This corner café looks more at home in Tucson than SF: it’s akin to adobe construction. To think this was the former home of the Octavia Lounge piano bar/cabaret.

Past a heavy wooden door and faux totem pole on entry, it has beat up, reddish wooden floors, white stone walls, beat up tables that look like they arrived from a garage sale, and eclectic music — both new and old. There are a few places to sit in this airy space, but the floorspace is limited. They offer a Melitta bar that generally slows down the service (which is mostly a good thing). Besides coffee, they’re pretty big on beer and happy hour, and they attract a rather quiet and studious clientele heavy on the vegans-with-laptops set.

The curious entrance to Mercury Cafe Inside the Mercury Cafe - with De La Paz coffee options

Using a two-group red La Marzocco FB/70, they pull default double shots. It has a reddish crema with blonde streaks and, with the De La Paz roast they were using, was about as sweet as an espresso shot gets before it starts turning bad. (“Peak sweet”?) While there wasn’t any pungency, deep body, or smokiness, it works as a very flavorful, naturally sweet espresso. Served in classic brown ACF cups. The baristas are also quite knowledgeable and can help you navigate through several great coffee options from De La Paz here.

De La Paz has oddly picked up a number of converts from the ever-excellent Ecco Caffè for some reason: the Mojo Bicycle Café, Trouble Coffee. Even so, the unassuming Mercury Cafe provides a suitable “reference coffee” location for De La Paz — not unlike Coffee Bar does for Mr. Espresso.

Does Mercury's La Marzocco FB/70 make them The Mercury Cafe espresso

There’s a lot of gymnastics going on these days in the name of “Third Wave” and even “Fourth Wave” coffee. But all of these supposed revolutionary innovations of the past few years have, in our humble opinion, done little to nothing to improve the quality of the coffee in the cup. (Even if’s Mark Prince believes otherwise.) They’ve done plenty to generate bombastic press coverage and give bored baristas new toys to play with, but, for example, the best espresso shot we ever reviewed remains one we had in 2003. Water, ground coffee, a filter, and gravity or pressure: coffeemaking really hasn’t changed much at all over the eons.

All the more reason we admire the Mercury. Instead of resorting to the latest coffee gimmick — the latest machine fad or the rarified siphon bar — the Mercury achieves excellence by just doing the basic things right with a great attention to detail.

Read the review of Mercury Cafe.