If you are anything like us here at Artsweek, you are on a never-ending search for a good cup of coffee in this town. For a small city, Santa Barbara isn’t short on coffee shops, but telling the good from the bad can be a trial-and-error process resulting in shaky hands and subpar frothy moustaches. So we here are offering a little advice, because no one likes a bad cuppa joe.
Let’s begin on campus. Nicoletti’s, located in the UCen, has a monopoly on campus coffee, which is why I usually bring my own or fire up a pot in the office here. The prices are pretty low, but the coffee ranges between mediocre and terrible, depending on who is doing the brewing. Nicoletti’s has a very high turnover rate, so its employees seldom get the whole espresso thing down pat. But if you are stuck on campus, you don’t really have a choice. Stick to the basics and beware of the ever-present coffee grounds looming at the bottom of every cup.
A short jaunt off campus will take you to two coffee shops – both better decisions than the on-campus one. Starbucks, known for its ability to knock mom-and-pop shops out of the market, still brews a reliable cup. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for the consistency and variety of choices. The interior is a little stale, and it’s hard to get any studying done. A little farther down Pardall Road is Java Jones, a better bet, with warm service and tasty featured drinks like mint mochas. The cozy shop is also ideal for studying and people-watching.
Goleta offers a few good choices when it comes to coffee as well. Located on Calle Real is the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, made famous by Britney Spears, who had her private jet chartered from Louisiana to L.A. to get her some of their delicious concoctions. The Coffee Bean nails the basics. It makes a mean latte and chai to die for, and anything flavored there tends to be phenomenal. It even has some of the best iced tea around. My only qualms are that some of the drinks are a little too sweet and there is not enough seating to get much studying done. There is another, equally good Coffee Bean on State Street downtown.
A lesser-known shop, tucked away in a small strip mall, is the Goleta Coffee Company. With plenty of comfy seating and legroom, this one wins the award for ideal study spot. Its bottomless cup of coffee will keep you studying all night long too. But if that doesn’t suit your fancy, go for a mocha or a flavored latte. It also makes tasty sandwiches, so you pretty much never need to leave, but the odd hours may have you scratching your head.
A favorite for those doing laundry at the laundromat next door is Mojo Coffee, on Hollister Avenue near Albertsons and Rite Aid. Always filled with college students, this shop unfortunately lacks in the coffee department. I have never been impressed with anything I have gotten there, and the mediocre prices have kept me away for good. I never trust a coffee shop that makes chai with powdered mix and leaves big chunks floating at the top. Skip this one.
If you happen to be downtown, coffee shops are abundant; actually there are too many to list, but they are typically fantastic. Though a chain, my favorite coffee in town is at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on upper State Street. It has the best quality of beans, as well as the highest-quality drinks, period. It may not be the cheapest, but if you love coffee or tea, you’ll love Peet’s. An Artsweek favorite is the iced latte, but everything there is worth trying, and if you have any questions, the baristas are very knowledgeable.
A Santa Barbara icon on lower State, Pierre LaFond Deli Bistro is most well-known for its gourmet food, but the coffee ain’t bad either. Though it doesn’t have many gimmicky drinks, it has all of the basics and produces a tasty cup consistently. Pick up a tantalizing brownie or biscotti while you’re at it.
Nearby at two locations is the Santa Barbara Roasting Company. The shop at the Paseo Nuevo mall is cramped, with only a table or two outside to sit and enjoy, but the main store on Motor Way is more comfortable. The coffee, however, is not my favorite. I have had mixed results with chai and iced coffee; a better bet would be an espresso drink. De la Vina Street boasts a small shop called the Daily Grind. It’s a good place to stop, get your coffee and go. Though there are many tables, the chairs are uncomfortable and the atmosphere is unwelcoming. The coffee isn’t brag-worthy either. A better bet is the Coffee Cat, which has booths as well as tables, and features both basic and more unusual drinks. If it were open later, it would be superb. A newcomer to the SB coffee scene is the Northstar Coffee Company on State Street. Not only does it have delicious espresso drinks and iced tea, it makes a mean sandwich and has an outdoor patio and plenty of tables. Caf