Latte at Blue Bottle Coffee ($3.75)
There's nothing wrong with the basics—a really good, classic latte from Blue Bottle. It starts with a shot of espresso that is full flavored and fruity, never dirty tasting or burnt. Thanks to the almost painstakingly slow pour, the milk becomes thick and creamy and never dissipates into a frothy sinkhole. Simple and delicious, this is a latte that you sip to enjoy the flavor of the espresso mixing with warm, mellow milk. No pumpkin spice syrup needed.
Sweet Potato Latte at YakiniQ Cafe ($4.25)
It's certainly not traditional, but it's wildly delicious. Made solely from freshly pureed sweet potato, simple syrup, and steamed milk, this drink is one of the best things I’ve tasted all year. I was surprised I’d enjoy a hot drink that tastes exactly like sweet potato pie or those Thanksgiving sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, but it turns out that I do, and I think you’ll feel the same. The drink is squashy and milky, light yet creamy, and has just the right amount of sweetness.
YakiniQ Cafe: 1640 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115 (map); (415) 441-9291
Green Tea Latte at Macha Cafe ($2.50)
Many green tea lattes are overly sweet and seem curiously devoid of real green tea, so it was a delight to find that the Green Tea Latte at Macha Café is the antidote. Though pale in color, it has a robust, earthy flavor that tastes undoubtedly like a cup of strong, freshly brewed green tea. Its slightly astringent bite is tempered by the steamed milk and just a hint of sugar.
Macha Cafe: 1355 Sutter St San Francisco, CA 94109 (map); (415) 563-8079
Mocha Latte at Ritual Coffee Roasters ($3.60)
The regular old joe at Ritual Coffee Roasters is so good that it can be hard to order anything else. Yet there are times you want something a little richer, and for those times there is the Mocha Latte. The base of this drink is a homemade “fudge” prepared with Guittard chocolate. The fudge is almost more bitter than sweet, with a dark chocolate flavor that pairs nicely with the rich espresso. The milk is poured in by the centimeter, resulting in a super creamy, fluffy texture. Flavorful but not very sweet, it’s nice to find a mocha latte that doesn’t need to replace dessert.
Bacon Maple Latte at Pirate Cat Radio ($5)
The bacon craze and 60’s style collectives may both be past their heyday, but Pirate Cat Radio is keeping those flames alive. True, much of what this latte has going for it is its novelty factor. I mean I haven’t had bacon bits sprinkled on my salad in about ten years, much less over my coffee. But as any breakfast aficionado knows, the flavors of bacon and maple go well together. The homemade syrup that serves as the base of the drink includes actual bacon fat, but despite a mild fatty mouthfeel, the drink isn’t overwhelmingly thick or porky. Be sure to order this latte with whole milk.
Pirate Cat Radio Cafe: 2781 21st Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 (map); (415) 341-1199