2012 Coffee List - Since any other list is Outdated
I have jumped around CHOW looking for a comprehensive, up-to-date list of where people have found delicious coffee and the fact that some threads were started in 2008 have led me to start this one. I would like to see where people go for their coffee and why they like what they drink. Not just the quality of a drink, but the ambiance, the mission, and the experience as a whole. I have been to a handful of third wave coffee shops but not enough to make a list - I am much more interested in what the public has to say so that I may find new places to visit and have more shops to compare aside from the few I have visited. I know a few shops have recently opened and have made a bit of noise in the blogger world; Handsome Coffee, Single Origin(ShortCake). Not sure what else is sprouting but again, my intent is to see what's out there. I hope you all feel the same way.
I should note I am in love with the third wave coffee roasters because I grew up drinking lighter, floral coffees in the evening (Mexican Cafe de Olla and cafecitos from the stove top). I'm not much an espresso person and most of the time I make coffee myself at work using an Aeropress and Sumptown Beans and a little bit of Rancho Gordo piloncillo.
* Cafe Au Lait (via Clover) at LAMill
* Iced Coffee (unsweetened) from Paper or Plastik
* Iced Coffee (lightly sweetened) from Dripp
* Affogato from Demitasse
* Aunt Nancy's Shakeratto from Single Origin
* Flat White (With Honey) from Two Guns Espresso
* Latte from Handsome Roasters
* Almond Latte from Balconi
* Straight Up Cup of Coffee - Portola, Klatch, Tomo, Scoops Westside, Cafe Mi Tierra
Tomo: Iced Coffee; Pretzel
Conservatory for coffee and tea: Drip and beans
Cielo : Macchiato
Tiago: Pour over
Single Origin/Short cake: espresso and hazelnut croissant
I generally don't frequent coffee places since I have continued to find that the coffee I brew at home seems best. My coffee of preference is light to medium roast drip coffees using no sugars or creams. I have tried coffee from Intelligentsia, LA Mill, Groundworks, as well as the chains Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Seattle's Best and Peet's. In my travels to SF, I have had Four Barrel and the highly overrated Blue Bottle.
At home I grind and brew Jamaica Blue Mountain Peaberry from Mavis Bank using a Kitchenaid drip machine. Sometimes I use the Aeropress.
Not having tried any of the third wave shops, I have found that the best coffee in LA can be found at Funnel Mill in Santa Monica. They exclusively use the syphon method and roast their beans daily.
I don't know of any other place in LA that offers both the authentic Kopi Luwak and the Panama Esmeralda Geisha. Yes they are extremely rare and expensive. I have ponied up to taste the Geisha and found it the best coffee I've ever had. It even tastes better cold.I will ask for a cup of the Kopi Luwak as a birthday present.
But I can't imagine a better cup of coffee anywhere else.
I had it at Groundwork downtown when that shop was still open a couple years ago; it has since closed. It was something that they had behind the counter in a back room with a guard standing just outside (just kidding). I am not sure if it was even a regular offering, and they knew it was something special. I think I paid $5.00 for a cup and that was extravagant at the time. It was amazing...a one time experience!
I do remember that. I actually tried to go there, but they had run out of the Panama. They also had a Clover machine which they sent back when Starbucks bought the Clover company. I may have to try Handsome sometime soon. $5 sounds cheap. Funnel Mill does run expensive, but that syphon method beats all.
Ogawak, we could sip together!
You are right about the Clover machine at Groundwork downtown. I believe it was the first or one of the first in LA. I chased for the machine, and the Esmeralda was the icing on top of the cake! And yes, the Clover and Esmeralda for $5.00!
I, too, like Funnel Mill. I go primarily for their tea, but they are serious about what they are doing there.
My Lovely Tasting Assistant and I visited the Panamanian highlands where Esmeralda Gesha (yes, it's is Gesha, not Geisha... There is no connection to Japanese hostesses) is grown in the area around Boquete but just couldn't bring ourselves to part with the fifty bucks or so they charge for a pot (or was it a cup? I don't remember)
I do remember scams where shops sell non-Esmerelda Gesha, charging crazy prices to people
who don't know any better. Word of caution.
re: Mr Taster
The coffee variety is actually known better as "Geisha" in these parts. The "Geisha" and "Gesha" are interchangeable. It's just a bastardization of "Gesha." My guess is the name sticks because it has a lightness to it, yet is elegant and somewhat exotic in its flavor profile. You were wise not to unload your US Grant on a cup or pot of that joe. I remember getting a small pot at LA Mill a few years ago for about $8.
Lots of roasters carry the Geisha. It just depends on the time of release and roast to when you see it.
Having Geisha from six different roasters, for my palate La Mill does the most justice to the bean. It's super clean and elegant, like a nice Burgundy.
Blue Bottle is good, but I do think it is a tad overrated.
Ritual Roasters in San Francisco has been sending us the best beans lately. The Santa Lucia Sweet Tooth for espresso may be the best I've had in 12 mos.
As for Kopi Luwak, we've had it at the farm. It's difficult to get here and know whether it's the genuine article. It's muddy and the Balinese typically overroast it. Nothing special.
Cafecito Organico - Espresso Shots/Americano/whole beans (best price on beans in LA - $12 a bag 12 oz for single origin and the money is going more directly to the coffee farmers - my favorite of 3rd wave coffee...no pretense...just excellent coffee/helpful baristas/reminds me of Vivace in Seattle (a place where you can spend the whole day studying/doing what you do at a coffee shop)
Caffe Vita from Seattle has set it sights on LA and NYC (to be opened in April 2012 in Silverlake!!!yay!) - Do you see a trend - Seattle was the birth of my love of coffee and they dont have to be like Intelly (nothing wrong with Intelly but I am sick of baristas/coffee shops telling me how to enjoy my cup - yeah I looking at you Intelly/Handsome!)
Spring for Coffee - espresso shots/americano/whole beans from Stumptown/Ritual/Handsome - People who work there are great and it really is like the vivace kiosk from Capital Hill (Seattle, WA)
Second Cafecito Organico. Tried a bag from the Hollywood Farmers Market for the first time a couple weeks ago, and it was really delicious. And yes, $12 for 12 oz. is a bargain for fine coffee these days. FYI, everything they have is medium roast (I was told). As someone who lives in the Hollywood area, there's no way I'm schlepping to the west side for coffee. I'd sooner get the Archer Farms Fair Trade Guatemalan at Target.....
Cognoscenti Coffee, which is in Proof Bakery in Atwater Village makes some of the best coffee I've had in Los Angeles. great traditional espresso drinks made to exacting standards. at the level of four barrel in SF. also If you like iced lattes, they nail it.
Thank you Single Origin for finally bringing snob-level coffee to the West Hollywood area. also the quiche at short cake is pretty damn good.
The approach at Handsome in DTLA is refreshing -- no cappuccinos or lattes or whatevers, just espresso with 3, 5, or 7 oz of milk. for brewed coffe they use a fetco luxus which surprised me a bit, but i think they throw it out every 15 minutes or so and rebrew. the dudes there will tell you everything you want to know about their process.
spring for coffee is really pretty great
i use the aeropress at home and grind with a kitchenaid. I'm going to get a clever. my coffee tastes awesome.
My experiences are limited only to the westside. I've never been to any of hipster zoned areas, nor is there any reason for me to be downtown at any of those new places. I love coffee, but I"m not going to travel and fight traffic for it. For food, yes, but certainly not for a simple cup of coffee. I brew Aeropress, french press, or Clever dripper at home, weigh and grind my beans fresh. I only buy beans from Conservatory.
When I go to a coffee shop 99% of the time I get coffee, not espresso drinks or faux drinks, just coffee. If the place does really exceptional coffee, I try their espresso, if that is good I might try some of their other stuff. Generally, if they can't manage to brew a cup of coffee, they can't manage to pull an espresso shot, and coffee is more forgiving.
1. Cafe Balconi - The coffee here is superb, the experience just lovely, the atmosphere of the place is more than a little lacking. On top of serving the best cup of coffee in LA they also have the best espresso drink I've ever had in their almond latte. Goddamn, it could convert me off coffee.
2. Funnel Mill - coffee is not quite up to the exacting standards of Balconi, but they're 90% there, and the inside is 1000 times better. Iced coffee is excellent, my SO loves their espresso drinks.
3. Conservatory for Coffee Tea & Cocoa - I hesitate leaving them in the top three as I just had the worst cup I've ever had from them today, but I think that was an anomaly, due to the rush and crush they had at the time, they severely underbrewed my clever dripped single cup. five years I've been going here with bad experiences being nearly nonexistant, they're more popular than ever and they're fantastic roasters.
4. Paper or Plastik - Great coffee, haven't yet tried their espresso drinks, but the coffee is excellent.
5. Coffee Tomo - The first few weeks were great, then they had a fall off, now they're pretty good again, though not up to their early peak. Nice vibe to the place but marred by an incredibly stinky bathroom that has a perma poo smell every time I've been (sewage problem?), avoid at all costs the tables near the bathroom.
