Watch them make a beautiful cup of espresso at one of Sacramento’s oldest coffee venues
This is not a ranking; it’s a list of 10 locally owned coffee establishments and what each represents to the scene in the Sacramento area. These coffee houses are public spaces where people who might not otherwise see each other share space, debate, read and drink coffee in its different forms.
What makes or breaks a coffee spot? There’s the espresso and the brewed coffee, of course. But of comparable importance, there is the personality of the baristas, the architecture, the other customers, and even the music; all of these factor into a shop’s essence.
Let’s shine a spotlight on some of the Sacramento area’s iconic coffee venues.
Tradition and Community
3418 Folsom Boulevard
Coffee Works – an East Sacramento caffeinated stronghold that was previously a drapery shop – opened in 1982. The Folsom Boulevard-facing windows are today uncovered, offering a generous view of folks commuting into and out of downtown.
The staff here has a running conversation with most of its customers; the backdrop is the giant Sivetz-made coffee roaster. In operation, it inhales a visible gas-powered flame resembling a liquid rocket from Aerojet. The roasted coffee it produces is darker than the trendier lighter-roasting competition’s.
Inside the café’s entrance, on the left, there’s a triple-doored glass display case containing no fewer than 11 vintage hand coffee grinders and 10 different types of coffee brewers, including little, polished-copper Turkish ones that look centuries old.
The espresso machine is newer, with steaming wands that produce some of the foamiest cappuccinos in Sacramento.
2104 11th Avenue
The second-oldest venue on this list is adjacent to Sac City College, founded in 1988. The junior college gives it a unique flavor: tutors and students, young baristas, and older Land Park residents share the space.
What makes it quirky? Well, there are the three tall mirrors in the western corner that reflect each other, state fair funhouse-style. Then there are the six grey-and-white-speckled paper-mâché whales hanging from the ceiling, and the little DIY sign at the register that indicates that “boneless yellow fruit,” (AKA bananas) cost 75 cents.
Metro uses Peerless coffee for their beverages, roasted dark in Oakland since 1924.
Old Soul Co.
Old Soul Co. has been roasting its own coffee, lightly, in Sacramento since 2006. Its four different venues include one in an alleyway at 17th and L streets where you can buddy up to the American-made Diedrich roasting machine and chat with co-owner Jason Griest, who spends much of his time there.
Also of note is their spot called “Weatherstone” between H and I streets on 21st Street. The brick building, built in the early 1920s, has been a meat market, a salon, and most recently three different coffee shops including a bustling Java City location.
Camellia Coffee Roasters
1104 R Street Ste 150
A newcomer to the scene is Camellia Coffee Roasters, which opened a small, light pink-colored café in the WAL building on R Street just last year. Co-owners Ryan Harden and Robert Watson came from Old Soul Co. and Insight, respectively.
Their espresso reaches a level of consistent complexity unmatched in Sacramento; the Ethereal Espresso Blend consists of Ethiopian and Brazilian coffees. Harden explained, “The Ethiopia gives it a nice round sweetness, and the Brazil tastes like ... Nutter Butter.” A sip reveals blueberry and tobacco notes that exchange blows, followed by a sweet caramel finish.
A second café is in the works on 12th Street, where an adjacent light-rail stop will make it a convenient place to visit.
Another relative newcomer to the scene is The Mill, which started out as a coffee stall at a midtown farmers market in 2013. Nicholas Cookston-Minton and Ilah Rose Cookston-Minton are the exceedingly friendly married owners.
At their I Street location, there can be a morning scramble for The Sacramento Bee and The New York Times, which daily share the polished-wood central island table. Ilah Rose is the design guru; stained wood and white paint provide a relaxed, contemplative environment. A covert back patio provides a similar reflective retreat from I Street traffic.
Their Bouquet Blend espresso is an Ethiopian blend like Camellia’s but it receives a somewhat lighter roast. They’ve been roasting in Oakland, but The Mill’s own roastery is due to fire up in the coming weeks next to their Elvas Avenue coffee shop.
Tiferet Coffee House
Speaking of East Sac, Tiferet Coffee House opened its first location at Alhambra and H streets in 2014. Regulars and newcomers are welcomed with equal attention. The small space has just four small tables, which offers a visitor the chance to listen in on the conversations of others, which may be in Spanish, Bengali, Russian, Thai or Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
Co-owner and Ethiopian-American Sabrina Berhane is able to carry on two conversations at once while simultaneously making cappuccinos as foamy as those at Coffee Works; her milk-steaming skills admittedly acquired from YouTube videos.
Perhaps the most learned coffee staff in the city are the outwardly humble baristas at Insight’s Southside location. Their San Franciscan coffee roaster was built in Carson City, Nevada; the machine imparts a floral quality on Insight’s coffees.
The vintage theater seats along the tall front windows were allegedly reclaimed from a turn-of-the-century ballet company in Old Sacramento. Their stained wood looks similar to that of an old maple Adirondack baseball bat.
Insight has recently closed two of its locations; Southside remains as a great place to study and hang out with friends.
Studying is similarly a popular pastime at Identity’s roasterie café on 28th Street. An early morning visit provides the most serene coffee house environment in Sacramento: ample open space, two coffee trees, calming succulents, five sky lights, and a solitary coffee roasting machine from Germany lend to the vibe. The roasterie café is so inviting that off-duty Identity baristas can often be found hanging out next to the espresso bar.
Co-owner Lucky Rodrigues rents out his vintage coffee mug collection for in-house beverages. There’s a library volunteer mug for readers, one that graces a golf ball for golfers, and another that reads, “Oh no, four-oh,” for those just getting over the middle-aged hill.
Mishkas Coffee & Tea Lab
610 2nd Street
This is another good spot to study, or have an intellectual debate, over the causeway in Davis. There’s an Avid Reader bookstore across the street if you are itching to purchase something to read alongside the academic folks inside the café. Mishkas’ west wall has a long wooden counter perpetually inhabited by diligent students with their textbooks and laptops in use. A variety of communal tables are offered for those who would like to sit with friends or spread out a newspaper.
Their coffee is roasted on the second floor, and they have light, medium and dark options. The coffee provides inspiration to those enjoying time inside the shop or on the oft-sunny patio.
Four Score Coffee House
325 Lincoln Street
And lastly is Four Score Coffee House in Old Town Roseville. Its logo is “The Abe Head”: Abraham Lincoln’s bearded head dawning sunglasses.
Co-owner Luke Noland has been building wooden tables for the café’s expansion, due to open in the coming weeks. He’s come a long way since the opening of the Four Score café in 2015 and its subsequent 14-month closure due to permitting issues with the historic building’s labyrinth of rooms.
Their coffee comes from nearby Valiant Coffee Roasters in Loomis, which provides them with single-origin coffees from around the globe.