Where's the best coffee in North America?

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company
The Blue Bottle Coffee Company

While cities like Seattle have long dominated the gourmet coffee scene, specialty cafes throughout the U.S. and abroad have being steadily raising the bar. In-house roasting; sustainable, organic, fairly-traded beans; elaborate brewing processes -- another Starbucks they are not. With the help of Oyster Locals Brendan Spiegal of Endless Simmer and Joanne Greenberg (who wrote our East and West Coast listings, respectively), our highly-caffeinated reporters picked their favorite places to get a coffee.

West Coast: A recent New York Times article gives credit to San Francisco for its established artisanal coffee scene, something that is only now making a presence in New York City. Arguably the best coffee in San Francisco can be had at Blue Bottle Coffee Company. Blue Bottle got its start as a kiosk in Hayes Valley and after enormous success, has expanded across the city to locales that include the Ferry Building, Mint Plaza, and their always bustling original stand. All beans are roasted a maximum of 48 hours prior to reaching your cup -- any older and they’re donated to charity. At Mint Plaza, Blue Bottle even uses a Japanese siphon bar, a $20,000 instrument that looks more like it’d be at home in a chemistry lab.

East Coast: When Cafe Grumpy, a mini-chain in New York City that operates its own roasting facility in Brooklyn, opened a Chelsea outpost in 2006, they brought in two $11,000 Clover machines that give baristas a wide degree of control over each single-brewed cup. It'll take a lot longer to get a cup of joe, but the quality shows. In fact, when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wandered into the shop to try a cup, he liked it so much that he ended up buying the company that makes the machines.

Pacific: Hawaii might be better known for its beaches, its surfing, its near-perfect weather, its friendly locals, its stunning national parks... It's fair to say that its coffee shouldn't be at the top of your list of reasons to visit (it might rank somewhere above poi and the ukulele, though). But the rare, wonderful, and pricey beans from Kona might just make the best coffee on earth. In Hawaii, you can buy the beans just about anywhere -- of course, it's the roasting that makes all the difference -- but the Honoulu Coffee Company, which has several locations in and around Waikiki, goes to great lengths to make a superior cup. It picks and roasts all its beans from a single Kona estate, and channels all that hard work into a beautifully brewed espresso. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.

Caribbean: Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is both exceptional and, sadly, in scarce supply. Most of it is either exported to Japan or held on to for domestic use. In the United States it doesn't quite carry the same fame as Hawaii's Kona coffee, but that's largely because nearly impossible to find. In Jamaica, one of the few resorts that takes great care to brew and serve Blue Mountain coffee in a manner befitting its quality -- a slow-steeping French press -- is the Ritz-Carlton in Rose Hall, Jamaica.

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