6. Cafe Luxxe - Good coffee, better espresso drinks with an austere and unfriendly interior. Seen a few celebrities, but that doesn't improve the coffee.
7. Espresso Cielo - pretty much the same as Cafe Luxxe, but I haven't tried any of their non coffee stuff.
8. Starbucks at Maxella/Lincoln (Clover brewed) - The clover really makes a difference and their interior is nice. It's a shame that better roasters can't make use of this incredible machine.
9. Venice Grind - My go to in and out spot when I lived in Venice. You squirt out the coffee yourself, and it's a coinflip how fresh it is. Never had the time to get the pourover, but very decent overall, Love the vibe of the place.
10. Scoops westside - He does a pourover of Intelligentsia beans that puts Intelligentsia Venice* to shame.
Honorable mention: Apple Pan - Something about this percolated power brew they serve is absurdly homey, I can't say it's amongst the best, but it is one I crave more often than others, made all the more delicious by being served with real cream. This is sort of the bud light of coffees, ridiculously drinkable but nothing distinguishable.
* the Venice Intelligentsia was only good while they had Clover machines (still couldn't pull an espresso shot then either), their pour overs are amongst the weakest offered anywhere, pretty pathetic, and what a cold and unfriendly mechanical storefront/vibe they have.
I have been a fan of Conservatory Coffee for years and years. Sadly, I don't purchase their coffee anymore as they mess it up more often than not. Sometimes, it's a simple over extraction with water being too hot, how is that possible? I know there are people there who know how to do it right. The last straw was a double shot Americano. It was just.. ugh. If I was meaner, I'd pour it down the trash by where the condiment table is while making sure she's looking but instead, I looked at the girl who did the pull and wondered if the owner is doing someone a favor by hiring her. I do still buy their beans.
I thought I would revive this post about coffee. Many sites seem to consider Balconi the best coffee, so I finally had a chance to try it this afternoon. I had chosen one of the Ethiopian Yergacheffe beans brewed by siphon (my personal favorite method). Perhaps I need to go back another time, but I would have to say I was very unimpressed with the entire process at Balconi. First off the beans were pre-ground. Funnel Mill will grind the beans in your presence. I was allowed to smell the beans, but they did not smell fresh-ground at all, rather like they had been sitting around, a bit stale. Next the barista took HOT water to begin the brewing process, perhaps to quicken the prep time. A definite no-no in making coffee. All these misteps combined to make a rather inferior cup of what should have been a nice smooth Yergecheffe. I may try them again in fairness, but based on that single experience, Balconi does not make a very good siphon-brewed coffee. On top of that, Balconi only offers a few different kinds of beans, whereas FM offers Kopi Luwat, Panamanian Esmeralda, Jamaica Blue Mountain, and a whole host of other fine beans, all freshly roasted on site and freshly ground in your presence. There is only one best coffee shop in LA by light years.
Back to Funnel Mill for me.
Balconi has always ground their beans in front of me. I've seen them weigh whole beans and store them in metal containers. They seem to carry beans from local roasters like Handsome, Conservatory, and others I'm forgetting.
Funnel Mill told me their beans are roasted in Oakland, but they'll custom roast beans for customers with their little roaster on the counter. Last time there was December so maybe things have changed.
I like both places.
Crazy, Ogawak. Beans always ground in front of me at Balconi. Always, every time, as part of the whole ritual there. I agree with previous posters, Balconi is the best (at least on westside), a notch above Funnel Mill. You must try again, you had some extremely weird glitch in the universe of Balconi.
That is nuts. Every time I've been there they have ground the beans in front of me and brewed one amazing cup of siphon after another.
As for their coffee selection. They keep it small and it rotates constantly, which means they're regularly changing batches. I also love that they include LA roasted coffee rather than exclusively patronizing all the overhyped SF and Portland roasters.
Not that I have anything against the SF and Portland roasters, they have unbelievably successful niche marketing, it's the exclusion of various coffee houses that bothers me, just like I would be bothered if a wine store only sold French, Spanish and Italian wines and refused to sell Californian wines. I like seeing a beautifully curated coffee selection like Balconi offers.
*update to my above post. Conservatory continues to be excellent, but I think Paper or Plastik has moved up to the 3rd best coffee place on the westside. Best pour-over on the westside and excellent espresso drinks. Their food menu has significantly improved as well. My one experience with Single Origin was singularly unimpressive, a totally anonymous pour over cup that was indistinguishable from typical drip. I'll have to try them again sometime. Good pastry there. Commissary could/will easily break in to the top ten after I've had a few more cups there.
