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Yes, Intelligentsia Was Worth the Wait: Review + Pics

Full review and more pics at: http://silverlakeboulevard.blogspot.c...

Ok, so Intelligentsia officially opened their doors on Friday at noon slowly building into a hectic yet family-friendly and happy evening community gathering in their new home of Silver Lake.
As we made our approach to the grand opening party, I was struck by the, forgive me, good vibes emanating from the small groups laughing, smiling, chatting, eating and drinking, and just welcoming Intelligentsia with a warm embrace. The great dj, fruit and cheese nibbles, and free coffee drinks certainly helped put everyone in a giddy mood. The staff were understandably overwhelmed as the place was hopping. But they were genuinely friendly and expert coffee crafters.

M and I gravitated toward the famous Clover machines where two Intelligentsia guys were constantly brewing for the endless people in line. I knew it may be a pain in the tuchas, but there's no way this little lady could drink caffeine at 7pm so I asked if I could order a decaf coffee from the Clover. The nice guy who was helping us happily accommodated my request even though I could tell it threw them off for a moment. The coffee was grand, rich, and wonderful.

This morning we headed back after yoga and before the area was crazy as this is Sunset Junction weekend. Much more mellow and amazingly already a community hub with young families and a colorful assortment of Silver Lakers enjoying their Sunday morning. Already way overheated, I ordered an iced latte. Whoa, this was unlike any iced latte I had ever consumed: The espresso was strong without any bitterness and it had the most subtle creaminess. Exceptional. My own little coffee snob who adored Intelligentsia during his Chicago days reported this morning's latte was as good as he remembered with a beautifully formed foam.

I love the people who work here too. They remind me of my favorite book store staffers: knowledgeable, friendly, authentic, and take pride in their work. I love their patio with an incredible tile. This is not Starbucks, friends. This is a true blue gem. Thankfully they picked our little Silver Lake to settle in.

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
3922 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029

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  1. Thanks for the review. Gotta stop by soon for a double espresso and to pickup some whole bean Black Cat.

    1. I have to say, when a company has a name like "Intelligentsia," it's easy to hate the place. "Yes, we're smart. Very smart. Perhaps too smart for you. Maybe you're just too stupid for our coffee. Why don't you just keep walking to Starbucks? Or even Mickey D's? Come back when you've got that master's degree, Rain Man. Maybe then we'll sell you that lattè. (Snicker, snicker.)" Yeah, it's a name potentially full of pretension, and I'd change it in a heartbeat.

      But the name is the only bit of pretension I found at Intelligentsia Coffee, and it's the only thing I'd dream of changing - except also the location, putting it, say, two feet from my apartment. It really is fantastic. Could it be that something that came with three dozen donkey carts of hype actually lived up to them? I'd say so. My friend and I shared a Chemex for two of Yirgacheffe, one of the featured coffees of the day that the helpful guy behind the counter explained for us in detail. (Calling him a barista seems such an insult. Really, "sommelier" seems so much more appropriate for these folks.) We were served with real plates and cups, and the coffee was poured out from the Chemex for us at the table. It was fantastic, too, with no bitterness, a wonderfully clean finish. After slugging down so much bitter, harsh office coffee all day to fuel the drudgery, it was nice to have something so elegant. We were getting buzzed almost like it was wine, not coffee. It was great stuff. These guys do it up right.

      The pastries selection was nothing special. The coffee cake was nice enough but nothing to write home about. (Peet's has a better selection, frankly, and if those Michael Cimarusti rumors are true, LA Mill's store will be the real coffee-and-food destination in Silver Lake.) The front seating area had ample seating for early evening, but some greenery might be nice to break up the bare concrete feeling. I imagine that on a weekend morning, an open table here would be rarer than hen's teeth. The interior was striking, with a bare, contemporary aesthetic - plywood panels, exposed fluorescent lighting, overlapping jumbo stencils - that lightened the more traditional touches of marble counters and intricate tile flooring.

      My friend and I both walked out with a pound of coffee each, and I also got away with one of the diner mugs that have the Intelligentsia logo on one side and the Sunset Junction sign on the other. (Score!) This really is a prize, a hip hangout that, unlike so many hip hangouts, delivers on the goods on the service and product front.

      Looking at my red Intelligentsia bag with its lone star - traditional revolutionary symbols - and thinking about that loaded name, then considering the great service and the amazing coffee, I can't help but think that perhaps it's an ironic name. Intelligentsia doesn't think it's better than anyone. Intelligentsia wants to make great coffee accessible to everyone. Well, good for them. And good for me. I can't wait to go back. In fact, I wonder if I have time to fit in an Intelligentsia run before work tomorrow...


      6 Replies
      1. re: Woolsey

        While I have not been to the Silver Lake store, I am a huge fan of their downtown shop. This is a great write-up, Woolsey, and I am glad to hear that they have scored a second location!

        1. re: liu

          This is actually their only location in Los Angeles. Are you thinking of Groundworks, perhaps? (Intelligentsia does have two of the famed Clover machines the Downtown Groundworks has.)

          1. re: Woolsey

            Yes! Whoops...I am really focusing on the coffee from the Clover and pretty oblivious to my surroundings!
            However, I am glad to hear that Intelligentsia is treating their customers so well...AND they have a great product!

            1. re: liu

              No worries. Groundworks is good, but I have to say, Intelligentsia is my choice. I didn't get any attitude there for my déclassé cream-and-sugar habit like I did on my first visit to Groundworks when I sullied their precious, precious Clover coffee.

              1. re: Woolsey

                I'm laughing, Woolsey! You have a wonderful way about you: "...sullied their precious, precious Clover coffee..." !!!

                OK -- I really thought I had had the best with Groundworks, because it is the coffee that mattered most to me and I did not experience any attitude, but I will scurry over to Intelligentsia as soon as possible.

                1. re: liu

                  I should say it was just on one visit to Groundworks, with one particular barista. She saw my adding sugar and cream and said, in a most imperious tone, "Did you taste that first?" I had, but, even if I hadn't, what business was it of hers? It's my coffee. If I wanted to dunk a meatball in it, it's my business.

                  Besides, I'm so used to cream and sugar, all black coffee tastes the same to me. It only tastes like coffee after I've befouled it with sweetener and cow juice.

      2. I got there 20 minutes after it opened and got 2 different cups of coffee from the Clover machine. I actually couldn't finish the cups because I had had 3 already that morning but I wanted to taste the different kinds of coffee they had (and it was free). I have to say that as far as drip coffee is concerned, Clover is the future. Remarkably favorfull but incredibly smooth and super clean finish (maybe too clean). Totally worth it at $3-4 an order. Unfortunately, we will never be able to make this at home. Not at $13,000 per machine. Not much food available (although there was a large kitchen in the back) and the decor was so so (who wants to see plywood in a restroom?). Very bad bar seating, you were better off in the outdoor tables. No parking, that small lot in the back is almost always full. It's a walk to place, unfortunately.

        2 Replies
        1. re: floppy fish

          floppy fish, of course you can make comparable coffee at home. The Clover is just a very high-tech, high-speed version of the very simple pour over method of brewing. The big advantage in a commercial setting is the speed in which a cup of coffee can be brewed.

          No matter what kind of brewing method you use, if you have freshly roasted and perfectly ground beans you can equal what you get in even the best coffee houses.

          1. re: floppy fish

            Agreed on the food. I hope that they bring the food up to the level of the coffee soon with some higher-level offerings, something more inventive and exciting. Coffee cake, croissants, and zucchini bread are all well and good, but they have all that at Starbucks and The Sugar Bean. With the more serious-minded coffee presentation they're doing at Intelligentsia, how about stepping it up with, say, brioches or cannelés? If one raises the bar with drinks, one has to raise the bar with food, too. That's the one thing I'm reading about the LA Mill store that sounds really exciting, that could trump Intelligentsia's ace.

            I also sort of agree on the bar seating, which was around behind the preparation area. The placement just seemed odd, like that was where the staff should be - and indeed, it where they were yesterday as it was slow. However, the effect on a busy morning - a crowd of busy, happy customers interacting and drinking along the wall at the marble counter behind the baristas - would be an interesting sight. It would be the opposite from the dispersed, isolated businessmen reading newspapers and wannabe screenwriters hacking away at laptops in scattered armchairs - the very antithesis of the Starbucks coffeehouse. After all, as with the Mozzas, this place has a high ceiling and all hard, sound-reflective surfaces, so it's designed to get loud in there, not to be quiet like the low-ceilinged, carpeted corporate coffeehouses...

          2. I had the Iced Angeleno and it was bliss!

            By the way, I asked and they buy their pastries from Delilah in Echo Park. It's nice that they're keeping it local.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Amella

              On Suebee's blog, I saw that the bread/croissants/brioche are from Bread Bar, as well -- that's a lot better than Starbucks!

