Coffee Quest

I maintain a list of topics to write about that I consult almost every week. For quite some time now I’ve been avoiding a topic on that list because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. However, a reader response to a recent post, plus the recent opening of Kristi Marie’s, forced me to give it some serious thought, and I think I’ve come up with an angle.

The subject? Coffee. The reason for my hesitancy in writing about it? I’m not a coffee drinker. Of course, I do drink tea and hot chocolate, so I do patronize many of these places—but not for their primary product.

Reader Robin R, in a comment to my post Breaking the Circle, noted that the Le Boulanger in downtown Redwood City that recently closed is slated to become a Starbucks. Yes, another Starbucks. In the midst of a downtown that is teeming with independent (or semi-independent) coffee places. I’ve always questioned the strategy of opening up a Starbucks just a couple of blocks away from an existing one—it’s only three four blocks from this new location to the Starbucks in Sequoia Station—but they keep doing it, so it must work. And they clearly see the demand for coffee houses in our booming downtown.

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Not being a coffee drinker, I cannot personally attest to the quality or character of a particular vendor’s product. Those of you who drink coffee can, however, so I decided to identify and visit every coffee place that meets my criteria, and let you weigh in on the relative merits of each. Please let me know if I’ve missed any good spots, or if I’ve included any you don’t think meet the qualifications. Even if you don’t drink coffee, if you patronize any of these places, as I do, give us your feedback by posting a comment! Once I have a definitive list, I may create a web page for it that people can use as a reference. And as I’m out and about, I could keep an eye out for new coffee places as well as existing ones that have closed, and keep the web page up-to-date.

Before I started out, I had to come up with some ground rules. Which places should qualify? After all, just about every restaurant in Redwood City serves some form of coffee. And many other places, too: your mechanic or insurance broker might offer you a cup when you meet with them, but that is hardly what I had in mind. My wife—who is a coffee drinker—was a big help in clarifying my thinking. Here are the rules I came up with:

  • The shop has to be within the boundaries of Redwood City, and open to the general public.
  • It needs to be the kind of place where you might go expressly to get a cup of coffee. They may well sell or serve other items, too, but if you could reasonably imagine going there just for coffee (either to consume on the premises or to take out), it qualifies. This eliminates a restaurant like Aly’s on Main that will serve you a nice cup of after-dinner coffee: your primary reason to go there would be for the food, not the coffee.
  • There has to be some manual effort involved in making your individual cup of coffee. That is, they either need to brew your cup individually, or they need to assemble the latte, espresso, or cappuccino to order. Places that simply have a glass pot of coffee on a hot plate (such as Denny’s) or that just keep pre-made coffee hot in urns (McDonald’s, for instance) don’t make the cut.

Interpreting the above rules as best as I could, I then walked the city looking for qualifying vendors. In my three days of exploration I came up with a total of 32, ranging from Starbucks to Chuck’s Donuts to Caffino to the Whole Foods coffee bar. That is after exploring downtown Redwood City, Redwood Shores, Emerald Hills, Woodside Road, El Camino Real, and the Marsh Road area.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, shall we? I count nine(!) Starbucks stores within the city limits, assuming that the downtown Le Boulanger site does indeed become one. In addition to that one, there are two in Sequoia Station (one inside the Safeway, mere steps from the bigger one next door). There are two on El Camino Real: one at Whipple Avenue and one at Oak Avenue (in the Five Points Center, near Woodside Road). There is one on Woodside Road itself, at Gordon Street, and one out on Veterans Boulevard, in the Kohl’s Plaza. Finally, there is one in Redwood Shores (on Redwood Shores Parkway, in The Marketplace at Redwood Shores) and one off of Marsh Road, in the Marsh Manor shopping center.

For big chain competition to Starbucks, we have a single Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Located very near the Redwood City Caltrain station (on Broadway, near where it crosses the tracks), our Peet’s seems to be very popular, particularly with the commuter set. Just one block up Perry Street from them, at Brewster Avenue, is an independent coffee house that I suspect has a very different clientele: Back Yard Coffee Company. From what I can tell this is a very popular spot throughout the day, not just during commute hours. Back Yard Coffee has some nice outside seating on Brewster, and seems pretty comfortable inside as well. They have a small parking lot on the Perry Street side of the building, and there is street parking available.

