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Coffee in the USA

Posted 6 years ago in Xero news by Catherine (OG)
Posted by Catherine (OG)

Long-time readers will know how much I enjoy a good cup of coffee. Also my fierce loyalty and lengths I will go to to find a good cup and the manner in which I prepare for trips, well life really, to ensure I know where my next cup is going to come from. This year I have moved to the States and now live in San Francisco – yes I did coffee research before committing to the relocation! My work here for Xero has taken me to 7 cities in 7 States in the last 4 months and I enjoyed good coffee in all of them so for a bit of fun I thought I would share my recommendations.

Where to find good coffee in:

Portland, Oregon

A lush green city known for its great water, beer, coffee and perhaps lesser well known facts, excellent pigeon population control and home to the word’s smallest park (Mill Ends Park)! No shortage of great independent roasters in this city.

My favorite was Public Domain – check out these machines and the gloss on that cappuccino!

I also rate any of the Stumptown cafes and Water Avenue Coffee (not just because some of their beans come in orange packaging!).

San Francisco, California

My new home. I have a coffee app for that and I’m slowly working my way around the independent roasters here. Top of my list is Blue Bottle. They have a series of cafes and kiosks around town but my happy place is at their cafe in the Ferry Building, where I also get my weekly supply of beans.

The Xero office is in SOMA and we’re lucky enough to have 3 great cafes 5ish minutes walk away – Epicenter Cafe, Blue Bottle Mint Plaza and the very new Elite Audio Systems.

I have to say, San Francisco has the longest lines for coffee in the world – all the big names here like Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Ritual Roasters have lines that go out the door and you need to get used to building a 30 minute wait for coffee into your day. I’d say this is high demand for independent coffee … new cafe anyone?

Washington, DC

Luckily most visitors to Washington DC are goggling at the White House or are in very important Government meetings so the local independent roasters slide somewhat under the radar, well, not mine! If you’re slightly out of the main crowded areas, Chinatown Coffee Co has a great space for coffee and a catch-up.

Also, M E Swing Coffee House, closer to the White House.

New York, New York

Definitely a Starbucks (shudder) on every corner in Manhattan but also loads of great independent cafes if you know where to look. My absolute favorite is Ninth Street Espresso, and in particular the one in Chelsea Market.

There are so many others – I can personally vouch for most of the cafes on this New York Times list – what can I say? I’m a girl on a mission! Try Saturdays Surf for a location with a difference or Rize if you’re caught in Midtown or Culture Espresso if you’re partial to an Australian accent or want to try a flat white (popular coffee order in New Zealand and Australia)!

Las Vegas, Nevada

Forget it. If you’re there for a conference and confined to the hotel and Strip there’s nothing. I did find one cafe in our hotel that didn’t seem to be a big chain outlet but even with 2 extra shots in the bucket-o-searing milk (at $2 per shot) I couldn’t drink much more than the 1st sip and at $8.50 for that coffee you’d think I’d force it down!

However, that same cafe over the course of my 4 days there, when I wasn’t searching out urns of hot water at buffet tables, did supply me with a cup of hot water at no charge so I could make my own coffee. Yes ladies and gentlemen I was forewarned by conference vendor veterans that the only way to get decent coffee in Las Vegas was to take your own – they might’ve meant a travel tin of Nescafe but I went all out.

My kit contains the only TSA-approved grinder – a thing of metal and ceramic beauty.

People were SO jealous when conference delegates were in session and I mixed up a brew … although the nature of my addiction was called into question … it’s just bad exposure, not white knuckles of desperation in this photo …

Austin, Texas

In the land of orange Long Horns t-shirts, big trucks, drive-thru banks and streets melted by the summer heat it is possible to get great coffee. Thanks to a Kiwi colleague who used to live in Austin I had a head start. Try Caffe Medici for somewhere reasonably central with lots of room to sit and meet.

Also great is Juan Pelota (in a bike shop) and Franks (in a bar).

Kansas, Missouri

Mostly barbecue, and I wasn’t prepared at all to drink their coffee so I had my trusty travel kit with me, however a bit of research uncovered a coffee-drinking hipster meeting point a 10 minute bus ride from our conference. Broadway Cafe.

An up and comer showing promise is Parisi’s new cafe in Union Station.

Are there any cafes in your town that I shouldn’t miss if I find myself there?

