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For Rachelle Tews, your drink is not simply another cup of joe
» “The art is really exciting. The energy at a coffee bar is high, and the tips are amazing.”
» Tews concocts drinks at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Silver Lake, where lattes are the most popular. “Dialing in a Single Origin Espresso is the most difficult because coaxing out the desirable flavors takes a lot of patience.”
» “I had my first taste when I sneaked my dad’s coffee at the tender age of six. Now I drink a cup at home and sip espresso throughout my shift, so I’m up to something like eight shots a day. I usually drink a straight shot or a macchiato.”
» The 24-year-old, who is from Seattle, came to Los Angeles a year ago after trying organic farming in New Mexico and Arizona. “One of my major goals would be to grow coffee—have a farm, like a commune kind of thing, where I would actually produce coffee.”
» The Intelligentsia chain, based in Chicago, has four bars in the L.A. area, where gourmet coffee and tea shops total 2,128, by the most recent count. Michael Phillips, from the company headquarters, made history last year when he became the first American to win the World Barista Championship.
» “We are trained by the most experienced staff or the company trainer. Making amazing coffee comes with experience, patience, carefully grown and roasted beans, and the right equipment.”
» For $80, Santa Monica’s Funnel Mill Rare Coffee & Tea will brew you a 16-ounce cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. The beans pass through the digestive tract of a civet before being washed, dried, and roasted. Cheers.
» Tews’s morning shifts start at 5 a.m. Some of her early customers are grumpy. “I never ask questions like, ‘How’s your day going?’ I just make sure that they get their drink."
» “There are probably 100 regulars every day at least. If not more.”
» Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest. As many as six or seven people work weekend shifts. They include someone who backs up the baristas, someone who pours shots, and someone who handles the milk.
» Among the Los Angeles coffeehouses with imaginative names are Psychobabble, Stir Crazy, Volcano, Lost Souls Café, Ice Kiss, Bricks & Scones, and Insomnia Café.
» “People are starting to recognize coffee as a more artisan beverage, so there’s a lot more interest in the higher-end coffees that are $5 or more. They include specialty coffees that are grown in more exotic environments. People are a lot more appreciative of that than they have been in the past.”
» No need to cry over spilled latte. “One time I wasn’t thinking, and I pushed a drink right off the counter. It was a big latte, and it was in a glass. The glass smashed everywhere, in front of everyone. It was really embarrassing.” But the customers didn’t mind. “They were quite gracious, considering there was not only broken glass but spilled milk and coffee all over.”
» One of her fellow baristas is especially smooth. “He started out as a dishwasher. He never gets frazzled. His every movement is precisely executed. There’s no wasted motion. He can slide across the floor and grab five things at once, then slide back and look just perfect.”
» “My advice for someone who is interested in doing this is to be humble and willing to begin as a
dishwasher or a barback—and not expect to be a star barista right away.”
Photograph by Dustin Snipes