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Intelligentsia Coffee...boring, sanitized & oh so precious

There's a point at which you can try just too hard. Intelligentsia's coffee has been so scientifically calibrated that they have managed to reduce all coffee's character to a boringly smooth semi-hot drink. I tried a variety of drinks, hot, cold, regular coffee, cappucino, and none of them passed my coffee standard which is Italian coffee (can't be found in LA, by the way.) If you've ever had real Italian espresso, then you know what coffee should be. I wonder if the tastemakers at Intelligentsia have ever had the real thing? Too bad. It's a great location and looks great. Boo hoo.

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  1. I disagree. I think they make a pretty good cup of coffee but their Black Cat espresso is fantastic. I grind it at home and brew it as my everyday coffee. I also long for a rich cup of coffee closer to an Italian espresso but have had a hard time finding it in L.A. The Black Cat definitely satisfies my picky taste in coffee, although it is an marketed at an espresso. I have tried Kings Road,which many swear by, but it ALWAYS makes me jittery. I absolutely refuse to go to Starbucks or Coffee Bean. I may go to Peet's in a pinch. I would choose a cup of Intelligentsia coffee over these massive chains any day.

    1. Their ice coffee tastes like fruit.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Hershey Bomar

        I'm not sure what coffee they use for the iced coffee, but some of the medium roasts like the Ethiopian have definite berry flavors (well, coffee beans are berries, right?). I have a hard time getting used to it since I'm so used to the more caramel flavors of dark roasts like espresso.

        1. re: Chowpatty

          Everyone has their own opinion, if they don't like something, they don't like it. But I have to disagree vehemently by the characterization of Italian coffee being superior to the best we offer. The coffee produced by the some of the micro-roasters in this country is as good and in many cases is far superior to anything roasted in Italy. I will go so far to say the coffee movement in New Zealand and Australia also compares with Italy.

          1. re: chipman

            Most Italian coffee is roasted really dark, a legacy from the days when Italian peasants were getting really crappy coffee and nearly burning it to cover its terrible taste. Intelligentsia doesn't roast its coffees nearly as dark as most houses so as to let the natural flavors of the beans come through. I can easily see how drinkers whose palates are accustomed to the superdark (read: burnt) taste of traditional Italian coffees or the neo-Italian roasters like Starbucks could be thrown off by the more delicate tastes of Intelligentsia's roasts. (For example, their Yirgacheffe is the first one that actually did taste of the jasmine notes advertised.)

            My recommendation would be to get the Chemex for Two if possible. That really lets the clean, sparkling nature of the varietal coffees (which are the real gems on offer at Intelligentsia) to come through in a special way.

            1. re: chipman

              i wholeheartedly agree with you on the superior quality of coffee 'down under.' every cup i had in australia, whether in melbourne, sydney, or up in queensland, was excellent. even starbucks is good there!

            2. re: Chowpatty

              You are so right.

              A little more info. They only use one roast for the ice coffee. When I told them I didn't like it they did tease me a little but also gave me coupon for a free espresso.

          2. I disagree about Intelligentsia, but coffee is such a particular thing... to each his/her own :)

            I heard they are bringing an Italian barista (or would that be baristo?) for the new cafe opening next to Ugo's in Culver City. Perhaps you will finally have your Italian coffee. No word on an opening date yet.

            1. My complaint is that the cap I had was mostly milk, they poured straight from the steamer and never added foam or held back the milk, it was more like a latte! Otherwise I enjoyed it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Burger Boy

                Burger Boy, while you may not have enjoyed your particular cap, a latte or a cap is supposed to be poured straight from the pitcher and foam is never supposed to be added nor is milk supposed to be held back. I may be generalizing here, but I imagine that you're more used to the larger chain style coffee shops preparing your beverages where they will spoon in more foam to make a cap or hold back foam accordingly for a latte.
                ALL true specialty coffee companies that use baristas who have been trained accordingly free-pour their milk directly from the steamer with no need for a thermometer, a spoon, or adding/holding back milk or foam.

