Coffee in the Mission is too expensive and, often, prepared so poorly that something must be done. A latte strike, a ban on careless baristas or a cap on the cost of a cup of milk flavored with caffeine? Maybe.
Coffee is everywhere in the neighborhood, and the purveyors of overpriced drinks have a hold on innocent caffeine addicts. It goes something like this: trendy atmosphere, loud music, semi-comfortable seating, half-interested baristas and price tags so high it’s almost awkward to complain about quality. The ultra-hip coffeehouse is a place of worship, and to second-guess those behind the single-brew altar is sacrilege.
When I was 14, my mother bought a second-hand single espresso machine with a milk steamer nozzle on the side. I quickly learned how to make her a latte. I remember steaming the milk carefully, slowly, and sometimes pouring out the liquid when it became too hot. It was a game to see how smooth I could heat the milk — just before the scalding point — and how creamy I could pull the espresso. Ever since then, I’ve been a serious coffee snob, even when I couldn’t afford it.
But after too many lattes I could have made better as a teenager, and way too few truly smooth cups of regular old drip joe, I’m on strike. An overpriced, over-steamed coffee-and-espresso-drink strike.
What to drink in their absence is the question. The trendy coffeehouse has become so commonplace, and the pedestrian cup of coffee so maligned, it’s difficult to know where to go when you just need cheap brewed energy.
I have discovered that there are secret cups all over the Mission — good coffee sitting warmly at corner stores that supply to-go cups. They don’t use organic beans, and it’s likely not roasted on site. But it’s cheap, drinkable and, most of all, hidden.
I’m going to spend the next several weeks drinking from the Mission’s secret coffee cup. I’ll be clear: this type of coffee isn’t great. But there’s a liberating feeling in ordering a cup of not-half-bad dollar coffee from a Chinese food and donut shop. This is the thrift store to the twee boutique; the second-hand Schwinn to the $500 Public bicycle.
My first secret cup is found at Jim Georgie’s Donuts at 16th and Folsom. This is the kind of place where you can buy a single chicken drumstick or a small cup of coffee and the cost is the same: one dollar.
The setup is simple. Those old-fashioned black- and orange-handled pots of “house roast,” “French roast” and decaf sit on hot plates all day. Somehow they never taste stale, or burned; the beans are never over-roasted. The cream doesn’t come in an aluminum thermos labeled soy, whole or skim.
What J. Georgie’s gives you is an iced-tea pitcher filled with an unidentified thick dairy creamer. It cuts through the medium-bodied brewed coffee and makes the whole thing a thick, decadent drink. To the left of the coffee station you’ll find a round bin of brown sugar. Who knows how long the milk, or cream, or whatever it is, has been sitting out unrefrigerated? It’s cheap.
And tested. I drank a cup every day for a week and felt fine. Great, actually, because for the price of one cup of specialty brewed coffee at, say, Ritual, I got about five at J Georgie’s.
Step inside J. Georgie’s, even in the morning, and the first thing to hit your nose is the scent of cafeteria-style teriyaki, sweet and sour chicken or chow mein. Come around in the evening and everything you smelled that morning will be half-price in to-go boxes.
A television is mounted near the ceiling in a corner. Sometimes a few customers will eat their food at one of the small tables, but it’s always pretty quiet. Something you won’t find at a more pretentious coffeehouse: solitude. Imagine drinking your cheap, drinkable coffee in peace while finishing some work on your laptop. Think of all those spendy caffeine addicts somewhere more high-brow, pretending to focus on their computers or huddled behind a book.
J. Georgie pro tip: it’s cash only, and we promise you’ll have some change left over for a double-chocolate cake donut.
Jim Georgie’s Chinese Food and Donuts is located at Shotwell on 2799 16th St.