This worker-owned café in South Berkeley’s Lorin District boasts about its lack of bosses, managers and underlings as much as it does about the quality of its coffee. But the quality is, indeed, high at Alchemy. The café roasts its own beans — two blends, two espressos and two single origins — and serves them in a short selection of classic drinks, including the briefly very trendy “flat white.” Non-coffee drinkers shouldn’t miss the house-made chai, which is on the spicy and not-too-sweet side. Alchemy’s food menu is also solid, if a bit predictable. Assorted toasts and vegetarian sandwiches will satiate in a pinch.Alchemy Collective Café is at 1741 Alcatraz Ave. (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley.
Walking into Algorithm Coffee shop is like stepping into an alternate universe. Sleek and minimalist, the space is worlds away from the snarling, honking traffic of University Avenue. Outfitted with plenty of tables — and outlets — the café is a work-from-homer’s dream space. Algorithm’s highly simplified drink menu is based around espresso and pour-overs. There are no drinks like lattes or cappuccinos; instead, customers can order espresso with a custom amount of milk. It’s a little disorientating for first-time customers, but the staff is trained to translate the menu. Non-coffee drinkers can choose from a lineup of tea from Berkeley’s Blue Willow Teas; a small sample of each sits in a small bowl at the front counter for full aromatic transparency before ordering. Food selection, at least in the café’s first few months (it opened in February 2016), is minimal — there’s currently a strong lineup of Firebrand pastries. But the café aims to roll out a more substantial, market-based menu eventually. Algorithm Coffee is at 1122 University (between Curtis and San Pablo), Berkeley.
Asha Tea House
There’s been an explosion of bubble tea shops in Berkeley over the past couple of years, but none has been able to top four-year-old Asha Tea House. The shop has the vibe of a third-wave coffee shop but sells a dedicated, impeccably sourced tea menu. Lightly sweetened boba made with actual tea (yes, this is a big deal) are likely the most common orders, but Asha also has a strong line-up of matcha beverages and pure teas for those who prefer to skip tapioca pearls. A short and sweet pastry menu provides a few nibbles to go with. Asha Tea House is at 2086 University Ave. (at Shattuck), Berkeley.
Highwire Coffee Roasters
Highwire is an Emeryville-based small-batch coffee roaster and tea company with three cafés: at Rockridge’s Market Hall, the Flowerland coffee trailer in Albany, and on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. The Berkeley location has long been a second office for work-at-home types; on weekdays, the tables are mostly filled with laptops. And now, it shares a space with Mister Bolenca, for those who want a little more substantial fare with their caffeine. Both share a great outdoor seating area, perfect for sipping on that cappuccino or munching on house-baked cookie. Highwire Coffee is at 2049 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley
Rose water may not be the first thing you think to add to your morning latte, but we urge you to give the floral twist a go at South Berkeley’s Rasa Caffe. The rose latte is one of a few spiced drinks at the two-year old café. Owner Rasa Sun Mott also makes hot coffee with cinnamon and cardamom, iced coffee with cardamom, steamed milk with a few different spice additions and a seriously delicious house chai. Coffee purists can, of course, choose classic espresso beverages, as well as single-origin pour-overs. Pastries and vegan donuts are also on deck. Rasa Caffe is at 3140 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (at Adeline), Berkeley.
This small, no-frills coffee shop consistently gains praise for both its drinks and its clean, succulent-accented decor. Coloso serves Portland-based Heart Coffee, a unique find for the East Bay, plus baked goods from San Francisco’s Sandbox Bakery. Those French-style pastries, in particular, are a huge draw. Many have Japanese flavors — think fruit tarts with yuzu marmalade and challah with miso. Coloso Coffee is at 917 Washington St. (at 10th), Oakland.
Haddon Hill Café
There’s not too much besides houses near Haddon Hill Café, but this semi-isolation is a good thing — the small coffee shop feels like a calm oasis. The espresso is always dialed in and the housemade bread and pastries, well, you can’t beat ’em, at least on this side of the lake. Haddon Hill is also laptop-friendly, so you’ll likely see plenty of work-from-homers at any time of day. Haddon Hill Café, 504 Wesley Ave. (near Brooklyn), Oakland
With so many coffee shops now roasting their own beans, it’s startlingly refreshing to find a shop that sells coffee from more than one roaster. Modern Coffee often boasts a line-up of several companies — Bay Area roasters Chromatic Coffee Co. (San Jose), Counter Culture Coffee (Emeryville) and Linea Caffe (San Francisco) make regular appearances, as do further flung roasters like Verve (Santa Cruz) and Stumptown (Portland). And, in addition to its expertly poured regular espresso drinks, Modern serves a super popular burnt-cinnamon latte — it’s a don’t-miss drink for curious coffee fanatics. To eat, you’ll find locally baked pastries from the likes of Starter, Hopkins Street Bakery, Rolling Sloane’s, and Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy. Modern Coffee is at 411 13th St. (between Broadway and Franklin) and 381 19th Street (at Franklin), Oakland.
There are plenty of coffee shops that offer up vegan baked goods and non-dairy milks, but there are very few that are exclusively vegan. Timeless Coffee is the only one we know of. This fact isn’t immediately obvious; the café doesn’t proclaim its vegan-ness. (There’s only one mention on its website, buried deep in its bakery menu.) But if you prefer your pour-overs with almond milk and your soft serve made from cashews, there’s no better place to go. And even if you don’t think you’d like such things, Timeless is worth a visit anyway. There’s nothing wrong with trying new things. Timeless Coffee is at 4252 Piedmont Ave. (at Glenwood), Oakland and 2965 College Ave. (at Ashby), Berkeley.
“The barista at Coffee Conscious is awesome. He is attentive and creative.” — Nosh reader
Our Readers’ Picks listing is compiled from our reader survey conducted in early 2016. We’ve listed the top five reader choices in Berkeley, Oakland and Beyond for each meal.