                1. re: peanut112

                  I am not used to large chains, I am used to great coffee in SF and small boutique like Mi Cultura and some very good barista friends. Explain the difference, if you steam/foam the milk in the pitcher and just pour it together? I was under the impression a cap is smaller and more foam than milk and a latte is larger and mostly milk and a little foam. You are saying a cap & latte are equal foam & milk just more or less?

                  1. re: Burger Boy

                    The classic definition of a cap is 1/3.espresso,1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam.

              2. I've had the famous 'Sant Eustachio espresso and I know that's what espresso shouldn't be. I don't even know what the heck that is - it's like coffee merengue.

                I can't speak for Intelly SilverLake since I'm on the other side of the country. But I work with Intelly coffee every day and have also been to Italy couple of times in the past three years specifically to study the food and espresso.

                Here's my take on Italian espresso - it's much more consistent place to place than US espresso. In the US, bad espresso is the rule. However, I've yet to have an espresso in Italy that's knocked my socks off. But I've been wowed several times in the US at better cafes.

                If one knows what they're doing with Black Cat, one can consistently produce better espresso drinks than the typical Italian bar, whether a straight 1.25oz shot, a ristretto-style doppio, an Americano, certainly a 5.5oz cappuccino (where I think Black Cat shines) or a Shakerato, where it is equally awesome.

                Certainly part of the reason is the Intelly blend, but it's also the freshness. In Italy, bars using Lavazza, Illy, Segafreddo or similar mass market coffees are already behind the 8-ball as the coffee is getting stale. Equipment also tends to be dirtier, I think - lots of old grounds left in grinders and portafilters.

                FYI, the best espresso I had in Italy was Oka Caffe from Florence. It happens to be the coffee the engineers at the La Marzocco factory use to calibrate their equipment and drink for enjoyment.

                If SilverLake isn't for you (although I can't imagine why), you might also try CoffeeKlatch in San Dimas or Groundworks which has several places in LA.

                1. I regularly have Intelligentsia's Clover brewed coffee ... this after years of Starbucks. Maybe I'm wrong but I actually like the strong taste of Starbucks. The Clover is great ... no acid, but mild, non-assertive.

                  On an especially hot day I tried the Iced Angeleno which is sweet and creamy. I don't use or like cream or sugar in my coffee. I haven't seen a straight iced coffee on the menu but I'll ask next time.

                  Hooked for now on Breadbar's Almond Croissant but that will pass.

                  Too bad ... great location, nice people but I'd like stronger coffee and a choice of sizes.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                    At the bottom of the menu, it reads that any of the items can be served iced, although I have heard them discourage customers from getting the cappuccinos iced when they've requested those. But you can get the lattes iced, the coffees iced, americanos iced, whatever. The Iced Angeleno is their answer to the Iced Blendeds so popular in L.A., I've been told.

                    And yes, that almond croissant is fantastic, and a choice of sizes would be appreciated.

                    1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                      They told me a Iced Angeleno is 4 shots of espresso. That is (4 ways) to strong for me. Intelly (I like that) coffee tends to make me jittery as it is. It did when I ordered it at Pazzo Gelato across the street and still does at the HQ.

                    2. Thanks for all suggestions of where to find a good espresso. Look forward to the Culver City Italian caffe. I need to clarify that the Italian coffee that I use as my gold standard is made at Caffe Italia in Montreal, not Italy. It isn't burnt nor does it have any bitterness as some have characterized Italian coffee. There are actually several great cafes in Montreal serving exceptional coffee. Nothing precious. Please let me know if you stumble across a good cuppa here.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: countrygirl

                        i concur with the sentiments expressed by chipman and panini guy. i'll also add that i'm a big fan of intelli's espresso, but there's no point arguing about matters of taste. if you're looking for something like caffe italia in montreal, check out the euro caffe on little santa monica in beverly hills (1 block west of beverly dr., on the north side of the street).

                        1. re: countrygirl

                          You should try Caffe Luxxe on Montana in Santa Monica. I find their espresso fantastic. I believe they are using beans from Vivace in Seattle. Not the warmest space, but the coffee comes through loud and clear.


