It's still pitch-dark outside when Kevin O'Neal opens his Well Grounded Tea & Coffee Bar (6925 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito) at 6 a.m. But a line of customers is usually already waiting.
"They're early-shift workers, construction workers, and long-distance commuters," said O'Neal's wife Jen Komaromi. "Many are regulars," arriving from as far afield as Oakland and Fairfield. The couple's Certified Green Business uses 100-percent organic milk, organic soymilk, and organic coffee beans that are roasted weekly at Lappert's in Richmond and prepared Café Suisse-style: Every super-smooth cup is freshly ground and brewed, through a process that incorporates more grounds than are typical.
"At 6 a.m., no one should have to make their own coffee at home," Komaromi said.
Cafes buzz during peak hours, but many open for business before most of us are awake. Some stay open well into the wee hours. Someone has to feed early birds and night owls. At 6 a.m., you can score an Ether at Philz (2600 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) or a chocolate fuerte at Urban Blend (333 Broadway, Oakland), which also stays open until midnight.
A spoon's-throw from the Downtown Berkeley BART station, Tully's (2150 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) opens at 5:30 a.m.
So do the Peet's shops in Lakeshore, Piedmont, Montclair, Temescal, Broadway, El Cerrito, and the Dimond District. The Alameda Peet's (1365 Park St., Alameda) opens at 5. Workers arrive long before that, busily organizing the newly roasted coffee beans to be used throughout the day, arranging that day's fresh, locally made, artisan pastries, preparing that day's iced teas, iced coffees, and seasonal coolers, and brewing the morning's first coffee. New batches are brewed every half hour all day.
Before opening New Amsterdam (1952 University Ave., Berkeley) earlier this year, Danya and Michael de Guzman camped out at the site to monitor foot traffic.
"People started coming out at 6, so we decided to open at 6:30. Even then, people are already waiting," said Danya, a former animator. (Michael has a film degree; his previous job was on the set of Nash Bridges.) "During the World Cup, we always had people waiting."
A flat-screen TV airing international sports suits the café's European theme, reinforced by murals and soccer pennants. Pastries arrive daily from Hopkins Street Bakery.
Naser Almualla wishes he could keep People's Cafe (2015 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) open until 3 a.m., "but no one wants to work that late, so we close at midnight."
Until then at this gorgeous two-room refuge whose mosaics incorporate material salvaged from an ancient Jordanian temple, post-theater schmoozers and students pulling all-nighters tuck into vegan pastries, superpowered coffee — Almualla's top-secret blend includes "dark Sumatra, dark French, and some other stuff I can't tell you about" — and a hundred teas.
Insomniacs can move on from there to Au Coquelet (2000 University Ave., Berkeley), which serves cafe items and full meals from 6 a.m. until 1:30 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, or the Sweetheart Cafe (2523 Durant Ave., Berkeley), which serves milk tea and bubble tea until midnight Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Saturday, and 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday. And, of course, Nikko's (340 23rd Ave., Oakland), is open 24 hours a day.
The water's always boiling for you somewhere.