6 best new, eclectic Bay Area coffee houses – The Mercury News

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What do you look for in a coffee shop? For us, it’s a neighborhood gathering spot, a place to meet friends, learn about coffee-growing regions around the world and hopefully, enjoy a carefully brewed cup of Joe. Usually, we crave a memorable bite. Sometimes, we plug in. But increasingly, in what may someday be defined as coffee’s fourth wave, we seek meaning, a window into a different culture or way of crafting elixir out of coffee beans.

Here are six new and truly unique coffee spots in the Bay Area.

Rooted Coffee Co, Pleasant Hill

Plant-based followers, rejoice. After calling the Walnut Creek Farmers Market home for years, this vegan-ish, family-owned coffee shop opened its first brick and mortar in January next to Pleasant Hill’s Slow Hand BBQ. Inside, the coffee house is small, rustic and kid-friendly, with books and toys — and lines often spilling onto the sidewalk, where you’ll find a few tables and a trendy living wall.

Rooted specializes in quality ingredients and fair-trade organic coffee beans from Mexico, Ethiopia and other regions. The beans are roasted in Vallejo and used to whip up more than a dozen unique espresso drinks. You’ll find plant-based eats, like parfaits and toasts topped with everything from avocado to cashew cream cheese. Rooted also offers seven plant-based milks (the largest selection in the county, no?), including oat, sweet pea and hemp milks.

The cup: We fell in love with the Maple Cardamom Latte ($5.50/$5.75), smooth and complex with just the right sweetness. Also appreciated the Vanilla Iced Coffee ($4.25-$5), which actually tasted and smelled of real vanilla bean, not simple syrup.

The eats: Everyone comes for the made-to-order waffles ($6/$9) — massive, gluten-free and topped with fresh fruit and syrup. Weekend? Expect a 20-minute wait.

Details: Open 7 a.m. daily at 1941 Oak Park Blvd., Suite 10, Pleasant Hill; www.rootedcoffeeco.com

The Crown: Royal Coffee Tasting Room, Oakland

Two words: Coffee destination. The Crown, a new Uptown coffee tasting room from the Emeryville-based, specialty green-coffee importer, Royal Coffee, is not a traditional coffee shop but rather an ultra chic espresso bar, coffee lab and education center in one. Take a free cupping class, discover decaffeination methods or taste a flight of espressos (right? amazing!).

The Crown: Royal Coffee Tasting Room is more like a coffee tasting salon than a cafe. (Courtesy Evan Gilman) 

Stunning forest-green tiles line the espresso bar, where baristas explain how to best enjoy the day’s selection of ultra-premium roasts — via batch brew, pour-over or flight. Sip that cortado, macchiato or mocha ($3-$5) at the marble-topped table under the espresso-sipping Ganesh or take it to go.

There’s no Wi-Fi here, obvs. You wouldn’t take a laptop to a wine tasting room, would you?

The cup: Smooth, balanced and very clean coffee abounds, whether you sip an Origami Dripper of the fruity Colombia Jhon Jairo ($5) or a light batch brew, like the Colombia San Agustin ($3.50), reminiscent of melon and molasses. Our jam: Petal & Pod ($4), an ethereal nitro cold brew with cardamom and rose water. The Crown does not sell food, but stay tuned for Saturday pop-ups.

Details: Open from 9 a.m. Monday-Saturday at 2523 Broadway, Oakland; https://royalcoffee.com/the-crown

Bondadoso, Walnut Creek

Inside this sunny, modern coffee shop with refinished wood tables and yellow chairs, caffeine goes hand in hand with kindness. On our visit, the entry table was piled high with painted rocks, a gift in return for a donation to a child in need. Positive quotes, some corny, cover an entire wall. On the other side, customers scrawl their own question or quote onto a giant ream of construction paper.

Customers at Walnut Creek’s Bondadoso Coffee and Tea Collective linger over their drinks in the friendly, welcoming main room. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

The java program is quite impressive, with smooth daily brews and pour overs from a variety of coffee roasters and producers around the world. Like what you taste? You might find a bag of the beans in the retail section, underneath the giant map of the world’s coffee-growing regions. If it’s too loud inside, take your nitro cold brew or espresso drink — there are eight options — to the side patio.

The cup: On a chilly morning, we warmed up with a freshly-brewed cup ($2.75/$3.50) of the Coava, a plummy, maple-tinged medium roast from Santa Luzia, Brazil. But as temperatures rise, we’ll reach for a Mint Jojito ($4/$5), made with iced coffee, brown sugar, fresh mint and cream.

The eats: Mochi muffins ($4) and doughnuts ($3.50), especially the ube, from Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery, are sweet and toothsome. Feeling savory? Go for the buttery ham and cheese croissant ($3).

Details: Open from 6 a.m. Monday-Friday and from 7 a.m. weekends at 2195 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek; www.bondadoso.com

Pampas Cafe, Castro Valley

Empanada with that latte? Yes, please! This adorable little Argentine coffee house perched on a busy Castro Valley Boulevard corner does a brisk business in espresso, chai, empanadas and alfajores — an entire menu of them. Grab that nitro, Houdini or Americano at the counter, then enjoy it at one of the colorful French cafe tables tucked in a corner by the counter or out on the sidewalk patio.

Castro Valley’s Pampas Cafe does a brisk business in espresso, tea and Argentine treats, offering savory and sweet empanadas and an entire menu of alfajores. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group) 

Leave the laptop behind, though. This is a place for chatting, sipping and noshing, not Wi-Fi. (Besides, the dulce de leche in your alfajores will make your keyboard all sticky.)

The cup: Espresso drinks ($3 to $4.95) and cold brew share equal billing here with tea drinks ($2.65 to $3.65), including mate and herbal boldo. We went classic latte with almond milk (75 cents extra), to pair with some snickerdoodle alfajores. As the weather turns toasty,  a nitrogen-infused cold brew or iced mocha will be just the ticket.

The eats: The empanada lineup offers 16 varieties ($3.95 to $4.25), including a dozen savory versions, from breakfast (scrambled eggs, cheddar and bacon) to chicken, sweet potato and — personal fave — chorizo with chimichurri and provolone. And the alfajores ($2 each) hail from Oakland’s Wooden Table Baking Co., which touts its fare as “the best damn alfajores this side of the equator.”

Details: Open from 7 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m. on weekends at 3843 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley; www.pampascafe.com

Circle-A Skateboards & Coffee, San Jose

There’s an amazing confluence of skateboarders, college students, state office workers and Hammer Center culture vultures at this hip, colorful new coffeehouse on downtown San Jose’s paseo. After 19 years at this location, owner Bob Schmeltzer realized his shop was a hangout for many skateboarders, so he turned half the retail space over to coffee and tea a few months ago. “It was always a meeting place; now it makes more sense,” he says.

Bob Schmelzer (left) talks over coffee with Nathan Ng at his Circle A Skateboards and Coffee shop, which serves espresso drinks made with coffee from Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

The shop is a veritable gallery of skateboard art and culture, with local legend Schmeltzer (he was a stunt double in “Back to the Future”) planning to feature other visual arts in a rotating monthly series. You can enjoy your coffee at one of the small tables or snag the table o’ burning rubber. Those drag-racing tires came off his 1963 Belvedere.

The cup: San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee supplies the sustainably sourced beans for the espressos, cortados, lattes and more. And if you think about Circle A’s longtime clientele, you won’t be surprised to hear that the robust 16-ounce cup of iced coffee ($3.85) is the skateboarders’ quencher of choice.

The eats: Sweets ($3.50-$4.85) from Los Gatos’ wildly popular Icing on the Cake bakery include almond-poppyseed and lemon loaf cake slices, classic Italian biscotti and the energy-packed Hit the Trail Bar.

Details: Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends at 108 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; www.circlea.com.

Revere Coffee & Tea, Redwood City

Open since August 2018, this fresh addition to downtown Redwood City offers fabulous options in a minimalist, subway-tiled space. Clear, single-bud vases line the white walls, and there are plenty of wood tables and clear bucket seats. It’s bright, quiet and great for reading.

Sightglass Coffee is brewed fresh daily and the shop offers about 10 classic and house-specialty espresso drinks. Organically-grown Blue Willow loose teas and ceremonial-grade matcha round out the drink offers. Have we mentioned the five thick toasts ($3.50-$9) and the desserts with Three Twins ice creams?

The cup: We’re all about that rich yet simple Coco Latte ($5), a double espresso swirled with coconut condensed milk.

The eats: While avocado toast is religion here — a half avocado fanned atop arugula with salt, pepper and lemon zest ($7) — we also recommend the tasty Levie ($6), made with garlic hummus, English cucumber and lemon zest. Going sweet? Skip the affogato for the tea version, London Snow ($6.25), with loose leaf Earl Grey sprinkled atop Madagascar vanilla ice cream.

Details: Open from 8 a.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m. weekends at 2074 Broadway, Redwood City; https://revere-coffeetea.com