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The Ultimate Guide to L.A. Coffee
The city’s finest nouveau coffee shops, plus a handy map for all your caffeinated needs
Sure, coffee culture is further along its evolutionary path in San Francisco and Portland, but at this precise moment in the year 2013 there is no more exciting city for caffeine connoisseurs than Los Angeles. Here’s a roundup of the city best nouveau coffee joints (or third wave coffee shops, if you want to be all hip about it)—including all the spots we couldn’t fit into the survey of L.A. cafes in our October 2013 issue. And there are even more on the horizon. Bar Nine Collective has just opened in Culver City and Blue Bottle Coffee is set to open two locations in the spring of 2014, one on Abbot Kinney in Venice and another at Hayden Tract in Culver City. Plus, mail-order coffee roasters like Tonx and Rose Park Roasters will let you sate your caffeine jones via a subscription service.
✪ designates those shops that were featured in our October “Best Nouveau Coffee Shops” article
✪ Balconi | The Sawtelle Boulevard area boasts two of the city’s finest bean grinders. Balconi Coffee Company, with its funky boho atmosphere, specializes in siphon-brewed coffee—a gravity-defying technique that looks like something out of a chemistry lab and yields intricate flavors. 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 124, West L.A., 310-906-0267, balconicoffeecompany.com.
Caffe Luxxe | From its name to its decor, Caffe Luxxe has the feel of a European cafe. Clean, well-lit, and with a cultivated air, the shop in the Brentwood Country Mart location is a charming spot to sip and watch the world go by. The cups of coffee are individually brewed from single-origin beans and the espresso drinks are impressively strong; the house drinks like the Caffe Nico and the Shakerato are not-to-miss. 925 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, 310-394-2222; Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th Street, Santa Monica; 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; cafeluxxe.com.
✪ Coffee Tomo | For precision espresso drinks, there’s Coffee Tomo. The café serves up top-notch lattes crowned with some of the cutest liquid art (think pandas) west of Sepulveda. 11309 Mississippi Ave., West L.A., 310-444-9390, coffeetomo.com .
✪ Cognoscenti Coffee | After pulling shots for two years behind the counter at Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery, architect Yeekai Lim opened a stand alone Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City. With beans from a number of premium roasters—San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball, the Canadian outfit Bows & Arrows—the small shop offers expertly made espresso drinks as well as Wi-Fi and exquisite pastries from Proof. 6114 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 310-363-7325, popupcoffee.com.
Espresso Profeta | Want to feel like you’re in a small Italian cafe in the middle of Westwood? This brickwalled, cell phone-free zone isn’t your run of the mill student coffee house. Profeta specializes in espresso-based drinks made with beans roasted by Seattle’s Espresso Vivace. Their signature drink is the Vivace concoction, the Caffe Nico, a shot of espresso perfumed with orange and vanilla syrup then topped with foamed half-and-half, cinnamon sprinkles, and a sliver of orange rind. 1129 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-3375, facebookcom/espresso.profeta.
Deus Ex Machina | Is it an uber-hip motorcycle shop or a cafe? Both. This is an Aussie import, so instead of a redeye or a gibraltar, you’ll see a “flat white” or a “long black” on the small coffee menu. There’s a very dude-centric, Mad Max vibe about the place. The patio in back will almost make you forget the Sturm und Drang of Lincoln Boulevard. 1001 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, 888-515-3387, us.deuscustoms.com.
Menotti's Coffee Stop | Christopher “Nicely” Alameda, who used to run the coffee program inside the Hart and the Hunter, just opened his own shop in the heart of Venice Beach. It’s a small, barebones affair with a seafoam-colored La Marzocco espresso machine and a couple of outdoor tables. It’s the only shop in town that relies exclusively on beans roasted by Four Barrel, but it’s Alameda’s dedication to serving exceptional coffee that gives the place its cachet. 52 Windward Ave., Venice, twitter.com/Menottis.
Alfred Coffee | Amid the uber-expensive boutiques of Melrose Place (yes, that Melrose Place), you only have to descend a few steps to get away from the commerce and into the coffee. Alfred is a European-style cafe that recalls a subterranean version of the Hart and the Hunter. Their Stumptown coffees are impeccably brewed and they go well with the Farmshop pastries, housemade sandwiches, and beverages from Pressed Juicery. There's also free wifi. Sit in the intimate below-ground den to watch the coffee being made or at street level to witness the parade of privilege. 8428 Melrose Place, Suite A., Mid-City, 323-944-0811, alfredcoffee.com.