              1. re: emily

                Those smarty-pants at Intelligentsia, of course they went with Bread Bar. But why Delilah's? I'm totally on board with keeping it local, but Delilah's is just mediocre.

                1. re: Suebee

                  Actually, they do have baked goods from Delilah. They definitely have muffins and scones from there. The server yesterday did not know where the croissants came from, so maybe they are from Bread Bar.

                  BTW - The Brite Spot now features Delilah's desserts as well! Good on them!

            2. Yes! Thank you for the great review.

              I went by there yesterday. The decor is terrific. I love the sprawling counter that everyone was spread out at waiting. I had the Moroccan Mint Tea. It was great and refreshing for the heat. I will have to go back for the Clover Coffee...sounds excellent!

              1. I went this morning and I'll be returning every weekend I'm certain. I'm glad I didn't pick up my usual pre-paid Starbucks card as I will be getting the $50.00 pre-paid Intelligentsia card.

                I loved the ambiance, the plywood walls and ceiling. It would be nice to lose the pretentious name and revolutionary symbols. I could not care less about Intelligentsia be ing "hipper than Starbucks" or "less hip than Starbucks". I must say I did not detect any attitude at all. The whole experience was delightful.

                I opted for the Clover brewed coffee and it was awesome. I had an almond croissant from Breadbar that knocked my socks off. And bought one of the Sunset Junction mugs. Nice.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                    With the Silver Lake store being the 4th location for the company, it becomes more difficult to satisfy everyone's thoughts regarding the name, etc. Don't think they will be changing it whatsoever.
                    Here are the locations in the greater Chicago area if you have friends back there that have not heard of them.

                    1. re: carter

                      I can assure you that once a company commences business under one name it is almost engraved in stone ... at least for some time. They have sunk a considerable amount of money into signage, stationary, cups, advertising and name recognition so changing the name is a monumental decision.

                      I wsa merely echoing the comments on aspects of the name above.

                  2. I have to say. I love coffee. I love espresso. Intelligentsia has excellent coffee and espresso. But their shop is so counter-intuitive. No one knows where to go when I am in there. The line, while never long or a long wait, is just a mess, and out of the three times I have been there, they have given my drink to the wrong person twice. Thus, they have had to make my drink over and someone else has walked out with the drink that they did not order.

                    Could the service/organization match the coffee? Too much to ask? I know they just opened, but getting the right drink to the right person just seems like a given.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Lmo1823

                      I got double-billed for my latte today - or else charged for the girl's drink behind me. I sat at the table wondering what cost me seven bucks, the drink of the croissant. (I should have charged in and gotten a correction, but I had too much else on my mind this morning. Besides, they don't provide itemized receipts, either.) Also, there are two doors on opposite sides of the main wall, but no one ever seems to use\ the second door to exit; everyone just squeezes in and out of the same small door, creating a crazy logjam at peak times. And the noise inside, even when it is not crowded, is ridiculous. I hate having to shout my coffee order over the ear-splitting, room-filling cacophony the mere shifting of one saucer can create.

                      But damn, that coffee's good. I love how the lattes get their own fresh individual pitcher of milk steamed for them, not some batch of milk that lies around, and how the foam is poured in delicately, not held back then plopped on artlessly with a spoon at the end...

                      1. re: Woolsey

                        If you ever get an espresso drink anywhere that re-steams the milk refuse it and demand they make it the correct way, or better yet just find a 'third wave' coffee house that respects coffee and knows how to make the drink.

                        1. re: chipman

                          Also, I forgot to mention that they weren't really apologetic that they gave me the wrong drink-- either time. It wasn't that they were rude, they just didn't care. My first visit I ordered a non-fat iced latte; they tried to give me someone else's iced latte made with 1/2 and 1/2. After just having watched it be made, I asked specifically if it was made with skim milk, and they said no. Then a few minutes later, the same male barrista pressed an iced drink into my hand. I walked to the counter and drank it. I almost spit it out. Still assuming it was my drink, I thought something went horribly wrong. I finally got the courage to say my latte tasted very strange. They THEN realized they gave me a iced chai tea latte and gave someone else my drink. (This made perfect sense. I hate chai tea. I think it tastes like Christmas.)

                          Then, my second visit, I basically could have walked out with a free iced latte, as no one seemed to want to take my money. I had to say, "I need to pay for this."

