Remember that first really good espresso? The one that made you look up at the barista in shock? It tasted so bright, so far from the bitterish mud you’d been sloshing milk into all those years, that it was hard to believe you’d lived this long, thinking yourself fulfilled, without having drunk the good stuff.
I have been chasing my first great coffee experience for years. Not just the flavor and texture–the care with which it was prepared, but the knowledge of where it came from, who grew it and how they were compensated. I wanted to know how my addiction to this most tropical commodity impacted the world.
Thankfully there are scads of places in LA that give you the experience of good coffee in good conscience. Chicago-based Intelligentsia is here, as is Portland-born Stumptown and Seattle’s own VITA, as well as a little brand out of Oakland called Blue Bottle–all solid. But our favorite places are the homegrown ones, where both the coffee roaster and the business owners can be found onsite.
Coffee pairs well with other obsessions: design, food science, travel, and cycling, to name a few. For those that like their beans and their decor hand-curated, Alhambra-based LAMILL in Silverlake remains the best place in town for a night out with a mixed non-/drinking crowd. Downtown, the coffee punks from Suits & Knives provide the caffeine and the cool kid cred for Coffee Colab. Coffee Tomo in West LA’s Japantown was designed by a former landscape architect-cum-roaster, each detail as welcoming as a perfect pour-over and one of their famous pretzels.
Cafecito Organico has four locations–plus a presence at three farmers’ markets–and brings the roaster’s relationship to coffee farmers to the fore. Likewise, Pasadena’s Jones Coffee Roasters boasts connection to co-owner’s family farm in Guatemala. Also keeping it close to home is Cafe Demitasse, serving local pastries with hand-roasted goodness.
What is it about coffee and bike enthusiasts? “Nano-roaster” Greg Thomas could shed some light if you catch him doling out beans and cappuccinos from his Atwater Village garage as Trystero Coffee. Literary and cycling banter encouraged.
For a perfect cup with a side of education, Healing Coffee Roasters is owned and staffed by certified Q graders (coffee appraisers) happy to tell you about the nuances of bean origin and water temperature. Bar Nine in Culver City is a large, shiny space with the roaster right on the floor. LA-grown coffee nerd Eric Stogsdill operates Alana’s Coffee Roasters, hauling a roaster around to farmer’s markets, and is known for waxing poetic about his craft.
Lastly, the buzz around coffee geekland strongly indicates that Portola Coffee Lab is well worth the drive to Orange County. There might be easier ways to get caffeine in your body, but none will change your life like these.
Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt