Serving everything from Greek frappés to butterscotch lattes, here are four spots to try.
Coffee waves have become as nubilous as the sediment at the bottom of my demitasse cup, and that obscurity has spawned new coffee shop iterations that are more about expressing a culture and fostering a community than a proper pour over. Granted, the Peninsula coffee scene is still influenced by tech concepts like the Coffee Lab, which offers a space for coffee aficionados to geek out over roast times and flavor profiles, but this new batch of coffee shop entrepreneurs want their customers to be transported somewhere undiscovered or to a place that is as familiar as a warm hug. Visit these new coffee spots and you might just experience both.
Sama Coffee Shop, San Mateo: On the corner of South B Street and 9th Avenue is a new Arabic coffee shop that invites people to gather, socialize, play a game of backgammon and enjoy a specialty coffee drink. Partner Manar Elder is the creative mind behind all of the innovative drinks. Her partner, Ghassan Al Saeedi, who designed many of the Yemeni coffee shops in the Bay Area, created the space to reflect the Baghdad coffee shops of the past that he grew up visiting. Elder, who is from Palestine, wanted a coffee menu that is Middle Eastern with global influences.
Elder took a break from nursing to pursue her passion for coffee and spent some time at Nordstrom’s espresso bar. Not only did she pick up barista skills, but she also had the chance to experiment. She crafted new drinks at the San Mateo outpost, though admittedly, not all of them were approved.
“I created a creme brulee coffee drink, but they turned it down because it required a torch,” she said.
She made a point to add it to Sama’s menu, and yes, it does use a torch to toast the marshmallow cream topping. Other exclusive coffee drinks include Heat Wave and Sweet Breeze. “I wanted Heat Wave to have the spice of chile without the heat; the addition of honey achieves that. For Sweet Breeze, I use mint jelly to get that minty flavor,” she said, “because you shouldn’t have to wait for the holidays to enjoy a peppermint coffee drink.”
With its upholstered, lounge-like seating, pendant lighting and textured ceiling, Sama Coffee Shop is a place to linger late into the night, noshing on Middle Eastern savory and sweet bites and sipping coffee and tea. In the Middle East, coffee isn’t just for the morning, and Elder admits she enjoys an evening coffee.
“It’s a good feeling looking at the evening crowd, listening to people talking with music in the background,” she said.
Groovy Goose, San Carlos: Nathan and Siera Conte opened Groovy Goose in August after an extensive remodel to the former clothing store space. The airy, welcoming spot was designed for the San Carlos community, the place where Nathan grew up and is now raising his young family.
The name of the business comes from their 2-year-old son’s nickname, Goose. “We wanted a fun, whimsical name. We also liked the double G. The logo, created by a local artist, just makes us smile, and we hope it makes others smile, too,” he said.
The curved built-in wooden bench seating was designed for conversation, not remote work. “I’m a big believer in interacting with people and building community,” he said.
This is the couple’s first business, but both have experience in the coffee space. They are so passionate about coffee that they spent a bit of time in Maui so that Nathan could learn the art of roasting. The small coffee menu includes some seasonal drinks like pumpkin spice and pecan oat lattes, and they have plans to slowly roll out more drinks as well as fruit smoothies and paninis. At some point, they hope to stay open late into the evening and serve beer, wine and small bites.
While Siera handles barista training, Nathan’s building out the bean side of things. He’s got a small roastery in the back of the space and is currently offering a house blend for customers to enjoy in their drink or to take home and brew. “I want people to enjoy our coffee in any format,” he said. Nathan’s brother Christian owns Drake’s restaurant down the street, and, as you can guess, the coffee he serves is Groovy Goose House Blend.
Bagel Box & Coffee, San Mateo: Partners Stavros Kanavos, Elvis Zeinati and George Petroutsas opened Bagel Box & Coffee in August. The location, a kiosk that sits in the middle of a small strip mall parking lot across the street from Laurelwood Shopping Center in San Mateo, took months to update. Kanavos and Zeinati came to the Bay Area from New York where they both worked in coffee. They landed at Petroutsas’ Nick the Greek in the shopping center where Kanavos works and Zeinati manages.
They were anxious to bring Greece’s popular cold coffee drinks, the freddo cappuccino and the freddo espresso, to the Peninsula. The drinks, made with espresso, ice and sugar, are blended to produce a foamy top layer. The addition of foamy milk creates the cappuccino version. Their concept for Greek specialty coffee drinks and bagels materialized after Sonoma Bagels closed in 2022. “We had been looking for locations in San Mateo, and when the shopping center’s bagel shop closed, we knew we had to open nearby so that we could fill that hole,” Zeinati said. “We call this the Greek triangle with Nick the Greek and Greek-owned Brothers Cafe across the street.”
They also offer the OG of cold Greek coffee, the frappé, a vigorous blend of instant Nescafé coffee, water, sugar and evaporated milk. The team wants people to revisit their summer trips to Greece when they order a freddo or frappé. Zeinati found the perfect blend of beans from Ethiopia, Columbia and Brazil that complement these drinks that have become ubiquitous all over Greece. Bagels come from House of Bagels, and offerings include a Mediterranean bagel breakfast sandwich with kalamata olives, egg, tomatoes and feta. A Greek version of a bagel called a koulouri is in the works. Street vendors all over Athens and Thessaloniki offer these sesame-coated bread rings that are enjoyed at breakfast.
Cloud9 Coffee, Palo Alto: Palo Alto’s small airport finally has a place to grab an espresso or flat white thanks to Cloud9 Coffee. Last year, Hanna Joo noticed that the former deli had vacated the space, which sits at the end of a small strip mall next to the airport and the Baylands Golf Links. Before long, she and her partner Elizabeth Kim had signed a lease and planned a remodel. Joo, an interior designer, enlisted her architect husband to help with the interior changes. Kim, a ceramist and flower enthusiast, set out to create custom dishware while they waited for the work to finish. Other custom touches to the Zen-like space include cedar live-edge tables crafted in Oakland.
The Baylands Nature Preserve is within walking distance of the coffee shop, and there’s an expansive outdoor patio filled with flowers thanks to Kim. You can take your coffee to go and wind your way through the marshes, but if you do you’ll miss out on enjoying your coffee or Americano in a handmade ceramic mug. The cold butterscotch latte is a must with housemade butterscotch, and bakery items are sourced from Mountain View’s Midwife and the Baker. The menu includes seasonal croffles, salads and tartines (open-face sandwiches).
With a beer and wine license, Joo and Kim are excited to host private parties and crafting events. “We bonded over our love of creative endeavors, and we are excited for people to use the space for flower-arranging parties, birthdays and showers,” Joo said.
Only open for a few weeks, Joo has been pleased with the flow of people. “We had no idea what a tight-knit and welcoming aviation community we have here. In Korea, my dad flies, so it’s nice to be reminded of him here.”