Andante Coffee Roasters | Andante roasts its own beans in Koreatown but its laptop-friendly cafe, opened in September, is on Beverly Boulevard a couple blocks from The Grove. It's located at the site formerly occupied by Buzz Coffee and unlike its predecesor this is a serious, minimalist, bean-centric shop where a barista's recommendations are probably worth heeding. The espresso is spot-on. The large communal table is a good spot for connecting to the Wi-Fi and working while the counter and the smaller tables by the window are ideal for chatting and people-watching. 7623 Beverly Blvd., Mid-City. 323-525-0355.
✪ Brew/Well | Fans of the bean should head to Brew/Well for nuanced drip coffees and espressos perfumed with lavender syrup or topped with honeyed foam. Formerly known as Drip, it resides in a Koreatown strip mall. With its lack of pretense and speedy Wi-Fi, the shop boasts the best of both worlds: meticulously made joe and an inviting atmosphere. 3525 W. 8th St., Ste. 101, Koreatown, 213-384-0884.
Coffee Commissary | Since opening in the spring of 2010, this Fairfax Avenue cafe has become a hub for patrons whiling away the afternoon in front of a laptop and nursing gibraltar after gibraltar. The selection of pastries is small but good; fruit-filled turnovers are a standout. Get there early: indoor and outdoor tables fill up quickly, especially on weekend mornings. The choice of beans is a West Coast murderer’s row of roasting talent: Victrola (Seattle), Coava (Portland), Temple (Sacramento), and Sight Glass (San Francisco). They staff a small carryout operation in Hollywood at Siren Studios and just this summer, the opened their second full-size location in Burbank. 801 N. Fairfax Ave., No. 106, Los Angeles, 323-782-1465; 3121 W. Olive, Burbank, 818-556-6055; Siren Studios, 6087 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, coffeecommissary.com.
C + M at LACMA | Urban Lights and the Rock aren’t the only reason to walk across the LACMA campus. Halfway between the two works of art you can get a really good cup of coffee at C+M (the name is shorthand for cookies and milk). The first half of that equation is partly due to the Intelligentsia beans. The second is because of the Patina-quality pastries: a chewy take on the classic Nutter Butter, a bacon and date turnover, and a BTO, a chocolate sandwich cookie that really is “Better Than an Oreo.” The cafe, located near the Bing Theater’s box office, also makes boozy “adult” milkshakes. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile, 323-857-4761, patinagroup.com.
✪ Go Get Em Tiger | Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, the team behind the recently opened Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee, were both Intelligentsia honchos before splitting off. If both outfits feel more like wine bars than coffee shops, that’s by careful design. The pair use an automated Fetco brewer and are fairly agnostic about beans, buying from Intelligentsia and San Francisco bigwig Ritual Coffee, among others. Their cold-brew coffee, known for its smoothness and low acidity, is among the chillest in town. 230 N. Larchmont Blvd., Larchmont Village, ggetla.com.
Graffiti Sublime Coffee | The space is strange and cavernous, at once minimalist and showy (Steve Martin's character in L.A. Story would fit in), which may explain why it feels like you’ve stumbled into an art gallery rather than a cafe. But they make perfectly good coffee, and you should not hesitate to drink it. 180 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City.
The Hart and the Hunter | Acclaimed as it is for its dinner service, the Hart and the Hunter also invites urban hunters and gatherers to sit down for a morningtime espresso and pastry. At once rustic and clubby, the restaurant at the Palihotel Melrose boasts Handsome Roasters coffee service (though they don’t abide by the flagship store’s spartan espresso + milk menu listings), a small menu that features its freshly baked, impossibly soft biscuits, and housemade granola with yogurt. It takes its food and its coffee seriously but the place has wifi and a wonderfully laid-back feel without being a scene. 7950 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323-424-3055, hehartandthehunter.com.
Iota Brew Cafe | If you want to munch on a coconut shrimp omelet or a beef quesadilla covered in mango sauce while sipping your coffee, this spacious and cheerful Koreatown cafe is your spot. Iota has it all—a wine bar, a coffee bar, all sorts of teas—though that isn't always a good thing. As long as you stick to basic coffee or espresso drinks and avoid the stranger items on the vast menu, you'll be fine. 528 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 213-568-3700, iotabrewcafe.com .
Paper or Plastik | From the outside, this corner building looks like it might be an art studio or an architecture firm. Inside, it’s a cafe that feels like one giant communal table. The layout is odd, with a small second floor balcony where you can watch dancers and performers rehearse in the adjacent Mimoda Studio. The drip coffee and espresso drinks are made from single origin, eco-friendly beans, and the pastries come from local bakers like Cake Monkey. 5772 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City, 323-935-0268, paperorplastikcafe.com.
