Grinders Gaining Grounds

Downtown San Jose is keeping pace with national trends to drink more gourmet coffee.

In a matter of a few months, downtown San Jose has added to the downtown coffee mix The Proper Cup at 1 S. Market St., Chromatic at 17 N. Second St. and a “pop-up” Academic Coffee at Five Points at 169 W. Santa Clara St. (Academic’s main location at 499 S. Second St. was expected to open July 31). And Oakland-based Blue Bottle has signed a lease at 1 W. Santa Clara.

“It’s still too early to rate San Jose as a coffee-lover’s destination,” said Dean Sherrell of The
Proper Cup. “There are some coffee hounds here. But for the bulk of customers, I think our business practices will resonate and have them coming back time and again.”

Downtown coffee retail owners are working to satisfy the growing sophistication of their clientele.
The most discriminating say that the method of extracting the coffee, sourcing and sorting beans, the ratios of grinds to water and temperature, roasting and finally pouring the cup all lead to taste, the ultimate coffee test.

“Our fast cup – we call grab-n-go – is extracted using a French press system, a much more refined cup than from a percolated system,” Sherrell said.

Some customers rating the coffee places on social media talk about how the owners treat them like family, another key differential.

“There are similar coffee places in downtown San Jose now and each has its own personal touch and vibe,” said Omar Quinonez, owner of Vero’s Coffee Bar, 387 S. First St. in the SoFA Market.

Customers generally want a great experience inside and /or outside on a patio. They want service to be focused on fast, friendly and attentiveness, not on attitude. More persnickety customers may prefer superior presentation, such as latte artwork, and a simplified menu that also includes a variety of food, decaf, matcha and other tea alternatives.

As Silicon Valley employee populations work more remotely, coffeehouse amenities such as comfortable seating, wi-fi capabilities (and speed), printing capabilities and large tables become more important.

Being responsible to the planet is also a point of difference, said the local owners.

“We hope that our mission to support happy farmers, keep baristas happy, and serve great coffee translates to satisfied customers,” said Frank Nguyen of Academic Coffee. “We strive for daily improvement with our coffee recipes.”

What about price?

“As a professional and a customer, I always take a few things into consideration,” Nguyen said. “If the price is high, then my expectation is always higher. But it’s possible to brew a beautiful coffee poorly. So I prefer a well-priced average coffee vs. an expensive slightly better-than-average cup of coffee.”

The degree to which downtown’s coffee places meet all these expectations differs from place to place. The consumer will decide based on individual preferences.

“For years I was begging for coffee places to open in San Jose, not knowing that eventually I would open one myself, three years ago,” Quinonez said. “More places have opened recently and some more are to come – that’s when downtown will be a place to visit just for coffee.”

Downtown’s coffee landscape
  • Academic, 499 S. Second and Academic pop-up at Five Points, 169 W. Santa Clara – The place for single origin espressos
  • B2 (Bellano) Coffee, 87 N. San Pedro St. – Popular anchor at San Pedro Square Market.
  • Bel Bacio Café, 350 W. Julian St. – Hot and cold espresso, plus frequent artists dressing up foamed drinks in Little Italy.
  • Caffe Frascati, 315 S. First St. – 100 percent Arabica beans is foundation for signature espresso that tastes as if served from a coffee bar in Rome.
  • Chromatic, 17 N. Second St – Generous in locally sourcing desserts and Satori tea. Seasonal coffees and perennial favorites all sell well.
  • Devine Grind Coffee Shop, 27 Devine St. #30 – Outdoor patio a favorite of St. James Park neighbors.
  • Forager Tasting Room and Eatery, 420 S. First St. – Serving Devout Coffee, which has made a name for itself in Fremont.
  • Peet’s Coffee, inside the Convention Center and served at Specialties, 115 S. Market St. – Longtime Bay Area favorite.
  • Philz Coffee, 118 Paseo de San Antonio – Try the iced mint mojito at this original Philz franchise.
  • Proper Cup, 1 S. Market St. – Offers Hario v-60 for the one cup pour-over and donates upcharges for tags and logos on foamed drinks to charities.
  • Starbucks, 150 S. First St., 145 W. Santa Clara, 101 E. Santa Clara,125 S. Market St. and 695 Coleman Ave. – Offers blends from all over the world.
  • Vero’s Coffee Bar, 387 S. First St. – Carries high-quality beans from different roasters like Heart, Coava and Verve.
  • Voltaire, 360 S. Market St. – True Specialty coffees, a higher grade than premium, using mostly organic ingredients.


Coffee and other specialties
Amor Cafe and Tea, 110 E. San Fernando St.
Café Eden, 2 N. First St.
Clock Tower Coffee Roasting Co., 10 Almaden Blvd
CoCo Café and Tea, 312 S Third St.
Crema Coffee Roasting Co., 50 W. San Fernando St.
Good Karma, 37 S. First St.
Kartma Street Café, 84 W. Santa Clara St.
La Lune Sucre, 116 Paseo de San Antonio
Psycho Donuts, 288 S. Second St.
Social Policy, 200 S. First St.
Specialties, 115 S. Market St.
Whispers Café and Creperie, 150 S. Second St.
Coffee talk
◆ 62% of Americans drink coffee on daily basis

◆ 37% of 13-18-year-olds have coffee daily, up 14 points from 2014

◆ 46% of Americans consume coffee out of home

◆ 59% of coffee cups served are classified as gourmet, vs. 46% in 2012

Source: National Coffee Association