P.S. In the States, I recommend you order cappuccino at independent cafes for the best espresso-based-coffee-with-milk experience.


Kara Haas
December 31, 2011 at 7.30 am

They should offer CPE credits for accountants. So grateful for the lessons in coffee this year! I have been drinking brown water for far too long. The experiences from using Xero in 2011 permeate all areas of life … well beyond accounting and software.

Catherine in reply to Matt Allen Xero
December 31, 2011 at 8.49 am

@Matt – thanks for the link! I think I’ve seen that site before but I think I should definitely become a regular reviewer!

Brian O'Connor
December 31, 2011 at 8.19 am

great run down of must visit places for coffee. I love your portable set, where did you get that grinder ?

Catherine in reply to Brian O'Connor Xero
December 31, 2011 at 9.05 am

@Brian – the grinder is a Porlex – a Japanese ceramic burr grinder (some more pics on this site) which I got from Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building. It might be small but the grind is adjustable and it grinds enough for 2 cups of coffee. My dripper I’m ashamed to say is plastic and not ceramic because I wanted something light and durable to travel with. I’ve since visited a friend’s house who had no coffee making machinery and was very excited to find that the grinder fits nicely inside a French Press (plunger) making that an alternative portable set 🙂

Ben Kepes
December 31, 2011 at 8.22 am

Hey OG, Nice post.

One comment though – Juan Pelota is not a cafe in just any bike shop, it’s in Mellow Johnnies, Lance Armstrong’s own shop – that alone earns it a handful of bonus points. The coffee being good is just the icing on the cake!



Catherine in reply to Ben Kepes Xero
December 31, 2011 at 9.13 am

@Ben – indeed some bonus points for those interested but I have to say I had eyes only for the coffee! (Although it was a very big & impressive store with a training center in the basement.) The last time I was on a bike it was my orange Raleigh (7 I think) with an orange chopper flag and I’m pretty sure that was back in the days of riding side saddle!

Ryan Carmelo Briones
December 31, 2011 at 9.38 am

If you’re ever in Chicago, I suggest you checkout out Intelligentsia Coffee (Downtown and Northside) and/or Wormhole Coffee (West side, Wicker Park). Both produce very a good espresso. I’ve personally come to enjoy the Cortado/Gibraltar as my “espresso-based-coffee-with-milk experience”.

Catherine in reply to Ryan Carmelo Briones Xero
December 31, 2011 at 1.52 pm

@Ryan – actually I have tried Intelligentsia in Downtown Chicago when I was there on holiday last year – so good! There are a couple of places serving Intelligentsia here in San Francisco but unfortunately they’re searing hot milky cappuccinos which is a poor reflection on Intelligentsia even though I know it’s a wholesale situation – it’s a shame the training that I assume was given has fallen by the wayside. Thanks for the Wormhole tip!

Ben Kepes
December 31, 2011 at 10.29 am

Sweet – how about we grab a coffee there in March when (I assume) we’ll both be back in town for SXSW! 🙂

Aaron Green
December 31, 2011 at 1.44 pm

Great blog post, its funny how kiwis are so passionate about their coffee – esp how its made! I also posted on the topic but more specifically on a must have app for your iPhone called “Beanhunter” Beanhunter is only used by serious punters so it tends to only have the good cafe’s on there and it has a handy locator linked to maps for finding your nearest good cafe.

I have a couple more USA cities to add to your list – the first is Los Angeles, Intelligentsia in Venice Beach is just amazing (they are in other US cities too too and I think thats been mentioned already)- these guys are dead serious right down to building their own custom espresso workstations to operate from (with built in Belgium-beer-glass-cleaner like water washers for the milk jugs!).

Next would be San Diego – I have been up and down this city and there is just rubbish coffee everywhere – however this year I came across a real craftsman at work at Cafe Virtuoso – i’ve written a review here on Beanhunter: Well worth checking out, but if you start chatting to the owner about coffee prepare to be offered more samples and extractions than your body can probably take!

Of course a good backup is to have a real espresso machine in your office – what do you guys use?

Catherine in reply to Aaron Green Xero
December 31, 2011 at 2.33 pm

@Aaron – another good looking app I should try – thank you! And I’ll definitely hunt down Intelligentsia if I go to Venice Beach – they’re some seriously cool dudes hanging out at the cafe in the photo on their site!