Single Origin | Short Cake, Nancy Silverton’s bakery in the Original Farmer's Market at Third and Fairfax, comes with its own coffee counter where they use beans from Verve and Handsome Coffee Roasters. The outdoor spot is small but the coffee is strong, whether it’s an espresso drink or a drip coffee. Caffeine fiends should be satisfied. 6333 W. 3rd St., Suite 316, Beverly Grove, 323-761-7976, socoffeela.com.
Cafe Demitasse | Like the small cup from which it derives its name, Cafe Demitasse is spare, minimal, and devoted to coffee. The beans might come from Colombia, Brazil or Ethiopia, and the baristas are always precise whether making a simple espresso or an orange, thyme, and cardamom latte. If you’re after something sweeter, Demitasse’s hot chocolate is a must. It has a hint of lavender (you wouldn’t think it’d work but it does!) and is topped with a mammoth marshmallow that’s browned on the spot. The shop has two locations, one in Santa Monica near the Third Street Promenade and one in Little Tokyo in downtown. 135 S. San Pedro St., Little Tokyo, 213-613-9300; 1149 3rd St., Santa Monica, 310-260-6308, cafedemitasse.com.
Cafe Dulce | Using beans roasted by LA Mill or Stumptown, this cheerful Little Tokyo spot churns out high-quality assortment of espressos, macchiatos, and individually brewed cups of drip coffee. They also make Hong Kong-style milk tea and Vietnamese iced coffee. But it’s the snacks that’ll make you stick around: maple doughnuts studded with macadamia nuts, green tea doughnuts filled with custard, slices of chocolate, berry, and lemon cake, and balls of dough coated with rainbow-colored Fruity Pebbles.134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Little Tokyo, 213-346-9910, cafedulce.co.
✪ G&B Coffee | Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, the team behind the recently opened Go Get Em Tiger and G&B Coffee, were both Intelligentsia honchos before splitting off. If both outfits feel more like wine bars than coffee shops, that’s by careful design. The pair use an automated Fetco brewer and are fairly agnostic about beans, buying from Intelligentsia and San Francisco bigwig Ritual Coffee, among others. Their cold-brew coffee, known for its smoothness and low acidity, is among the chillest in town. Grand Central Market, 324 S. Hill St., Ste. C19, Downtown, gandbcoffee.com.
✪ Stumptown | In downtown's Arts District, which is growing into something of a high minded dining hub, Handsome Roasters has competition in the form of recently opened Portland stalwart Stumptown. The long, high-ceilinged space with a view of the roastery, is spare and minimal without much seating but the front patio with tables shaded by brick arches, has places to perch. In addition to the usual assortment of espresso drinks (lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos), Stumptown offers drip coffee brewed via a Chemex or a French Press—take your pick. They make a killer cold brew that is strong, smooth, and offered in convenient bottled form. The tasty pastries come from Sugar Bloom or you can get almond croissants, Jerusalem bagels and other baked goods a few doors down at Bread Lounge. 806 S. Santa Fe Ave., Downtown, stumptowncoffee.com.
SILVER LAKE, ECHO PARK, ETC.
Bru Coffeehouse | Los Feliz needs more joints like this. Bring your iPad, the book you just purchased from Skylight, and your headphones as you hunker down. This is the kind of place where you can linger—if you can find a table. They have all the luxxe coffee drinks, made from beans roasted by Ritual in San Francisco, as well as an interesting assortment of teas. It’s also a good spot to meet friends before catching a movie at the Los Feliz 3. 1866 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, 323-664-7500, brucoffeebar.com.
✪ Cafecito Organico | Sustainably grown fair-trade beans from Central America are the focus at Cafecito Organico, a farmers’ market staple that now has several brick-and-mortar locations. At the Silver Lake store, while away the morning on the ramshackle patio with a cup of brightly flavored Salvadoran coffee. Named after the café, the signature drink is an industrial-strength wonder: a ristretto (twice the grounds, half the water) made with Espresso Clandestino, raw sugarcane juice, and a cap of foamed milk. 534 N. Hoover St., Silver Lake, 213-537-8367, cafecitoorganico.com.
✪ Caffé Vita | The triangular, two-story Caffe Vita is full of laptop jockeys sipping single-origin beans that were roasted at the company’s Seattle headquarters. The baristas are friendly, and they’re almost as proud of the shop’s vintage hi-fi sound system as they are of its coffee. Try the fruits of their granita machine: a bittersweet combination of slushy ice, caffeine, and whipped cream. 4459 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-663-6340, caffevita.com.
