Coffee Throw Down
My vote goes to Groundworks. I like the Urth Cafes but the coffee really isn't great, Peet's is a Bay Area favorite but I don't go when I'm in LA because I live in San Francisco, and I haven't been to the Conservatory. But Groundworks is solid, and hard to find outside of LA. I especially liked when they used the Clover machine to bring out unusual flavors in certain coffee. For example, I've had one that had an undeniable note of grapefruit in it. Whether or not you like citrus in coffee, it takes some care and skill at all the steps between picking and drinking for that flavor to actually appear.
Are there any Intelligentsia outlets in LA yet? I thought I heard something about there being more.
Can't vote on Conservatory - where is it?
Peets wins for me because their drip coffee and their espresso drinks are the same quality of excellent - foam always thick, not bubbly, and coffee always good enough to drink black, which is my litmus test. If you have the opportunity to bring home a bag of their pure Kona, it's heaven.
Groundworks is fine. I'm not a fan of the Clover like the pp, but their coffee's never done me wrong.
I don't like Urth. It tastes like Coffee Bean coffee to me, which is worse than Starbucks - thin, pale, no richness, lack of flavor.
My biases.. I drink drip, press, shots, macchiato is about as close to milk drinks as I normally get. C4C+T roasts in house, usually have some interesting drip options, Everything from Ethiopian to Bolivia to Indian Malabar. They do pull really nice shots, but not ristretto's but very good. Bonus points to Urth for quality nosh, good press pots. Shots are mostly good. Groundworks does't always get the best quality beans, but they are always fresh, good drip, excellent shots (at least in hollywood and SaMo). Peets i.s good consistent cuppa, they just roast too dark for me. Which is too bad because I really like how they do their drip.
1.Conservatory (culver city, next to victor jr's)
2. (tie) Urth + Groundworks
Frankly, the OP only has ONE worthy coffee location and that would be the Conservatory.
Also, it's Groundwork, singular, as opposed to Groundworks, plural. Not a big deal, but 99% of people include the S. Bad strategy on the company's naming strategy really.
But, to address the OP's request:
Urth Cafe-most of the locations are a scene and the quality of the beverages are not that high. In general, the coffee sits too long without being replenished, rebrewed, or replaced. The espresso shots, pulled by themselves range from being acceptable to downright horrid. It depends on the barista and I use that term loosely. What they do achieve at Urth is train their staff to pour acceptable latte art, which means acceptable milk steaming techniques. However, the aesthetic of art is often at the expense of quality tasting espresso.
Groundwork-they no longer use the Clover at their locations and their internal turnover in recent months/years has really diminished their sourcing, roasting and training abilities.
Their quality of beans is lower, and their quality of execution is way down.
Peet's-their roast philosophy since the beginning has been solid and executed well for a "chain" type company. For me, their roasts tend to skew to the dark, which eliminates some of the nuances from a lot of beans.
Conservatory-The best of the best from this group.
You'd also need to consider:
LAMILL and Intelligentsia
1. Peet's - Every time I go here, I am surprised how it's never bad, actually good. It's like I'm waiting for them to go bad because they are a "chain". To the contrary, I'm very pleased every time.
2. Groundworks - Spotty. I have had some excellent stuff at the Hollywood location, but the Venice one can easily disappoint. I'm lukewarm on this place.
3. Urth - is awful. Even their pastries suck, the place is VERY bad. Not to mention grossly overpriced in quality vs. cost ratio. I was forced to eat at the downtown location, I think a fruit w/Granola & yogurt was @ $10, hardly tasty & maybe 6 ounces total.
4. Conservatory - never been
I'm really enjoying:
Cafe Luxxe (on Montana)
LA Mill (on Silver Lake Blvd).
And, I have never been to an Intelligentsia, but Clementine serves their brand & it's pretty close to outstanding.
If "awful" is one star, I would rate Urth 1.5 stars, just north of awful. Ditto on everything that MahiMahiFish said, PLUS the chaos and disorganization at the downtown location is tragicomically bad. Call it lame chi, bad feng shui, whatever. Food runners are always bumping into you, if you sit at any of the desirable tables. Only the most peripheral (as in, by the john) tables are spared the elbow treatment. The grub was uninspiring. I give it the extra half star for the setting, across the street from the Barker Block lofts. The vibe on the block is cool; too bad Urth isn't "getting it" yet.
