SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Thanks to Los Angeles’ creative nature, openness to new ideas, and thriving culinary scene, craft coffee—also called third wave coffee—has exploded in the city over the last decade, so much so that Southern California has emerged as one of the world’s foremost leaders in specialty brews. Today, the City of Angels counts a wide range of cafes from pioneers like Caffe Luxxe and LAMILL—both of which debuted in the mid-2000s—to an entire new genre of quality-minded eateries, like Triniti, which focuses as much on proper coffee beverages as it does on food.
“Part of the reason specialty coffee has a strong foothold in Los Angeles is that, as a city, it is very open to new things,” begins Michael Phillips, director of cafe experience at Oakland-based premium coffee chainlet Blue Bottle, which expanded south in 2014. “Smaller sized drinks, longer prep time, [and] higher prices,” aren’t a fit for every market, but “Los Angeles is a city…always eager for new ideas,” he adds. And other premium coffee roasters from elsewhere around the country, like Chicago’s Intelligentsia and Portland’s Stumptown, too saw potential in Los Angeles as a coffee city early on, having set up shop there in 2007 and 2013, respectively.
“Los Angeles has open arms––it envelopes diverse cultures, ideas, foods, drinks, [and] fashion” states Alan Morales, co-founder of Civil Coffee, which began as a mobile espresso cart in 2012, and grew into a brick and mortar three years later. Morales credits Intelligentsia for introducing Los Angeles to premium brews “in a time [when] it was still pretty dry in terms of specialty coffee.” Today, Los Angeles is rife with excellent coffee shops. And for those headed to Los Angeles in the near future, here are 10 of the city’s top cafes in which to refuel.
Locations: Downtown, Venice
What to order: Pour-over, New Orleans iced coffee
Blue Bottle expanded from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in 2014, taking over the former home to now-defunct Handsome Coffee in Downtown’s Arts District. Shortly thereafter, the specialty coffee roaster spawned a second, smaller outlet on Abbot Kinney in Venice, spreading the brand’s core values of excellent brews prepared with sustainably-grown beans sourced from around the world.
What to order: Cappuccino
For years, one of Los Angeles’ only places to drink Stumptown coffee was at market-driven eatery Gjelina in Venice. But the lauded Portland-based roaster branched out with a brick and mortar in 2013, bringing its hip aesthetic and quality-minded brews to the City of Angels. Drop in for great coffee drinks brewed with sustainably-farmed beans, direct from farms in places like Colombia and Indonesia.
What to order: Business & Pleasure, iced almond-macadamia milk latte
Partners Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski kicked off their Los Angeles coffee careers via a pop-up called G&B Coffee within beloved Silver Lake café Sqirl in 2012. But the duo quickly decamped, opening G&B at Grand Central Market in May of the following year, followed by Go Get Em Tiger on Larchmont just one month later. Expect to find beans by San Francisco’s 49th Parallel and Portland’s Heart—medium to light in roast, with an emphasis on sweetness and clarity of bean flavor.
Locations: Silver Lake, LAX, Honolulu
What to order: Single-origin pour-over; crème brûlée cappuccino
As one of Los Angeles’ very first specialty coffee outfits, owner Craig Min has been roasting beans locally since 1997, and opened LAMILL as a cafe in 2007. All brews—prepped via a range of styles from espresso to drip to pour-over—are made with LAMILL’s own brand of medium-roast beans fired at the company’s Alhambra roastery. Don’t miss one of LAMILL’s playful signature drinks: an ingredient-driven crème brûlée cappuccino made from LAMILL’s Bliss espresso, plus house-made caramel sauce, organic Strauss milk, topped with brûléed turbinado sugar.
Location: Echo Park
What to order: Espresso, turmeric Thai, yam, and black sesame latte,
New as of last December, Triniti joins Los Angeles’ more recent wave of dining establishments totally dedicated to expert coffee. Chef Joseph Geiskopf (former chef de cuisine at Culver City’s Destroyer) joined forces with Cognoscenti Coffee alum David Wynn on an ambitious, contemporary café serving dishes like gnudi with roasted squash and nasturtium pesto beside a range of coffee beverages made with Coffee Manufactory (by Tartine) beans. In addition to focusing on espresso and showcasing a rotating crop of single origin beans and blends using two separate espresso grinders, one will also find unique house creations like a turmeric Thai, yam, and black sesame latte.
Location: Highland Park
What to order: Espresso, Figueroa
Civil Coffee commenced as a roving espresso cart helmed by two brothers, Alan and Alex Morales, who trained at the now-defunct Handsome Coffee Roasters (currently home to Blue Bottle). In 2015, after helping to develop the brew program at Hollywood’s Tiago Coffee Bar + Kitchen, the pair opened doors to their own project, which has quickly become one of the city’s top places to re-caffeinate. Expect light to medium-roasted single-origin beans by two Portland roasters Coava and Heart, in addition to a rotating roster of guest roasters, which swaps out quarterly. Beyond excellent espresso, for a sweeter style go with the house-special Figueroa, made from espresso that’s modified with condensed milk, cinnamon, and a Maria cookie garnish.
Locations: Silver Lake, Venice, Pasadena
What to order: Cappuccino
When Doug Zell brought his Chicago-based specialty coffee roaster Intelligentsia to Silver Lake in 2007, he introduced Los Angeles to a then-mostly unsung level of coffee geekery. And he only reinforced that theme when he expanded to Venice two years later in a space many compared, aesthetically, to a science lab. Since then Intelligentsia has consistently delivered some of the city’s most precise brews, and the brand has trained and inspired numerous baristas around the city who have since gone on to open their own coffee concepts. Think of Intelligentsia as the city’s OG third wave coffee seller, and one that continues to pull perfect espressos to this day.
Locations: Santa Monica, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood
What to order: Cappuccino, Latte
Beloved neighborhood staple Caffe Luxxe counts as one of Los Angeles’ longest craft coffee businesses, with its very first outlet on Montana in Santa Monica dating back to 2006. Really, before anyone else was doing the specialty coffee thing right. Since then, the chainlet has grown to include five outposts on the west side, plus a roasting facility in the South Bay, with its brews also often woven into ice cream flavors by small batch scoop shop Sweet Rose Creamery. The roast profile here is a bit darker than many others on this list and makes for excellent espresso-based beverages.
Location: Culver City
What to order: Espresso, hazelnut milk latte
Within a roomy 3,400-square-foot industrial-hip space in Culver City’s artsy Hayden Tract area, Bar Nine has been serving Aeropress and other coffee-based drinks via contemporary brewing system Modbar since 2014. Drop in for carefully-sourced beans and don’t forget to try the house-made hazelnut milk.
Location: Culver City, Downtown
What to order: Pour-over
Beginning with a series of pop-ups, Cognoscenti Coffee finally landed a permanent home in Culver City’s Arts District in 2013. Owner Yeekai Lim is known for offering a wide range of beans, like San Francisco’s Rituel and Canada’s Phil & Sebastian, brewed by well-trained baristas. Beyond its original Culver City haunt, Cognoscenti Coffee also counts two locations downtown.
Header image courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee.