How to Go on a San Diego Coffee Crawl

Lattes at Dark Horse. Photo by the author.

San Diego is known for its chill, “hang loose” surfer vibes, beautiful beaches, fish tacos and craft breweries, but a closer less bro look reveals its rich, flourishing and diverse coffee scene. From coffee that tastes like Skittles, to classic frothy cappuccinos done right, take this tour of my favorite coffee roasters and revel in some seriously delicious coffee. Stay hydrated.

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters
With four locations in San Diego alone—my favorite being their North Park locale—Dark Horse Coffee is a ’90s-themed coffee roaster with a superb quality of beans. Try their house espresso dubbed “Best Friend Blend,” a balanced base for any of their espresso beverages or get weird with a pour-over from their “Fruit Party” blend, a coffee with sweet fruit and candy acidity (think Skittles). Get coffee-nerd level and taste their single-origin, which is in constant rotation, and always perfectly dialed in (if not, they’ll do it on the spot). Try it with a side of seltzer water, or marry it with your favorite choice of milk (yes, they’ve got Oatly) and taste the notes that radiate through. For when I’m not feeling espresso, a creamy iced or hot matcha with just a hum of sweetness makes for the perfect treat. Not to be missed are their delicious offerings of vegan donuts by Skinny Donuts that change daily. Plus, their merch is like, really, really cool. Okay, I’ll move on now.

Caffè Calabria
Since you’re in North Park, might as well make your way to Caffe Calabria! The space transports you to Italy, with the pizza brick greeting you in the entrance, espresso menu in Italian, and large display case of ready-made caprese sandwiches and pastries with nutella wrapping around the front counter. Caffe Calabria, a day and night cafe, is both the best place to hunker down and get some work done during the day and grab Neapolitan-style pizza and wine with a friend in the evening. Try their bomba, a tall pint of creamy Guinness beer with a shot of espresso –– otherwise known as an Irish car bomb –– you won’t find cafes selling this anywhere else (and it’s totally cool to have one before noon, bruh). Or, delight in espresso beverages like the Bicerin; a short espresso and milk drink with a heaping spoonful of nutella, and the cinque, meaning five in Italian for this drink’s amount of ounces (think of a shorter flat white). 

James Coffee Co.
Next on the docket is James Coffee Co. This local coffee roaster, with three locations including one in North Park, makes a particularly good pour over. Choose from any of their three rotating single origin beans and revel in their full body and aroma. Pour overs, I should advise, demand some patience. Their Little Italy location, on 2355 India Street, however, conveniently provides chess tables with full sets to play while you wait for your brew, and once you have it, sip in peace.  

The West Bean Coffee Roasters
Dipping down a little south to San Diego’s Downtown, is the perfect place for the cold brew inclined, West Bean. Go for their house cold brew, a blend rich with deep chocolate notes. Or try their nitro cold brew: cold brew infused with nitrogen, giving it the appearance and mouthfeel of a creamy stout. Stay, however, for their cappuccinos. Specialty coffee has almost obliterated the traditionally frothy Italian caps in favor of a thinner, smooth and velvety microfoamed milk. But West Bean has kept the tradition alive, aerating and stretching the milk until it reaches peak frothiness (without burning the milk).  

Cafe Virtuoso Organic Coffee & Tea
Moving closer down south, is Cafe Virtuoso in Barrio Logan, the only 100 percent certified organic coffee roaster in San Diego. Cafe Virtuoso is highly community-driven. They run an education program offered through their nonprofit, San Diego Coffee Training Institute, that provides free coffee education for “vulnerable” and “high-risk populations” to make a career path in coffee, paid for by people who can afford to purchase the program. They also promote sustainable coffee trade relationships with their farms by paying fair prices through programs like Fair Trade. Sip on a single-origin cortado, letting the sweetness of the milk soften the brightness of their crisp, delicious, ethically sourced espresso. Or pick up a bag, most notably, their 95-rated Ethiopian Shantewene or 93-rated Kona. 

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