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Just across the tracks from Peet’s, and on the opposite side of Broadway, is Kristi Marie’s. If you aren’t a commuter you are pretty much limited to street parking for this one, and seating-wise there are only a couple of outside benches. But if you’re looking to “grab and go” your coffee plus perhaps some breakfast or lunch items, Kristi Marie’s is a winner. Since it is on the edge of our downtown, Kristi Marie’s is well situated for those of us who live or work downtown, as well.

Looking at Redwood City’s downtown, we have a wealth of other choices:

  • Alana’s Cafe is on Main Street, just around the corner from the main branch of the Redwood City library. Situated in a lovely old Victorian house with additional seating in the front garden, Alana’s is hard to beat for atmosphere. Park on the street, or in the library lot. Alana’s has a full menu for breakfast and lunch, and is open every day.
  • Bliss Coffee is on Broadway Street, across from Pamplemousse. They have plenty of outside seating plus some inside. There is a back parking lot for customers, as well as our downtown street parking. Bliss serves a rotating selection of coffees from “top artisanal roasters.”
  • Cafe La Tartine, on Theatre Way (technically, Middlefield Road) has plenty of seating both inside and out, and has the benefit of the parking garage under the Century Theaters; you can park there for 90 minutes for free. They serve yummy baked goods and dessert items, plus a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also serve beer and wine.
  • Cafe Zoë, a favorite of my wife’s, is a small place that also serves pastries, salads, sandwiches, panini’s, and smoothies. You’ll find their small shop at 2074 Broadway Street. Park on the street or in either the Main Street lot or the Marshall Street garage. There is no outside seating at Cafe Zoë, although I find the inside seating to be quite comfortable.
  • Main & Elm is on the south-eastern edge of downtown, on Main Street (at Elm, of course) near the new Main Street Dog Agility Park. I’ve talked about these guys before, but with the addition of their back-yard pub, they now serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have a lovely outside patio, plus a fair amount of indoor seating in both the main restaurant and in the pub.
  • The afore-mentioned Pamplemousse Pâtisserie & Café is on Broadway, across from Bliss Coffee. Street parking only, but a good amount of seating both inside and out. As you would expect from the name, they have plenty of wonderful baked goods, plus a nice selection of breakfast items and a long lunch menu.IMG_3377
  • Philz Coffee, at 2116 Broadway, is near the intersection of Broadway and Jefferson. Most people will likely use street parking, although the underground theater lot is not far away. Most seating is inside, although there are a small number of tables outside as well.

Moving away from downtown and out to El Camino Real, in addition to the four Starbucks stores (if you count the two in Sequoia Station as being on El Camino Real) there are four other places where you can get the kind of coffee that meets my criteria:

  • Caffino, at the intersection of El Camino Real and Dumbarton Avenue, is a drive-through coffee vendor at the south end of town. In addition to coffee, they serve iced drinks, baked goods, sandwiches, and salads. They are purely a drive-through: there is no place to sit either inside or outside, and no real place to park. But the drive-through does offer a level of convenience that is found only in one other place in the city.
  • Franklin Street Caffe, in Sequoia Station, has plenty of seating and relatively easy parking. Franklin Street Caffe has a rather extensive menu, and serves not only breakfast and lunch, but dinner as well.
  • Myosotis Caffe is directly across the street from Sequoia Station, at 1036 El Camino Real. This relatively recent entry into our coffee scene serves breakfast and lunch in a fairly comfy indoor setting—there is no outside seating. Parking is limited to what you can find on the street (the rather inviting-looking next-door parking lot does not appear to have spaces for patrons of Myosotis Caffe).IMG_3396
  • I’m told that Whole Foods (at El Camino Real and Jefferson) has a nice coffee bar. At least, they did—and shortly they will again. Currently undergoing renovation, their coffee bar provides seating both inside and out.

