A couple weeks back we visited this café with Tim of espressophile fame. Approaching its North Beach location, you wouldn’t think it would be much different from the others nearby — but you’d be wrong. The espresso here is a real standout in the neighborhood, coinciding with the ownership change in late 2008 to Alex and Jessie.

North Beach may be credited as a sort of ground zero for the historical introduction of espresso in America (or at least west of the Mississippi). But unfortunately the espresso standards in North Beach seemed to have evolved little beyond those pioneer days: a heavy dependence on beans roasted too darkly for any brightness or balance, little regard for roast freshness, and a slack and often haphazard approach to barista skills. It’s little surprise that, in recent years, we’ve seen the rise of better espresso standards in neighborhoods such as the Mission — culturally rich ethnic neighborhoods of growing economic means, much like the North Beach of its time.

While neighborhood staples such as Caffé Trieste and Caffè Greco have stagnated, Cafe Capriccio marks a neighborhood return to the practice of making great espresso.

Cafe Capriccio and its red-and-white striped, icicle light façade Inside Cafe Capriccio

This corner café has red-and-white-striped awnings (complete with icicle lights), sidewalk tables, and many mirrors inside a small space with a few dark tables. The clientele here are generally quiet and studious. Using an organic Ecco Caffè espresso blend and a new three-group Nuova Simonelli, they pull pretty shots with mottled dark brown crema with reddish flecks.

Ordering a few shots here, the consistency wasn’t perfect (the crema on some was lighter) — but it looks serious and has a good consistency, thickness, and persistence. A shot close to our hearts, it has a thick, almost syrupy body: potent, dense. Flavorwise, it is well-balanced (a true espresso blend), smooth, shows pungent strength, and finishes with a sweeter edge. A very pleasant surprise, and one of the finest espresso examples in town. North Beach is relevant again.

Read the review of Cafe Capriccio.

Cafe Capriccio's Nuova Simonelli, with owners Alex and Jessie The Cafe Capriccio espresso