Coffee is cheap, and drinkable at Jim Georgie's on Shotwell Avenue.

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. mmm. drink crap in styrofoam cups (styrofoam is banned in SF since 2007 btw!). great tip. thanks for the opinion that artificially low priced coffee and food is good because it is cheap. way to support the industrial food system. my tip for you- if you cant afford good, hand roasted, direct trade coffee from snobby baristas, do what you did as a teenager, make it at home.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Robin. I do very much care about the food system, and can very much afford top shelf coffee. I make coffee at home, buy it from snobby baristas and from cheaper places as I described here. This is simply a departure from a coffee system that is way overpriced, and often not to support free trade products– just because they can. Hope you can catch the next installment of this series.

    2. Robin’s comment is ridiculous. I’m sure the owners of the overpriced cafes are pocketing their super profits, not helping exploited labor. Not to mention their patrons are hooked on non “fair trade” smart (makes you dumb) devices.

      Old school places like Jim Georgies that cater to working class folks keep living in the Mission desirable as we resist the invasion of the techie snobs.

      Some suggestions: Cafe Venice, 3325 24th Street (at Mission); Jelly Donut, 3198 24th Street (at South Van Ness).

      The yuppie food court on Valencia between 17th and 19th never ceases to disgust me. I’ll go out of my way to walk on Mission rather than Valencia.

      1. I agree with you Eddie–coffee is hugely profitable, like alcohol, and these “hipster” coffee shops are nauseating. I make my own coffee at home. Another non-pretentious coffee place is the Little Spot on 23rd/ S. Van Ness.

      2. Thanks, Eddie. I’ll check out your tips, and consider writing them up next time.

      3. Panderia Mexicana by Pops on 24th Cafe con canela (Ground Cinanmon) – regular cup of Joe with a dash of milk and a warm pan dulce- it’s a hit!

  2. Thank for bringing this topic of coffee to light! My husband and I have been drinking coffee for 30 years. Driven all over California searching for that perfect cup. We are old school dark roast drinkers, have no problem and completely understand the price of coffee. The problem is, like you mentioned, bitter, weak and inconsistent coffee. It’s much easier to find a good espresso in SF, but a good strong smooth cup of joe is hard to come by. Looking forward to reading your next story……

  3. Dare I say it?: Patronize a local Mission business, like Rainbow Grocery (or somewhere else that sells bulk beans) where, for about $12-13 per lb., you can obtain a high quality bean that is shade-grown, bird friendly, organic, free-trade and locally-roasted. (I like Vasquez French roast) Grind it there or invest in a grinder, a ceramic cone which will sit on your cup and brown paper filters or go the press route. Then create a contest among the local kids who will do the math and figure out how much a cup it comes to and how much you save over the coffee houses. If you need more during the day, invest in a thermos.

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