Moving on to the Woodside Road area, I count four qualifying coffee vendors to go with the Starbucks at Woodside Road and Gordon Street:

  • Breakers Cafe, in Woodside Plaza, is a popular breakfast and lunch place serving a full menu for each. They only have a couple of outside tables, but plenty of inside seating.
  • Chuck’s Donuts—yes, a donut shop—has an array of coffee drinks to go with their doughnuts. There is ample parking in the shopping center parking lot at 801 Woodside Road, along with some street parking. There is no outside seating.
  • IMG_3449S’Bastians Coffee is a new one. So new, in fact, that they aren’t actually open yet. Based on my peek inside, however, they should be open very soon, and should be serving some great coffee, if their brewing equipment is any indication. When they open, you’ll find them at 1725 Woodside Road, next to Lucia’s Restaurant and Pizzeria. There is some parking in the small strip-center lot, as well as some street parking on both Woodside Road and on Sequoia Avenue.
  • The Espresso Lane is Redwood City’s other drive-through option. Located at 865 Woodside Road, they also serve frozen yogurt, ice cream, and smoothies, plus pastries. Unlike Caffino, The Espresso Lane does have two outside tables, and a small number of places where one can park.

Having covered our downtown area, plus up and down El Camino Real and Woodside Road, I then moved on to Redwood Shores:

  • At the far end of Redwood Shores, in a small office complex at 1201 Radio Road, you’ll find Bay Leaf Cafe. They serve light breakfast items and a full lunch menu in a comfortable setting that includes ample inside and outside seating. Park in the adjacent parking lot.
  • Closer to 101, but hidden within the Redwood Shores branch of the Redwood City Public Library, is the well-regarded Sea Link Cafe (at 399 Marine Parkway). This compact little cafe serves a remarkable variety of items, including fresh-made sandwiches, numerous “grab and go” items, plus juices and soft drinks. Like the library, they are closed on Fridays.
  • If you thought the Sea Link Cafe was hidden, try finding Steve’s Cafe and Catering. It is located at 303 Twin Dolphin Drive, inside the Provident Credit Union building across the street from the Sofitel Hotel. From the front there is no signage, although if you go into the building and follow the “Cafe” signs you’ll get there. Or, go around to the other side of the building where you’ll find a marked door on the outside of the building plus an entrance off of the lobby. Steve’s has some breakfast items, but their main forte seems to be lunch: they have quite an extensive list of sandwiches, salads, soups, and other such fare.

I just have two final coffee houses on my list, located in small pockets of retail activity within Redwood City’s residential areas:

  • Canyon Coffee Roastery can be found in lower Emerald Hills, at the corner of Oak Knoll Drive and Canyon Road, next door to Sancho’s Taqueria. Canyon Coffee has two or three outside tables; the majority of their seating is inside. Parking is either in the shopping center lot or on the street. Along with your coffee you can enjoy one of the pastries that Canyon Coffee sells.
  • Summit Coffee is located in Roosevelt Center, across from Key Market at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Upton Street. Like Canyon Coffee, their seating is primarily indoors, although they do have one or two outside tables. Summit serves both breakfast and lunch.

As far as I can tell, that completes the list of qualifying coffee places in Redwood City. I did look into a number of others—including the Donut House on El Camino near Whipple and Specialty’s Cafe and Bakery, which can be found both on Chesapeake Drive in the Port of Redwood City area and on Island Drive in Redwood Shores—but they didn’t serve the kind of coffee that I was looking for. Let me know if I’ve missed anything, if I’ve mistakenly included somewhere that I shouldn’t, or even if you disagree with my criteria. Also, of course, let the rest of us know what you think of any or all of the places I’ve listed. Hopefully everyone reading this—coffee drinker or no—will have found at least one new place worth checking out.

26 thoughts on “Coffee Quest

  1. For the Back Yard spot on Brewster: I like this one for the sort of quiet atmos. There’s a piano in there with no one playing it. A guitar with maybe someone playing it. Mostly some nice afternoon outside light and a place to plug-in the laptop and quietly do your thing. Coffee quality? I don’t remember, it seemed fine. I was mostly there for the electricity, the wifi, and the ambiance. They have drinks and eats too. I will return to the Back Yard.

