Yes, this is the San Francisco legend — a meeting place for writers of the 1950s Beat movement; where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for The Godfather; where espresso was first introduced to the West Coast in 1956.
This café is rather old-school Italian to the core — one of the fewer and fewer remaining places in North Beach that still operates like the Italian immigrant community of its original era. Today a generally older café crowd soaks in the opera and Italian music classics on the jukebox among several large, indoor tables (there’s never enough, so expect to share). There’s even a holdover phone booth in the middle of it all. In good weather, and often in bad, their outdoor sidewalk seating is used like a casual Italian living room. It may be a little rough on the edges, but it has a definite neighborhood feel. Even without the weekend accordion sing-alongs.
Caffé Trieste has been serving espresso from this location for over 50 years, and it generally has not changed much since then — for better or worse. Using a two-group La San Marco, they produce a shot with a rather thin but rich, dark brown crema. It has a pungent-to-smoky flavor from an often thick-bodied, almost syrup-like pour. (Occasionally the body can run thinner.) As if there was any other way, they classically serve espresso in wide-mouthed, brown ACF ceramic cups.
As Caffé Trieste continues to expand as a chain — due to modern business expectations for a decent retail coffee outfit — check out the original while you still can. Although the original Caffé Trieste has maintained much of its character despite the changing demographics of the neighborhood, it’s still part of a dying breed to enjoy while it lasts. Next door you’ll also find their shop — which sells coffee, espresso machines, and various coffee accessories.
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