                        2. I know they claim there is a method to their madness, but in my opinion it doesn't lead to a very appealing product. Both times I have been there the coffee I was served was lukewarm and watery. Who is this trying to appeal to? If the Italian coffee tradition is to roast dark, whose tradition are they trying to emulate here? England? Where else besides Intelli do they serve coffee like this on the planet where it is considered the "right" way? BTW my favorite espresso is probably at Blue Bottle in Oakland.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: rezpeni

                            I'm having a hard time believing we're even talking about the same Intelligentsia, whom in our relationship, we chide them for always trying to cram MORE coffee into a recipe - they're renowned for stuffing more coffee into a Clover cup than the Clover people recommend and stuffing triple portafilters with 21g+ of espresso to brew two shots, not three.

                            We've never had any experience with "watery" Intelligentsia brew with the exception of one varietal which was far too light for our tastes. It's also weird you mention Blue Bottle as a contrast, because I'd have put them in about the same class.

                            So now you've got me wondering if SilverLake is using different recipes than in Chicago, I find that difficult to believe, but it's also hard to discount this many responses that say essentially the same thing.

                            1. re: Panini Guy

                              I should have specified I was talking about their drip coffee not their espresso which I have never tried.

                          2. As an aside, does anyone know why this corporation chose the name "Intelligentsia"? Marketing-class project, or does it conform to the "Intelligentsia, an irresponsible middle class with ideas," the "educated bourgeoisie, the so-called ‘Intelligenzia’"? How about "the administrative and cultural intermediaries between local life and wider life [to which] the word ‘intelligentsia’ has long been applied"? (Quotations from the Oxford English Dictionary.)

                            Love them corporate manipulations. But I like the espresso at Jones coffee in Pasadena even better -- on site or ground at home and gently brought to life with the great AeroPress.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Mel Gee

                              i must disagree with the majority of the posts here and say that i had the coffee at intelly, and found it to be pretty darned fantastic. i did hear a rumor that their black cat blend is different from the one they use in chicago - does anyone know?

                              i finally found a close second to my favorite (and geographically more desirable) caffe luxxe. but they are definitely up there - and the eastside is much better for it!

                              as a side, i must admit that i did get much more jacked up (read buzzed) after drinking their coffee, and i'm not sure why. i drink a LOT of coffee, and i dont normally get jittery, but this stuff got me BUZZED!

                            2. Do they serve regular-size, non-hipster folks at Intelligentsia? When I walked in on opening weekend, there were about six employees behind the bar and four customers, including me. After hovering for three or four minutes, appraising the menu while futilely trying to make contact with a barrista, I walked out. I might have been wearing the wrong style shirt, or maybe I'm a bit too overweight for them. Too bad. We'd hoped it would be our neighborhood coffee joint, but we prefer a snoot-free roast.

                              17 Replies
                              1. re: Cubancoffee

                                I don't have an array of ugly tattoos, rainbow-colored vintage Nikes, or an $80 t-shirt, and I still regularly get service there. Just try to look as apathetic and/or generally pissed off as everyone else who is standing in line there - and yes, everyone looks apathetic and/or generally pissed off at Intelligentsia.

                                You probably just looked too enthusiastic. Never look too eager at Intelligentsia.

                                1. re: Woolsey

                                  I am a bit amazed that people can act so reserved about what, at least from this NW latte land perspective, counts as only the SECOND working espresso joint in one of the biggest metropolitan regions in the world! (Counting Luxxe, that is.) Given that folks on this list have spent time in the past chasing individual baristas across town, basic pulling skills being apparently so rare here, to have a reliable place with clear standards in this part of town seems like a mighty fine thing to me. Sheesh!

                                  1. re: EricW

                                    You can't expect Silver Lake folks to change their behavior just for some really awesome coffee, can you? The hip, world-weary, generally superior affectation is to the Silver Lake area what great coffee is to Intelligentsia: something they've spent years perfecting.