    For the Caffino kiosk: I think it actually does have a table or two right next to the sideroad, across from the car wash. I can imagine walking over here if you’re having your car gone over at the Clean Machine carwash across the side street. Or driving through the Caffino kiosk if you’re looking for an easy beverage on the way to work. I personally have not had an *amazing* beverage here, but on the other hand it is nice to have the drive through option there northbound El Camino heading out of the Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton zone. I’ve been through the Caffino many times and will likely drive through there again.

  2. Connoisseur Coffee Company
    2801 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City, CA 94063

    They roast and sell beans, as well as just brewing you a coffee.

    • According to the maps I have, technically they are just outside the city limits (that address lies within North Fair Oaks, which is an unincorporated part of San Mateo County)–but only by two blocks. I’ll need to check them out! Normally when I walk that area I turn around at Douglas or MacArthur, but I’ll have to walk just a bit farther, I guess. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I’ve really only frequented the coffee spots downtown. I haven’t gone to kristy Marie’s or Pamplemousse but otherwise I’ve tried all the other locations on your list. I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur but I do enjoy a good latte. I’d have to say Bliss probably has the best latte. It’s a bit pricy but inline with other quality shops….blue bottle, ritual, etc. I also like Philz if I want something other than a latte. Cafe Zoe probably had the second best latte after Bliss. Generally I prefer Pete’s over Starbucks. While I really like Main & Elm I haven’t been overly impressed with their coffee. The coffee I’ve had from La Tartine and backyard was good but I still prefer Philz or Bliss.

  4. Summit is our favorite. My husband the coffee snob likes their coffee a lot. The owners are from India, and make me real, from-scratch Indian chai–best around. They have games to play, and it’s a friendly sort of place where people
    talk to each other. They have a small menu of breakfast/ lunch items, and everything I’ve had has been quite good–not gourmet but very tasty. Highly recommended.

    • Sounds good. I’ve never actually been in there. I’ve put it on my list! It sounds as if I’ll find plenty to enjoy, even though I don’t drink coffee. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Not surprised about Cafe Zoë closing. It was in a difficult location with very poor visibility. With narrow street frontage, no eye-catching hooks or signage, sandwiched among restaurants and other distractions, you could walk by it many times and miss it if you blinked or were just trying to pay attention to where you were walking as you threaded your way past the other restaurants and sidewalk tables. My guess is most people didn’t even know it was there. As for me, I’m not a coffee drinker and could never find a good excuse to go in and try something — even after browsing the menu and noting it never seemed busy or lively. Speaking for myself, it just wasn’t compelling (superficially at least) … there was nothing to draw me in.

  6. Hi Greg, My word! I never realized how many coffee places were located here in RWC. What about the coffee place that Nancy use to go to? The out of the way place. Can’t remember the name. It is behind the large apartment building on El Camino. Nancy will know which one I’m talking about. We have been there many times. It use to be on Main and is now around the corner. Did you mention it? I don’t think so. Great research! Mary

    • Are you referring to Main Street Coffee Company (now Main & Elm)? That used to be on Main Street (hence the name) but moved around the corner to Elm. If so, I did mention that one.

  7. I haven’t been to them all but Bliss is great! I personally prefer a latte so I’m not always on the lookout for a regular cup of joe.

      • I tried to go there yesterday and there was a sign on the window saying that they were shutting down the RWC branch as of July 8. Menlo Park remains open, as far as I know.

      • Their Facebook page confirms it:

        Cafe Zoë Closing Redwood City Location

        After thoughtful consideration, Cafe Zoë and the team will be closing our Redwood City location at the end of the business day tomorrow, July 8, 2016. We have throughly enjoyed our time here in the downtown area. We are of the belief that our particular business model and product line does not fit with the dynamics of the Redwood City restaurant community.

        We are longtime Redwood City residents and big believers in the community. We would like to make a special shout out of gratitude to the Redwood City Downtown Business Group, (Regina, you are awesome), our friends at Art On The Square, our business neighbors and customers for their support. Stay tuned – we are super excited for the business that will take our space!

        All the best, Kathleen & Zoë

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