Sorry to stray from the main topic. Urth should be admired for the way they source their coffee, but it left me wanting. Drip joe was too thin, as was the foam on the double capp.
I would go out of my way for any of the first three. LA Mill's drip coffee made with the Clover may be the single best cup of coffee I have ever had anywhere. Intelligentsia's Clover is almost as good but I definitely prefer their espresso (I tend to avoid coffee/milk concoctions.) Peet's is far and away my favorite chain, and like a good chain I value their consistency.
I value Groundworks for their teas but I'm not sure I've ever had their coffee. I'm not going to rank Urth because I don't think I've been there in at least twenty years. Linking the Conservatory for Coffee, Tea and Cocoa because I'd never heard of it till now. Google lists it as "Conservatory for Coffee, Tea and Coca" ;D
Conservatory For Coffee
10117 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Went to LA Mill in Silverlake this past weekend for the first time and had a...wait............dramatic pause...............EIGHT DOLLAR small pot of coffee. WOW! Dark roast something or other made at table with paper filter. Pretty good taste, not so wonderful value. Also had their fresh beignets (donut holes) which I found kind of doughy tasting. Also had eggs in a ramakin with lardons and mushrooms. Tasty but small for the price. I am interested in returning and having a cup of joe form their special machine.
I go about three times a week, their drip coffee is always strong and a good cup, never had an old or stale cup from them. They make an incredible double shot mocha (make sure you don't get it to go, not the same in a paper cup as it is in a big mug with whipped cream and chocolate drizzled on top. Their best coffee though is the new pour over, single cup drippers, you can get any of their single origin beans as a single cup. they just started offering this though, and each time I've gotten it, different baristas have had to double check how to do it. But it's essentially off menu and out of sight in the back where they sell beans, so almost no one knows about it. For being what amounts to a secret item, it's pretty excellent, and makes a great cup. The real value of going here is their beans though. no other beans I've ever gotten anywhere compare. I've been buying beans from them once a week for three years and only once have a had a bum batch, which I think was a little underroasted. Always excellent, I'm partial to the Bolivian, the Malabar, Tanzanian Peaberry, the Sumatra, The unpronouncable one, and the Peru.
Also, I find it very friendly and soothing, but then I usually go to escape from work for a half hour 'lunch' so anything might be soothing, but there's a much greater warmth to the atmosphere than any chain or most of the other westside coffee places.
2. Peets - I love the one over by the Aero on Montana... actually that's the only one I've been to. But they always have great tasting coffee, actually brewed right, strong, not over-heated or stale. For a chain, I'm impressed. And thank goodness there's something across from the Aero for double feature night.
3. Urth. I feel like they do too much. Good stuff, but not really my scene. The lack of wifi is annoying.
4. Groundwork - isn't that east somewhere, too far away to bother.
Groundwork has a small shop on Main on the westside as well as a bigger place in hollywood. They are worth trying, although I don't think they are as good as Luxxe or the conservetory. Intelly takes their coffee serious, but sometimes their machines, just aren't dialed in.. I get more sour shots their than other places.
925 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403
groundwork coffee company
2908 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
Just thinking about Caffe Luxxe reminds me of the place that turned me on to the fact that coffee could be good, not just something to be grimaced at when you needed to study for an all nighter (Starbucks). I was in my first internship during my second summer break while at university and we were on Montana. I remember tasting the office coffee and thinking that it was actually a pleasure to drink. Later that week I got the "job" of being sent down the street to Diedrich to get fresh beans. They had Diedrich grind it but bought new every week. So good. I know Kean is around somewhere far away, but man, just seeing Luxxe over there on Montana made me nostalgic for the place that made me fall in love with coffee. :)
Oh I've been to the Groundworks on Rose. I don't like how they present their coffee (in pump stations, iirc) and didn't like the service either. I've got middling chai from them as well before. I'd put them fourth on the list, much rather go to Urth.
925 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403