                                    1. re: Woolsey

                                      Hmm, I don't think I was too enthusiastic, just too OLD, and plain, and just looking for a nice cup of coffee within walking distance, not an earth-shaking experience as some seem to expect/crave/prize in their joe. The fact that this is "only the SECOND blah, blah, blah" means nothing to me. I'm not a coffee snob. So maybe I'll just have to move on and rejoin the great, pitiful unwashed. When we moved here a few months ago, I just thought this would be a fun, walkable area, close to work downtown. I'm glad they didn't check my "hip, world-weary, generally superior affectation" credentials before I signed the lease. Who's really copping the attitude here?

                                      1. re: Cubancoffee

                                        I don't see how ordering a latte counts as snobbery or hipsterdom! It's a basic espresso drink. But in virtually every LA coffee place, all of which serve 'em, you have no idea whether the person behind the counter will make you a good one or dump it into the cup. So I end up defensively ordering a lot of iced coffees and just not bothering. At Intelligentsia, like Luxxe, you know the baristas will know what they are doing. As for attitude, it didn't seem hard when my wife, three year old (trust me, Rebecca is not yet world weary), and I walked into the place to approach the counter and request a latte! Perhaps you are projecting a bit?

                                        1. re: EricW

                                          Sorry, was responding more to the immediately preceding post, which projected some sort of mind-set on me based on the street where I live. Also, I can't get that excited about a great cup of espresso. I appreciate it, yes, but won't jump through hoops for it. My original point being, I just walked into the joint, presented myself to the counter, and couldn't get waited on. Apparently that means there's something wrong with ME, perhaps I'm not enough of a connoisseur to waste time on. If your experience has been more pleasant, good for you. I can only comment on my own.

                                          1. re: Cubancoffee

                                            I'm sorry, but perhaps you misunderstood me. I was being a bit sarcastic, but not towards you. Most of the patrons I've encountered at Intelligentsia are the typical mannered, highly affected yindie type who inhabit Silver Lake, who crawl up to the counter and sigh out their orders as if it's a chore to let the staff know what they want. I wasn't mocking you or even the staff - all of whom have been very eager and pleasant to me - but a lot of the clientele. I went with a coworker one morning who hails from one of the more, ahem, exotic regions of L.A., and she is definitely cut from a different cloth from the hipsters that tend to populate Silver Lake. I never saw more eyes roll in hostile passive aggression in the space of five minutes in my life.

                                            I'm sorry you received poor service, but the store really is staffed with friendly people who care about there product. The service can be slow, but they make their products with care. I hope you'll give them another shot.

                                            1. re: Woolsey

                                              Not only hipsters inhabit Silver Lake. I've owned a home here for decades. I was a "hipster" of another generation. ;)

                                              I think it may be a side effect of getting older. We boomers are in a strange place of getting old with a capital "O" and yet liking the same music that people decades younger like. Sometimes ... a lot of times I feel out of place in "young hipsters" hang outs. Even in my neighborhood. But I think the way I feel is not terribly unlike what many people who grow older feel. I think the solution is not to 'over-think' the situation and to act like you belong there. In fact, I'm sure they court our dollars just as much as any others.

                                              And too, I think Intelligentsia has a confusing ordering situation. I get coffee from the Clover so I walk over there. This after waiting the first time in a long line for the barista.

                                              But, be yourself! Just order.

                                              1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                                                Thanks for the clarifications (and the encouragement), and sorry I misinterpreted. Maybe I'd had too much coffee. ;-) We'll give them another chance. See ya 'round the hood.

                                                1. re: Cubancoffee

                                                  It looks like it gets really crazy around 10:00-11:00 on the weekends, by the way. That's when the line gets superlong. If you can go earlier or later, I'd recommend that.

                                                2. re: SilverlakeGirl

                                                  True, there are lots of non-yindies in Silver Lake, but the hipper-than-thous really can kill the vibe of any place they infest. I was talking about Intelligentsia to a friend who lives in Culver City last night, and she said she had no desire to venture out there and scuttle amongst the Eastside hipsters. Why? "My jeans aren't tight enough," she told me.

                                                  Hppefully Intelligentsia's service will get streamlined soon. Still, if Intelligentsia's servers are a bit scattered, at least they are fair in how they treat everyone. At neighboring stores Town & Country and Pazzo Gelato, I've gotten cold, rude service while the same employees coddled and doted on others standing right beside me.