Actually we don’t have an espresso machine in our office – YET! At Wellington HQ where I was there are a couple of plunger pots but many of us go out to the local cafes – no shortage in Wellington! Our office in San Francisco is in a shared space, so BYO everything except desks, chairs and utilities and believe me it was with rapturous relief that I discovered there were good cafes within walking distance of the office! At home here we’ve got a French press, burr grinder and Blue Bottle beans – that was one hard thing about leaving Wellington – we had a gorgeous Vibiemme Domobar & Mini Mazzer grinder which are now safely tucked away in storage because I couldn’t bare to part with them!

Denis Breen
December 31, 2011 at 10.54 pm

Hi Catherine, if you haven’t gone there yet try Farley’s in P-Hill, to me it was the best Saturday morning coffee hangout in San Francisco. My local for years.

Brian O'Connor
January 3, 2012 at 5.57 am

in the interest of suggestions, if you ever find yourself in Dublin, Ireland, I highly recommend Third Floor Espresso… coffee in this city by a mile

Catherine in reply to Brian O'Connor Xero
January 4, 2012 at 8.28 am

Thanks @Brian – I’m not sure I’ll be in Dublin any time soon but I’m sure my UK-based colleagues will appreciate the tip if they make a visit.

Ross Browning
January 3, 2012 at 10.39 am

Catherine, I am jealous of your trips to various cities and places in the US. I am an American living in New Zealand (Haumoana near Hastings) I am recently with Xero having bought a new business and enrolled in Xero with Knowledge Accountants (Cedric Knowles) in Hastings. Good on you for finding your passion/hobby. fun to have a focus as you travel in the US. When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad bought Medaglia D’Oro in grocery stores in the midwest. Living in California in my teens there were Italian cafe’s with the real thing available and we all got into it then. You’ve got to go over to Berkeley and check out the “gourmet ghetto” There is a Pete’s Coffee there, the original of what is now a chain. But, my recommendation goes beyond coffee to The Cheese Board. This venerable institution is one of the longest running collective-owned businesses in the US and has mind-boggling and blowing array of cheeses, baked goods, pizza etc. in the world and is not to be missed. Also, for one with the bucks, across the street is the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant. Enjoy!!

Catherine in reply to Ross Browning Xero
January 3, 2012 at 3.00 pm

@Ross – thanks for leaving a comment – I hope you’re enjoying New Zealand and Xero! We have actually been over to Berkeley a couple of times and found excellent coffee there at Local 123 with a great little garden out the back. In fact I think our friends took us for a wander around the Shattuck Avenue area on one of our visits now you mention it. I must admit, I know about Pete’s and there is one near our office but I’ve not yet tried it – I guess I’m ashamed of putting it in the ‘chain’ bucket without giving it a chance and so far have always found independent coffee so haven’t needed to consider anything else. But I must try it. Thanks for the Berkeley tips – we’ll definitely be over that way again sometime and will check out these places.

January 3, 2012 at 2.25 pm

On my last trip to the US I was surprised how difficult it was to find a decent espresso. I just assumed it would be as easy to find as it is in Melbourne or Wellington.

Despite plenty of cafes, most coffee seemed to be watered down to suit local tastes. I was shocked that in the US you can actually buy a cup of drip filter coffee in a cafe (something you’re forced to drink if your workplace doesn’t have an espresso machine, but not a drink I ever imagined people paying money for in a cafe and certainly not something I’ve ever seen available at any cafe I’ve been to in Melbourne).

In six weeks I only drank coffee at two cafes that I would return to; both in New York City (one was Ninth Street Espresso in Chelsea Market and the other was a place near 51st Street that I forgot to note the address of). It’s good to see that good coffee is available outside NY; I’ll make a note of your recommendations so I don’t have to drink at Starbucks on my next trip.

Catherine in reply to Tim Xero
January 3, 2012 at 3.16 pm

@Tim – I remember my first trip to the States a few years ago was to New York and everywhere I turned there were Starbucks and diners – nothing like the coffee I wanted. That trip I drank from Starbucks if I could find one that had 8oz cups and would make a luke warm double-latte. That’s what got me onto the research when I was lucky enough to have a 2nd trip back there and that’s when the world of independent cafes unfolded – once I knew what to search for and what characteristics these places seem to have – as much as I can from websites and reviews I judge based on beans, prices, drink styles, food menu, barista photos, what they sell in their online shop … sounds very judgmental doesn’t it but you’re right, I don’t want to pay for something that comes out of an urn or coffee pot! I really hope you enjoy the next cup of coffee you get in America!