                          Then, today, my third visit, I again ordered my iced non-fat latte and they tried to give me someone else's regular iced latte, having let the other person just walk away with my non-fat latte. They realized it was a mistake, still slid it towards me. I subtly refused to pick it up. So did the barristo. And then, after the little stalemate, he had someone else remake it.

                          I don't understand why they don't announce FULLY what the drink is when they hand it to someone. Isn't the point of making every single drink start-to-finish trying to make it perfect for every single customer? What is the point if people keep taking other people's drinks and/or the barristas keep literally giving the wrong people the wrong drinks?

                          Sorry. I just so desperately want the service to match the coffee.

                          1. re: Lmo1823

                            Unfortunately this type of occurrence happens all the time in the busy shops, half the fun is paying attention to your drink being made. At BlueBottle in SF you call out your order while your still in line. By the time you get to the counter you have already met three new friends trying to figure out whose drink is whose.

                          2. re: chipman

                            This practice has become de rigueur with the milk at most Starbucks and Sugar Bean stores these days, where they make up full pitchers of several kinds of milk and leave them lying about as needed. I doubt I'd win the argument if I told them to steam up a new jug o' milk just for my one latte. But then, when dealing with their coffees, it also really wouldn't make much difference in the finished product anyway. It would be a little like asking the cook at McDonald's to go bake a fresh bun just for my Quarter Pounder.

                            1. re: Woolsey

                              As you probably saw at Intelligentsia They don't use those huge pitchers. They will use a much smaller pitcher, 12oz or less and each drink is made separately.

                              1. re: chipman

                                And their milk comes from glass jars - it's much higher quality moo juice. You can taste the superior level of dairy.

                      2. I was at Intelligentsia on August 17 - opening day - to see if the product matched the legend. It did and does, and from what the baristas have been saying, the coffeehouse is just beginning to live up to its potential.

                        You never would have known that the Sunset Junction space had been derelict for years, or that it once housed a Latin grocery. Only a month old, Intelligentsia already feels like it’s been part of the community for years.

                        Direct trade is a major focus at Intelligentsia, leading to a better product for customers and more profit for farmers, eliminating the middlemen.

                        One of the Intelligentsia edicts is that the baristas make every drink to-order, from deluxe Clover coffeemakers and custom-built Synesso espresso machines. A blackboard next to the Clovers lists the day’s selection of 3-5 coffees. Intelligentsia also produces superior cappuccino, macchiato and house chai. If you’re looking for something sweet, mochas and hot chocolate made with ganache produced on a hot plate using melted bars of Scharffenberger 72% dark chocolate, heavy whipping cream and agave nectar as a sweetener. The primarily-organic loose leaf tea menu is highlighted by Melon White, Jasmine Silver Needles or the powerfully titled Iron Goddess of Mercy. There are four iced teas in the regular rotation: King Crimson, Moroccan Mint, The Classic and Ginger Plum Oolong.

                        According to the Devin, a barista who often mans the Clovers, the weight of the beans (in grams) varies by day, to maintain “optimum performance.” He said that Intelligentsia doesn’t keep beans longer than eight days. “It’s not that it’s bad. It just loses what makes it unique.”

                        Intelligentsia is already operating at a higher level than other existing Los Angeles coffeehouses, but the company will be even further along in six months. Intelligentsia plans to start hosting release events with chefs they sell coffee to. They plan to introduce people to cuppings and pairings. Intelligentsia also wants to hold Meet The Producer events, where they reward micro-lot coffee farmers with trips to L.A.

                        According to Deanna, Intelligentsia is still working to open a roasting facility in Glassell Park. Until that happens, which could take until the end of the year, they have to ship fresh-roasted beans daily from Chicago. The product is still excellent, but the process is expensive for the Intelligentsia, and the beans are subjected to possible temperature fluctuation in the air or in hot delivery trucks. When Intelligentsia reaches its full potential, Angelenos are really in store for caffeinated greatness.

                        Open daily from 6 AM - 11 PM

                        For my much expanded review and to see photos, link to:


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: joshualurie

                          This is a nice write-up, joshualurie!
                          My best coffee experience to date was a cup of the Panamanian La Esmeralda coffee at Groundwork downtown, made from the Clover. It was wonderful, and I am glad to read in your report that Intelligentsia has purchased this coffee for their stores. I was underwhelmed with my first try at Intelligentsia, but perhaps it was more the coffee choice than the place. After enjoying your write-up, I will give it another try.

                          1. re: joshualurie

                            Great review .. and the one on your page with photos. It's inspired me to try something from the barista next time!