                                                3. re: Woolsey

                                                  Woolsey! I love this word "yindie". How apt (to describe Silverlakers).

                                                  I don't get it though - why was everyone so upset about yer pal?

                                          2. re: Woolsey

                                            "Something they've spent years perfecting"

                                            ((spitting out coffee in laughter))

                                            1. re: SauceSupreme

                                              I ducked in this afternoon to check out the hubbub. I now understand the "ordering" situation. I think the best bet is to linger near the clover or at the coffee bar on the far side of the room, as there's a register and tip jar over there also.

                                              It was fine enough, but my local coffeehouse is the Groundwork in Hollywood, so it's nice that all the SL'ers (and Chicagoans) now have a place of their own; I'll stick to my neighborhood shop.

                                              1. re: SauceSupreme

                                                Get the Clover coffee from the Downtown Groundworks, then get it at Intelligentsia. (I don't think the Hollywood Groundworks has one yet.) Night and day. It's mud at Groundworks, sort of like someone made an Americano out of Turkish coffee - the process is essentially a vacuum-pumped French press, so, if used improperly as it is at Groundworks, one can feel small particles in suspension in the coffee. Groundworks forces the water through a tiny bit of finely ground coffee to get the most for their money. At Intelligentsia, they grind the coffee more coarsely and use more. It's much smoother and without the odd body. (I still think the Clover's overhyped, though.)

                                                1. re: Woolsey

                                                  Decided to check out Intelligentsia this morning and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

                                                  I had the cappuccino and really enjoyed it. Love the fact that the barista took the time to whirl the milk after steaming and after incorporarting in the espresso resulted in what I would describe as coffee cream. Not sure what roast they used, but end concontion had lots of different layers of flavours.

                                                  Additionally didn't experience any of the negative service some posters have expressed. Only complain is that they should reconfigure the store to ease the busy traffic.

                                                  Good stuff. Wished there was something remotely close around the sticks of Calabasas.

                                                  1. re: Sgee

                                                    Hmm... lots of factors go into a good coffee shop experience. There are definitely snooty baristas out there but there are also snooty people. What makes any of us smile at random people one day and then the next day wait for someone to look at us wrong so we can bite their head off? It takes more than one visit to gauge a place is what I'm saying. If you don't like Intelligentsia's espresso drinks or coffee (which usually are top notch but I confess to have one time received an espresso drink that tasted like cigarette ash--but was still better than some drinks I have had at random indie shops), be grateful that there are so many alternatives. Also, Intelly boosts the competition, so maybe the status quo is a bit higher now at other places?

                                    2. You know I guess it's the same with wine tastings..some will love it, and even the pro's will rate it 95 points (out of a possible 100) and yet, if you don't like it..it doesn't matter.

                                      I, personally think Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso is the best I hav ever tasted. I pretty much drink 'only' espresso, or coladas (quad-shots with a splash of micro-frothed milk). Intelligentsia roast's their beans and within 24 hours they are on their way to me..my Mazzer Mini grinder awaits, as does my EBIII espresso machine. I will take Intelligentsia ANY day over 'Starbucks' who's beans hav been sitting on a shelf for gosh-knows-how-long.. I know it's personal taste..but come on..there' quality and then there's.. pure Excellence. I'm pretty down-to-earth, but I can be a snob about something I excell in...aren't we all prideful in some area of our individual expertise?

                                      rezpeni..I am sure it most certainly has to do with the elevated snobbery and superiority of my generation..we are the smartest sub-set of genius' in existence, period. (If you don't believe that, just ask us). *grin*

                                      Lastly, Panini guy! You are a cruel cruel man! Now my hubby will be forced to cave-in to my demand that we must now go to Florence, Italy and try the La Marzocco espresso! (It sounds like 'the best of the best'!) *wink*


                                      1. If your benchmark for coffee is in Italy then you will always be disappointed. Because American espresso artists can be every bit as good. When you drink Italian espresso you are on vacation. You are different. The Italian sunshine is hard to squeeze into a bean.

                                        1. With all the crappy options in the burb's I'll take them any day over charbucks, coffee bean etc. Do you realize how bad coffee in the country is in general??