A Coffee Tour of San Jose, California (and This Blog’s Existential Crisis)

And now for something completely different…

Here is where I break the fourth wall and acknowledge that, yes, I have branded this site as a “book blog.” I originally started it as a culmination of my gradually- and organically-narrowing focus in my writing–I’ve had two other blogs that were much more broad in focus (or had no focus) and ended up writing about books a lot on both of them. Because books are what I love the most.

But I am finding now that the focus of what I want to write about is widening again. I’ve decided I don’t want to just start a new blog, but rather incorporate my other interests into the focus of this one, so the blog may go through some growing pains while I figure out exactly what that will look like.

(And to be honest, I don’t know if you, dear reader, even care about my thought process here, or the “branding” of my blog that is still very much a hobby project. If you are my friend or family member, probably not, and I still have a hard time believing that anyone besides my mom, my boyfriend, and my best friend actually read anything I write, so hi guys!)

Now that that’s out of the way…

Existential Crisis aside, the title of this post promises coffee content, so I’d better deliver. (Books and coffee go together quite well, I think, and both are vital for road trips. so this is a good transition topic for my blog’s evolution.)

I’m in San Jose right now with my boyfriend (we spent Christmas with his family) and we have had coffee from a different place every morning. As I am somewhat of a connoisseur (I’m from Seattle, so…), I of course have thoughts on the relative merits of each.

Rather than ranking each coffee shop in comparison with the others, as they’re not all really comparable to each other, I’ll instead just give my impressions of each place and the drink I had there.

I should note that as San Jose has one of the highest Vietnamese populations in the U.S., at three out of these five coffee shops, I ordered Vietnamese iced coffee, which consists of very strong, concentrated chicory coffee, mixed with sweetened condensed milk, and poured over crushed ice. It’s delicious.

Lee’s Coffee

Lee’s Sandwiches is a San Jose staple for banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) and other snacks, but they’re also known for their iced coffee. You can buy the concentrate in bottles to have at home–just pour over ice–but it’s somehow slightly better when you buy it from the shop, though about three times the price.

Lee’s coffee is sweet and creamy, though the coffee isn’t quite as strong as I like, and you don’t seem to get a lot for the $5 you’ll spend, because the cup is mostly full of ice. So, overall not the best, but it’ll do in a pinch. Plus Lee’s has delicious croissant breakfast sandwiches, so there’s that.

Paris Baguette

A national chain specializing in pastries and desserts, Paris Baguette also has a few different coffee options. There are the standard espresso drinks (I had a caramel latte), cold brew, and their take on Vietnamese iced coffee.

The fella ordered the latter, and I tried his; we concluded that they probably don’t use condensed milk, as it wasn’t as thick and creamy as other Vietnamese coffee, but it still tasted pretty good. My caramel latte was perfectly adequate, but nothing special. (We visited this one another time and ordered their Almond Velvet Iced Tea, which was amazing.)

Coffee Lovers

Coffee Lovers also has standard espresso drinks, but according to Yelp, their Vietnamese iced coffee is the thing to get. I will say that it’s a little better than Lee’s, as the coffee is stronger, but it suffers from a similar value issue: it costs a lot for the amount of coffee you get, because the cup is mostly ice. One plus is that it has a drive-through.


There are several Bambu locations in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and at those locations, their Vietnamese coffee is actually really good. But for some reason, at the California Bambu locations it’s not as good. I learned that on another trip down here, so I haven’t ordered their coffee on this trip, but thought I’d include it for anyone in the PNW who wants to give it a try.

At the Washington shops, the coffee is very strong and the condensed milk is really thick and sweet. It will really wake you up! But if you go to a Bambu in the Bay Area, you’re better off getting something else–a milk tea, a smoothie, or one of their Vietnamese desserts.

Philz Coffee

Philz is a quintessential California franchise. It’s a successful chain, but each location has the feel of a local, independent coffee shop. It’s like the anti-Starbucks. Their coffee is better, too. (GASP!)

Their most popular drink is probably the Mint Mojito, made with fresh mint, creamy milk, and strong coffee. I really love the Mocha Tesora, though, a very chocolaty mocha that’s not too sweet. Philz is pricey, but of all the places on this list, it’s probably my favorite.

Anyway, thanks for indulging my flight of caffeinated fancy. Are you a coffee drinker? What’s your favorite coffee shop? Or do you like a different beverage?

Also, what do you think of my expanding the focus of my blog? Are you here for the books, or would you also be interested in other topics? Other things I’d write about could include coffee, tea, baking, restaurants, travel, TV and film, Baby Yoda, or general pop culture, all of which could be fairly easily tied to books, reading, and/or the bookish lifestyle. I don’t know, we’ll see!


In any case, thanks for reading. I truly do appreciate it!


3 thoughts on “A Coffee Tour of San Jose, California (and This Blog’s Existential Crisis)

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