This upscale, Italian-styled espresso café at the base of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel also serves your basic breakfast and lunch fare. It attracts well-heeled business types with a good international tourist contingent — given the hotel proximity. And it is one of the few places in SF where you can down an espresso Italian-style: standing (or sitting) at dedicated bar space. But beyond this and the Italian pop music, the authenticity ends: the food is merely decent, and the espresso machine is French.

Inside they have many nicely-surfaced indoor café tables. Outside, along the Sutter St. and Powell St. sidewalks, they also have a number of tables for when the weather cooperates. These guys are Illy to the core though — right down to their uniformed staff in black, Illy-logo shirts. The baristas here are quite social and friendly — making them more like chummy bartenders. They pull their espresso shots from a two-group UNIC ZR, directly pouring straight into the cup.

Caffè Espresso Seating inside Caffè Espresso from the espresso bar

The crema on their espresso varies from a moderate, deep, and very dark brown with some lighter stripes to an even, medium brown layer of decent thickness. It also has a moderate herbal flavor (some thyme and cedar notes) and is served in designer IPA Illy cups. However, the body of their espresso has been notably thinner since around the spring of 2005 — resulting in a more watery, less flavorful cup than they previously served.

Still, it is quite good for imported roasted coffee. And when it comes to milk-based drinks, they’re particularly good if you like a “dry,” frothy cappuccino.

Read the updated review.

Barista working the UNIC ZR for all things Illy branded  Caffè Espresso's namesake drink