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ZONA ROSA CAFFE, pasadena - so disappointing!

After all the buzz about Zona Rosa Caffe in the LAT coffee article and friends telling me that it's the best, I was very excited to go there (my first time) for a delicious latte. I went yesterday morning, ordered a latte and requested that it be very hot. (secretly hoping that they would heat the cup up first...) First bad sign, the woman behind the counter did not tamp down hard on the fresh grounds. Latte served- very flat looking...
oh well, I took my first sip right there at the counter, expecting to swoon. As I took my first sip she said, "oh I forgot you wanted it really hot", so she took my cup and dumped the entire latte into the metal pot that she just steamed the milk in with the intention of re-steaming the whole thing. (eh gads, what the ...?!)
I was slightly shocked and asked nicely if she could make me a double shot latte instead, since my first sip revealed that it was way too weak for my taste.
She emptied the latte out of my cup and pulled a double shot into the streaky used cup and poured some hot milk into it.
There was no crema, no frothy layer of milk-it was one of the worst lattes I've had in a long time. What happened? !

Please tell me that it's usually NOT like this.

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  1. I believe the LAT recommended Zona Rosa for Mexican-styled coffee drinks; granted that doesn't excuse them from a lousy latte, but it may just be they excel at some things and suck at others.


    1 Reply
    1. re: AquaW

      Yes, their Mexican Hot Chocolate is very good. Also they have some Mocha Coffee that I really, really like. Sorry you had a bad experience. It is a great place for those of us who live in the 'hood.

    2. For me, the cool thing about Zona Rosa is that it's not a Starbucks. That and they have a decent Mexican hot chocolate (albeit a little too sweet). I also like their "Zona Sunrise".

      They also have free wi-fi. Bigbucks still charges an arm and a leg for theirs... how do they get away with that?!?

      1 Reply
      1. re: spankbot

        Actually Starbucks Wi-Fi is not their own but rather T-Mobile and, yes, T-Mobile is expensive.

        Starbucks, IMO, makes good coffee drinks and, for those for whom it matters, they consistently are rated as giving great benefits to their employees.

      2. Refresh my memory please, Zona Rosa is on El Molino, cross street Colorado right? If it's the little coffee shop that I am thinking of when I used to live down the street, I loved that place. It always made me feel comfy. Though it's been ages and I can not remember what thier coffee tasted like, but my hubby who is a big coffee drinker, loved it!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: silvana

          Yup, El Molino betweeen Colorado and Green.

          Zona Rosa Caffe - (626) 793-2334 - 15 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA

        2. Ostudio, I had a similar impression-- my cappucino was nothing to bring me back. What's more, I was really put off by the service-- a pair of teenagers who couldn't have been a day over 16 behind the counter joking with each other and fooling around when I was trying to make my order, and I ended up having to say it three times before they stopped laughing and got started to make it. And then continued to joke around. You had to be there-- it was just very immature and silly and I decided I'd rather take my business elsewhere.

          Where? Zeli's next to Vroman's, Wheat Berry on Lake (they're slow, though), or I drive myself to Hollywood and stay there for a while.

          7 Replies
          1. re: amandine

            In South Pasadena there are two indie coffeeshops worth mentioning:
            (1) Buster's on Mission at Meridian (kitty-corner to the Metro stop; larger x-streets Orange Grove and Fremont; and
            (2) Kaldi on the corner of El Centro/Diamond.

            Eagle Rock has several non-corp coffee spots, too, one of which is Swork that had an excellent mexican hot chocolate in addition to yum coffee the last time I was there.

            1. re: yinyangdi

              On the East Side, the only latte that resembles a real latte that I have found is at the Alcove Cafe on Hillhurst in Los Feliz. Not quite Luxxe caliber, just the actual generic thing. There is obviously an expectations gap between those converted to Vivace-style Seattle lattes and those (most) not. (The latte leaf on the door of Luxxe is like a talisman in that regard.) But places like Buster's and Kaldi (styrofoam to go cups both!) or Swork just don't try for the experience that the original poster was looking for.

              1. re: EricW

                Maybe Buster's & Kaldi’s have changed in the past 3 years since I left SoPas, but when I lived there (10 years) I went to Buster's at least once a day, if not two. The coffee and espresso drinks (for that matter, ALL drinks) were excellent to magnificent at Buster’s. Kaldi was my local latecomer back-up coffeehouse, so while I recommended it, I cannot vouch for 10 years of consistent coffee/espresso drinks; Kaldi is there and, imo, much better than Zona Rosa.

                As for the “experience that the original poster was looking for,” I read that the OP was merely looking for, and expecting, a *delicious latte.* I have *never* had a *delicious* anything at Zona Rosa. The only thing Zona Rosa has in its favor, imo, is its close proximity to The Pasadena Playhouse and the Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.

                As for Styrofoam cups at Buster’s...(?) I only had one Styrofoam cup at Buster’s -- the first time I got a coffee to go. Afterwards, I had my own 20-oz thermal mug with Buster's emblazoned thereon. In fact, I had about three or four Buster’s mugs to insure that I always had a clean ginormous reusable cup available for coffee no matter where I went (and bought them as gifts to give out to friends/family in order to get them to stop getting to go cups).

