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Aug 19, 2007 01:31 PM

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!