Cafe. I'm not a fan of their coffee — the powdered chocolate in the mocha is too sweet — but they are cheep and have free wifi and don't bother you.
  • Starbucks. Chain, and every drink they serve is too sweet.
  • Sufficient Grounds. Great name, lousy cafe. I agree with the reviews on yelp: the place is a donut shop more than a coffee shop. Wireless is free, and the coffee could be worse, but I wish there were air conditioning. I haven't tried the mocha, and don't expedt to. The sandwiches look good.
  • Sweet Adeline. Co-op bakery in North Oakland. Baked goods are fine, and the soy milk is creamed well. The Sunday barrista seems easily flustered, but the staff are very friendly.
  • Terrace Cafe. This on-campus eatery is a bit of a disappointment, but right next to my office. Their "food" consists of grab-and-go microwavable things in plastic, and their espresso drinks are lousy (mocha is made with bottled chocolate milk). Their black coffee, though, is decent: they serve Peerless Coffee, and have self-serve urns with all different flavors, including one organic fair-trade blend.
  • Tully's. A chain, but a decent one. They have People's Republic teas, and their coffee is decent. They've moved to only organic fair-trade coffee, which is awesome. They use Starbucks-style sizes (tall, grande, venti), which is bizarre.
  • Venus. Best brunch in Berkeley. Excellent service, food, and environment. Oh, and good coffee.
  • Village Grounds. Very good coffee — one of the better iced mochas I've had. Not great for grab-and-go coffee, because the baristas are not fast, but they are very friendly and consistently dyke-looking. Very busy, good place to work (free wifi and outlets). Good food. Village Grounds is a good working environment, with power and wireless. My roommate has worked there enough that she's friends with the barista. If you're not in a coffee mood, I highly recommend their fresh "squeezed" juices. I particularly like the sparkling lemonade.
  • Yali's Oxford Street Cafe. A friend says their house coffee is very good, but I was unimpressed with their mocha. The food is good, but too expensive. Overall, nice, but not worth the price. The house coffee is reasonably good, and they use Vitasoy if you ask for soy milk, which is tasty.

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