To each there own, but I'll chime in to offer a completely opposite perspective.
I agree with others that your experience with pre-ground beans is very much beyond the norm. I've never seen that happen to other customers and it's never happened to me. That's really disappointing that you had that experience, but it is very much out of the norm.
Other than that, I find that the beans that Ray Sato is using, while not roasted by him, are generally of better quality and more to my liking than anything that FM is serving. In addition, I think Ray actually brews a much better cup than anyone working at FM.
I like both places, but I find Balconi's siphon coffee such a clear winner of the two. In fact, I think Ray Sato makes the best cup of coffee in LA. I tend to do tea at Funnel Mill because they do it so well and take my coffee at Balconi.
I've been in the L.A. area for the last few weeks and have learned a lot of fabulous information about where to find good coffee from this (and the other) chowhound threads. You guys are crazy knowledgeable about this stuff! (and yep, I'm from Seattle and I don't think we're this intense about our coffee methods). One of the things I can't seem to figure out though, is for all of these good places, what the coffee "depth" is. I tend to be a fan of rich, complex roasts (like stumptown) and not a fan of lighter flavors (like caffé vita - very mild imho).
My preference to really taste the flavor of the coffee and skill of the barista is to order a cappuccino. Since being here, I have had blue bottle from Angelas (super yum!), Lamill (meh) and this morning, Stumptown (from Spring for Coffee) and Handsome (more mild than stumptown and blue bottle but chocolately and smooth). I am taking home some Sight Glass but have no idea what to expect.
So here's my question - for those of you that list places, roasters and beans - since all of our preferences are a bit different, can you share your perspective on where it falls on the scale of light roast, smooth, mild, vs. rich, dark, complex? Especially for the places that roast their own beans. It will help with prioritizing my quest to visit all of these amazing places and their creations.
Thank you fabulous L.A. Coffee Connoisseurs.
Disclaimer: I only drink expresso type drink in a shop, no pourover/cold brew as those are quite easy to do at home. Self admitted coffee snob.
Places that I'll drive out for a cup of coffee
a. Cognoscenti Coffee at Proof Bakery
Still the best cap or cortados in town, multi-roaster cafe so always have serving something interesting.
b. Handsome Coffee
Extremely consistent, but if you don't like people who stop you from adding sugar to your drink, this place is not for you.
c. G&B Coffee at Sqirl Cafe
Just opened last week, no you cannot hang out there but the coffee was good.
Places that I'll go for a coffee if I'm in a 2 miles radius
a. Balconi - Sawtelle Ave
b. Intelligensia Venice - Extremely consistent drink, just that the line is usually too long.
c. Spring for Coffee - DTLA
d. Demitasse - DTLA
Coffee shop that I'll go to if I'm in the hood
a. Commissary - Weho
b. C&M at LACMA
c. Fix Coffee - Echo Park
d. Two Guns Expresso - Manhattan Beach
e. Portola Coffee - Costa Mesa
f. Cafe Cielo - Santa Monica
I am overly used to Reddit nowadays, so I want to upvote the heck out of this topic! :-)
I don't live in L.A., but when I visit I am an espresso and gooooood coffee hound, so this weekend I'll be checking out GB and Bru, possibly one more. Dittoes on the 'loving the 3rd wave' sentiment. Intelligentsia and Groundwork used to be my go-to spots before the 3rd wave took hold, but GB is looking awesome. Bummer that I can't hang out and stalk hipsters. Hmm.
Just tried some of the iced coffee (well, from the cold case in a beer type bottle) from G&B out of the Sqirl Cafe on N. Virgil (our 24 year old son used to live very near by on Virgil and he brought it by) and it was really excellent. He said the one he had was a Kenyan coffee. He also said it cost him $2. Now that's a bargain for the quality of the coffee I had.
Funnel Mill: cold drip Iced Dark Truffle Chocolate coffee. It's nowhere near as treacly as it may sound -- it just has a lovely bite of chocolate to it.
I also love Funnel Mill for the crypt-like silence, and the endearingly apoplectic notes the proprietors post in the bathroom re: patrons' misuse of the facilities. It appeals to my Inner Churl.
Jumping in to say that Cognoscenti Coffee is just incredible in every respect. It's quite probably my new favorite Coffee in LA, definitely the best espresso I've ever had pulled.
Speaking of espresso, Conservatory has started pulling single origin shots, I've only had them pulled by the head roaster but they are a definite step up from the regular espresso, I've had some incredible shots there lately.