Ross Browning
January 3, 2012 at 6.07 pm

Oh, you’re on it, Catherine. It’s funny though, how into espresso some Kiwi’s are when, in workplaces (read smoko rooms) around the country you get instant and often budget coffee. A cup of coffee for many, especially older, kiwis means an instant coffee with one sugar and milk. But really, Pete’s was the place when it was the only one. Strangely enough, I find Wild Bean Cafe’s and McDonald’s latte’s to be superior, and I also, have a strange aversion to throwing money their way.

Kelvin Hartnall
January 4, 2012 at 4.43 pm

Catherine, as a fellow kiwi who lived in Austin for a couple of years, I have a couple of places I would recommend that you check out next time you are in Austin. One of my favourite cafes was Mozart’s ( which is both a coffee roaster and a very good cafe. It is on Lake Austin and you can sit in the shade right down by the water. I also recommend checking out the Spider-House ( which is just off Guadalupe near the university. Most of the dining is outside and it has both a great atmosphere as well good coffee.

Catherine in reply to Kelvin Hartnall Xero
January 5, 2012 at 9.46 am

@Kelvin – great to get a couple more possibilities on my list – thanks! It seems that Austin is a bit of a hub for conferences and such so I’m sure I might be back there at some stage. Good to have a reason to get out of the Downtown are which is were we were based on our last visit.

@Heidi – of course – Seattle! Definitely a coffee town and I certainly hope to get there. What is it you drink if it confuses people?

Heidi Ob'bayi
January 5, 2012 at 8.58 am

Nice! Good to know that even away from Wellington, you’re still managing to get a nice coffee – apart from Vegas. Let me know when you’re in Seattle and I’ll take you to my fav! Oh, and you can also find Stumptown in Seattle. (I remember going to the just- opened second Starbucks in Vegas and they couldn’t figure out my order, asking if I was from Seattle – lol)

Catherine in reply to James Xero
January 5, 2012 at 12.29 pm

@James – I haven’t used the Beanhunter app yet – but I know about it now thanks to you and @Aaron above who’ve pointed it out to me. My next trip is to New Zealand actually so I’ll be relying on my memory, especially in Wellington, to find good coffee!

Catherine Xero
January 7, 2012 at 8.58 am

Ha ha too funny! Someone who read this post came to visit our office today and they must’ve had what they determined to be a substandard coffee in my eyes because they disguised their cup! I grabbed a photo 🙂

Simon Lampen
January 9, 2012 at 11.44 am

Hey Catherine, If you want serious travel espresso when you are in the coffee wilderness, you need to get yourself a presso: they make seriously good espresso, the trick is too overfill the hot water to get a higher pressure extraction then just not use all the water. Have taken mine all over, just add hot water and quality beans 🙂

Nick Hazel
January 20, 2012 at 7.59 pm

Great pics, Catherine. Always refreshing to know I’m not the only one who researches/plans where their next cup will come from when on the road!

Catherine in reply to Nick Hazel Xero
January 21, 2012 at 9.50 am

@Nick Great to know I’m not alone either! My next bit of research is for 2 weeks time actually – Saturday morning, 7am, central Auckland/Britomart!

Brett C
February 20, 2012 at 12.21 pm

If you make it to Philadelphia (I love the place!), then go here: . The heard my accent and asked if I wanted a flat white!

Also, check out what they can do in Seattle:

Catherine in reply to Brett C Xero
February 20, 2012 at 12.42 pm

@Brett – nice to see you!! I’ve been to a couple of the La Colombe places in New York so definitely impressed by their coffee – they’re the beans used at one of my favs in the post Saturdays Surf. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that Seattle-style latte art – impressive!

Nick Bishop
January 18, 2015 at 4.13 pm

Hey Catherine – swing by and see us next time you are in Santa Monica. We’re partners with Vittoria in ensuring that our flat whites are as great as they can be .. – Best Nick (owner)

Catherine in reply to Nick Bishop Xero
January 19, 2015 at 6.26 am

@Nick – Hi! Yes I had heard of you guys – and I do love a good lamington! (Although reeeeeeally hard to get the raspberry ones from NZ and Aussie places here, always chocolate 🙁 ) I live on the East Coast now but I will definitely put you on the list to visit if I find myself back in Santa Monica. Thanks!

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