                1. re: EricW

                  EricW you are correct I am in search of the transcendant latte pulled by a bonafide barrista. IMO there are so few places in L.A. -Caffe Luxxe and Sabor Y Cultura are the only 2 that I have found. If there are other places on par with these, please share!!
                  I haven't tried that place in Culver City that people speak highly of...

                  as an aside, last weekend, was in SF and had a delicious latte (complete with an autumn leaf latte art on top) at the Blue Bottle Coffee kiosk. http://www.bluebottlecoffee.net/

                  1. re: ostudio

                    I tried the banana latte at the Coral Tree in Brentwood. They make a cool leaf on the top of the foam. The latte was so yummy. I have no idea how they make it. I would give this place a thumbs up, if you are looking for a really delicious and unusual latte. I've never had a banana latte anywhere else.

                    Coral Tree is on San Vicente Blvd., a few blocks east of Barrington. According to their website, they also have other locations (a Coral Tree Express in the Century City Mall, and a new full-service location in Encino).


                2. re: yinyangdi

                  I had forgotten about Busters. I used to play gigs there with a few other guys... those were the days.

                3. re: amandine

                  Amandine, I like Zeli's too, but it's always very crowded inside. They have a good hot apple cider too.

                4. amandine, I assume you go to Sabor Y Cultura when you drive yourself to hollywood? I love Caffe Luxxe on Montana street, but I dont' live on that side of town.
                  Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake uses Intelligentsia beans, but the people behind the counter are clueless when it comes to pulling an espresso. anywhere else on the eastside?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ostudio

                    Yes! You are brilliant, it is S y C indeed. Also I like T on Fairfax on, well, Fairfax Blvd next to Cantor's. I've also wanted to check out Elixir in WeHo.

                    On the east side, I know a number of people who like Kaldi in South Pas, though I wasn't too impressed with their drinks, but it's open late. I haven't been to any, but there's also a number of coffee shops in Eagle Rock near Occidental College.

                    1. re: amandine

                      To the best of my knowledge, T on Fairfax has closed for good.

                    2. re: ostudio

                      i always have renée pull my shots. she's very good, trained in chi-town with the intelligensia people.

                    3. I very much want Zona Rosa to succeed-- small, independent establishment contributing to art and culture in the neighborhood. However, I've been there twice in the last 3 months and was disappointed both times. The Mexican smoothie with bananas and chocolate had big chunks of ice-- unacceptable for a smoothie. The hot chocolate was not hot enough and way too sweet.

                      The place has a very cool ambience though.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: apfb

                        Yes, I would love it if more "loft" style coffee shops opened around here... I love it when places have a little staircase leading up to comfy chairs and a bit of quiet. It's nice to hang out above all the bustle.

                        1. re: amandine

                          That's cool. I had no idea they had space upstairs. I always see people sitting at two tables in front of Zona Rosa.

                      2. Zona Rosa is a pleasant, comfortable hang, with decent music and an upstairs loft space that is a nice place to spend an afternoon. But the coffee - eh. Including the vaunted mocha made with Mexican chocolate. Europane is only a few blocks east.

                        1. I'm a Peets fan - In the Wild Oats shopping corner. Still better than Zona and not even fair to speak of Zeli's -inside Vromans - if mentioning Peet's. And, Busters, well that's just plain fun especially Sunday eve's when Nairobi Trio( new name now)plays their jazz.

                          1. i could not agree with you more ostudio!

                            i threw my capp away in the trash can outside the door. very inexperienced baristas. they don't know what the blend of espresso is.

                            once a bitter very overextracted shot. another time, burnt the milk.

                            been there twice, but never going back for the third.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: revets2

                              Wow, reheating milk is compeltely unacceptable. I am sorry your experience here was not super. I think that previous posts recommending the chocolate-based drinks are right on. This is the place to go for blended dessert drinks- I did like the blended Mexican mocha. Also, you can sit and chat forever. Their food items are not impressive. Incidentally, I never ask for my drinks to be extra hot...its "asking for it"...you usually will get burnt milk.

                              1. re: running pig

                                My latte was bitter too, revets2. However, I tried a chocolate chip cookie from Zona Rosa too. It was pretty good.

                                1. re: running pig

                                  i didn't ask for my drink extra hot. i never understand folks who want milk-based espresso drinks extra hot. the milk expresses its lactose which sweetens the milk at about 160-170 degrees.

                                  sugar, chocolate, and other flavorings can mask lots of problems with coffee/espresso based drinks. frankly, i'd really like to know what amy scattergood from the LAT was thinking. it think i'll write her.

                              2. I have tried Zona Rosa-- the latte. I thought the coffee had a bitter aftertaste that I didn't like. Someone behind me ordered a Mexican latte. Sounded much better (there's chocolate in it), and I'm going to get it next time.

                                One or two blocks up on Colorado Blvd. is a fairly new place called Metropolis (or something close to that name). It's across the street from Target. They have a huge space, and they serve a variety of coffee, tea and pastries. I have not been blown away by the food or drink there-- it's merely okay. However, the space is *huge* and really lovely. Finally a coffee shop in this area that has many tables, chairs and a nice bathroom, too. I like this place because it is spacious and clean. They also have free wireless, I believe.

                                I am going to give Zona Rosa another try for the Mexican Latte.

                                1. though the space is generous at METROPOLIS, i agree, the coffee is pretty lacking.

                                  update: i had a killer cuppa joe at BEAN TOWN in sierra madre on thursday. have never been impressed with the coffee/espresso there, but my goddaughter wanted ice cream. the coffee was so good, i had to do a double-take. turns out they switched to KLATCH ROASTING beans (award winning roaster and barista) a month ago. can't wait to go back for an macchiato doppio. let's see what these cats can do with decent beans.

                                  i can't knock PETE's, but it's nice to have an alternative.