San Francisco's Most Interesting Coffee and Sweets Shops

Miki Usui is a Tokyo-based writer, editor, and photographer with an amazing eye for detail and design. Her zakka news from tokyo & zakka news from san francisco are always fascinating and fun. I've been lucky enough to meet her several times over the years, first when she photographed a shop where I worked for the book San Francisco Kitchens, and most recently when she photographed SFMOMA Blue Bottle Coffee (where I was the pastry assistant) for her new book, Sweets Shop And Coffee Shop Design In San Francisco. It is a lovely book, filled with gorgeous photos by Meiko Takechi Arquillos and featuring a cover illustration by the great Paul Madonna. As Miki told me, "Design here doesn't mean just design, for example interior decoration and logo & visual design. It also includes designing menus, people (employees and customers), location, the atmosphere of the shops ... and everything, all concepts! And I focused on independent shops in this book." The book is primarily in Japanese, but it is an excellent resource for any sweets & coffee lovers in San Francisco, residents and visitors alike!

What inspired you to create Sweets Shop And Coffee Shop Design In San Francisco?
I lived in San Francisco from June 2008 to September 2010, and now I visit quite a bit.
When I lived in San Francisco, I always went to coffee shops and sweet shops
because I wrote regular article for a food magazine in Tokyo ... and because I am a coffee lover and have a sweet tooth ... I think there are many fantastic independent stores in San Francisco, and the owners have their own philosophies. They totally designed their own stores, including logo, interior, food, menu, place, people and atmosphere ... so everything. They create so freely. I think they might inspire the readers in Japan, and I thought I should create this book!

Is there a quality that sets San Francisco sweet/coffee shop design apart from that in other cities?
I travel a lot and I know there are many good sweet/coffee shops in the world. But I think San Francisco is special, it's a great city for foodies. Though it's a small city, there are many good places, high density! And they are not too fancy but real-life. That's why San Francisco is my favorite city in the world.

Now that you're back in Japan, is there a San Francisco treat that you miss the most and can't stop thinking about? Were you able to take anything back with you?
I sometimes visit San Francisco now, and I always go to grocery stores there for buying my favorite San Franciscan sweets and coffee beans ... I can remember now, one item -- I miss the big bag of 99% cacao chocolate by TCHO. It is really dark but tasty. I can not come across chocolate like this in Tokyo.

What was your favorite drink you tried during all your shop research?
I am a coffee lover! Love paper filter coffee, fresh single origin beans, and black!

If someone was visiting San Francisco for the weekend, what stops would you recommend they squeeze in?
Depends. If they will have enough time, all places in my book! If they will not have enough time, I recommend the Mission area.

Is there a shop you weren't able to visit that you're dying to stop by next time you're in San Francisco?
Dandelion Chocolate, Schulzies Bread Pudding, and so on ... too many new places in San Francisco and the East Bay!

What are the most exciting trends you see happening in sweet/coffee shop design?
It is difficult to say in English ... more local, more community. By the way, many stores have food truck now. Before it went food truck, then their own shop, now it's their own shop, then food truck. It's fun! It's good for communities? Maybe Off The Grid did a good job?

Did you see any design ideas that you'd like to incorporate into your own home?
I use glass jars (Ball, Mason, and so on) for drinking water, coffee, juice, and wine.
Some of the coffee shops and sweet shops in SF always do it. The atmosphere in my kitchen is really San Franciscan.

The cover illustration of Miette Confiserie by Paul Madonna is very near & dear to my heart, as I worked there for 3 years AND I love his work. How did you two get together for this project? Is there something you'd like to work on with him in the future?

Thank you very much! I love this cover very much. When I lived in San Francisco I came across Paul Madonna's works on the San Francisco Chronicle. I loved it very much. And I bought his first book All Over Coffee at a bookstore. And then I met him at his studio on the studio opening day. So from that day, we were keeping in touch. About this project, last summer I offered this job to him. Actually I had a image of the cover of my book from the beginning. It was his. The mood of his illustration is really San Francisco, free and intelligent! And he said yes! I was so happy!

We were talking about the object, because we have a lot of options, you know.
And we chose Miette, because of the color. We need color!

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About the Author

Tess Wilson is a floral designer, embroiderer, and regular contributor to Apartment Therapy, and has been known to make cakes on occasion. She lives in a little house with a big garden.

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