Fix Coffee | In this boho chic area of Echo Park that feels like its own mini-city within a city, Fix is one of the hubs. The place buzzes with life, everyone from dads who have dropped off their third graders at school to post-college creatives working on that screenplay. The coffee isn’t the most rigorously brewed but it’s good and the large patio is a great place to work, relax, or people-watch. 2100 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park, 323-284-8962, fixcoffeeco.com.
LAMILL Coffee | Before there were a lot of third wave cafes dotting the city, this was among L.A.’s great coffee meccas. Order at the counter if you’re in a hurry, but this place is best experienced when you have the time to sit down at a table, soak in the modern baroque decor, and peruse the menu. They have a full menu with baked goods, breakfasty egg dishes, salads, sandwiches, and wine. It’s not really a place to bring your laptop. It is an excellent place to get a cup of coffee, brewed from beans roasted right here in L.A., whether you want it prepared with a Hario pourover, a Chemex drip, or a French press. On a hot day, their sweet iced coffee drinks are essential. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-663-4441, lamillcoffee.com.
✪ Tierra Mia | Founded in 2008 by a Stanford business school grad, Tierra Mia Coffee offers seven locations from South Gate to Echo Park. The coffee, from beans grown in fair-trade Latin American micro-lots and roasted at the Pico Rivera shop, skews bold and medium dark—rare among third-wavers, who favor mellower roasts. Tierra Mia also has a killer menu of sugary concoctions, including a frozen frappé of horchata and ground espresso beans known as the Rice and Beans, a Mocha Mexicano for dark-chocolate fanatics, and a rich, creamy Café Cubano Con Leche. 1202 N. Alvarado St., Echo Park, 213-483-3955, tierramiacoffee.com.
Copa Vida | Though it only opened this summer, Copa Vida is already making waves in L.A.’s specialty coffee scene. The space has a large footprint that’s all brick and pale wood with bright white chairs. The coffee, whether pourover or espresso, is terrific. And one-of-a-kind pastries like pistachio kumquat croissants and mini strombolis filled with ham and cheese, have quickly made it a must for caffeine fiends. In case you were wondering, the beans come by way of Ritual, Verve, or 49th Parallel. The tea service is also impressive. 70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626-213-3952, copa-vida.com.
Float | This small shop tucked at the back of a long courtyard is known mainly for its ice cream floats, its selection of vintage sodas, and sandwiches like the chipotle bacon club. But they also make damn fine coffee using beans from Handsome Roasters or Sightglass Coffee. 380 S. Lake Ave, Ste. #106, Pasadena, 626-844-3488, floatpasadena.com.
Jones Coffee Roasters | Before Intelligentsia or any of the other “third wave” coffee shops came to Pasadena, there was Jones, which has been roasting premium coffee in the area since 1994. You can get individually brewed cups of pourover coffee made from beans grown on the shop’s farm in Guatemala and roasted in-house. There are also espresso drinks and a selection of pastries—though no wifi—at this spacious shop. 693 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626-564-9291, thebestcoffee.com.
Flea Espresso Bar | It’s not as well known as the area’s Portfolio Coffeehouse, but the micro café with a drip coffee setup straight out of Breaking Bad makes a superb cup of joe—often with beans from nearby Rose Park Roasters. 2023 E. 4th St., 949-278-8508, fleaespresso.com.
Intelligentsia Coffee | In 2007, the Chicago-based company opened its first Los Angeles emporium in Silver Lake’s uber-hip Sunset Junction neighborhood and the city’s coffee scene has never been the same. There are now two more Intelligentsia outposts—one in Venice and one in Pasadena—and in many ways it still sets the standard. All three shops have a different feel: the Silver Lake one is buzzy and bustling, the Venice location is a showpiece that’s more about form than function, and the Pasadena spot is most amenable to lingering. 3922 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-663-6173; 1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310-300-1233; 55 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-578-1270, intelligentsiacoffee.com
Groundwork Coffee | One of Southern California’s first organic roasters, Groundwork has been in business since 1994 (though it used to be called Gourmet Coffee Warehouse). From one shop on Rose Avenue in Venice, the company has branched out to multiple locations where they serve their own beans, roasted at the company’s facility in North Hollywood. They’re well-known for dark roasts like Bitches Brew, Groundwork has kept up with the times, expanding into making and bottling its own cold brew. 671 Rose Ave., Venice, 310-664-8830; 3 Westminster Ave., Venice, 310-450-4540; 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, 310-458-3111; 2908 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-452-8925; 1501 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, 323-871-0143; 108 W. 2nd St., Downtown, 213-620-9668, groundworkcoffee.com.