Errantly called ‘Tasili Coffee’ in most phone books and directories, this is a business lunch spot tucked away in the Hills Plaza brick office park, within a courtyard in the shadow of the Bay Bridge featuring a statue of the old Hills Bros. Coffee trademark: the turbaned Arab drinking coffee. Yes, this location was once the world’s home to Hills Bros. coffee — who introduced vacuum packed coffee in tins in 1900 … and a vacuum packing plant along the SF waterfront in 1926. (A landmark for Folgers Coffee exists right around the corner at Spear and Howard Sts.)

This café serves sandwiches, lavash, salads, and fine espresso. There isn’t much in the way of seating, however, between one indoor table and a few small ones outdoors in the plaza.

Entrance to Cafe Tassili, aka Tassili Caffé Laid Chellihi working the La Spaziale

The owner, Laid Chellihi, pays careful attention to espresso preparation. His skills, and his café, are generally two undiscovered secrets in SF’s short list of good espresso. Back in 2003, he used a two-group La Pavoni machine that he has since replaced with a two-group La Spaziale. No matter, he manages to produce some of the most consistently good (albeit not top tier) espresso in the city. Talk about man over machine

Tassili Caffé espresso - in a cappuccino cup Hills Plaza courtyard with the Bay Bridge beyond

Laid pulls an espresso with a full, thick, and somewhat tall layer of medium-to-dark brown crema, and it has one of the sweetest aromas of any espresso I’ve had in SF. Served warm-to-hot with some faint grounds at the bottom of the cup. It has a relatively dense and bold flavor — a combination of tobacco and an herbal pungency, but with definite tastes of smoke, balsamic, and nutmeg. If it’s missing anything, it’s a touch of brightness on the high end of the flavor spectrum.

The pour is a little large — serving it to the rim in a tall and narrow IPA demitasse, built like a shotglass but with a Caffè Umbria logo representing the beans he uses. He sometimes serves it in larger Caffè Umbria cappuccino cups (a pet peeve of some), but the crema still manages to persist in its wide mouth.

Read the updated review.

Hills Plaza's most famous Hills Bros. resident; even the birds can't resist Nearby, Folgers' historical landmark building at Spear & Howard