Best Nouveau Coffee

These days a cup of joe can’t merely be good to the last drop—it has to be superb from the first bean

Led by a zealous crew of precision brewers, the latest trend in caffeine extraction has been dubbed  “third wave” coffee (the first wave presumably being all those decades we spent drinking Folgers and the second being the era of Peet’s and Starbucks). Chicago’s Intelligentsia sparked the local boom in 2007, when it brought its high-end, single-origin ethos to L.A. Today there are dozens of new contenders that offer meticulously sourced, lightly roasted beans and cups brewed to order.

Founded by a trio of former Intelligentsia employees, Handsome Coffee Roasters exudes a puritan rigor. The layout of the 3,500-square-foot flagship in downtown’s arts district allows patrons to watch beans swirl inside a vintage 1956 Probat roaster as their now de rigueur brewed coffee is prepared by hand. While the minimalist café can have a chilly vibe, the beans—labeled “C” for comfort or “A” for more adventurous flavors—can’t be faulted. Fresh competition recently arrived in the form of Portland’s Stumptown, which opened its first L.A. location in the neighborhood. » Handsome: 582 Mateo St., downtown, 213-621-4194; Stumptown: 806 S. Santa Fe Ave., downtown.

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. 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. » Balconi: 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 124, West L.A., 310-906-0267; Coffee Tomo: 11309 Mississippi Ave., West L.A., 310-444-9390.

After pulling shots for two years behind the counter at Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery, architect Yeekai Lim opened his 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.

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.

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.

Though Iota Brew Café—with its wine bar, coffee and tea “labs,” and curious snacks (beef and mango quesadilla, for one)—garners a lot of attention, fans of the bean should head to nearby 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. » Iota: 528 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 213-568-3700; Brew/Well: 3525 W. 8th St., Ste. 101, Koreatown, 213-384-0884.

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. » Go Get Em Tiger: 230 N. Larchmont Blvd., Larchmont Village, 323-380-5359; G&B: Grand Central Market, 324 S. Hill St., Ste. C19, downtown.

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.