Along the invisible line that joins Los Feliz with Silver Lake, there's a somewhat chaotic five-street intersection. Most days, the Southern California sun beats down hard on you here; there aren't many trees to offer shade, and the wide sidewalks and streets mercilessly bounce that heat right back into your face. Luckily, the intersection's many corners can offer some respite - it is Silver Lake after all (or is it Los Feliz?), a part of town where there is culture abound. On one side, there's Crossroads Trading Co. for the vintage lovers. On another, the historic Vista Theater for the cinema lovers. And sandwiched in between is Caffe Vita, a haven for coffee lovers.
Caffe Vita is something of an institution in the coffee world, having been at the cutting edge of the third-wave coffee movement when they began roasting sustainable, fair-trade coffees in Seattle in 1995. Since then, the brand has slowly expanded with stores throughout the Pacific Northwest and New York City. In 2013, Caffe Vita opened up its first shop in Los Angeles, offering up a taste of home to displaced Seattle natives and proving itself a worthy contender among Southern California's exploding coffee scene.
Even those not aware of the brand's legacy can immediately sense its presence - its carefully curated vintage-cirque-meets-rock-and-roll aesthetic is visible at first glance, with a gleaming gold art deco sun above the door and a mural depicting a slightly terrifying circus monkey offering a latte and "real service." Inside, the café is cavernous, with soaring high ceilings and stairs leading up to a second-story loft seating space. There's plenty of visual stimulus to enjoy in here, especially the huge Japanese-style slow drippers both on display and in action behind the bar. That subversive, cool-kid aesthetic is everywhere you look, and it's clear that this space was designed thoughtfully from the outset. It's beautiful and appealing, but in a way, it's a little bit too consistent that it leans toward calculated. It's missing an organic quality that you could probably find at the brand's original location in Seattle.
The massive space offers plenty of seating, so that even on a weekend, you'll be able to snag a table. The mood is fairly quiet and relaxed, with most of the upstairs seating occupied by people working away on their laptops, and those holding conversations keeping them low - maybe out of respect, or maybe so they can still hear the quiet, relaxing music that's being played. Behind the bar, the baristas are friendly and welcoming, and a glass case full of pastries sings its siren call. The menu is short and sweet, and offers a few different brewing methods to choose from. But, the cold brew from that steampunk-esque contraption behind the counter will have to wait, because I came for a cappuccino.
Served in a simple but elegant branded cup and decorated with intricate foam art, this cappuccino proved what all the fuss was about in Seattle. It was good. The espresso was robust, with a warm, toasted honey sort of flavor that reminded me of the caramelized edge of a golden brown olive oil cake. There was also a very subtle floral component, which created a compelling balance when experienced with the bold, bitter flavors at the beginning of the sip. As expected, the milk was perfectly steamed and velvety-smooth. Truthfully, this was one of my favorite cappuccinos yet.
Even from as far away as Seattle, Caffe Vita was undoubtedly a strong influence on Los Angeles' coffee culture through its trailblazing efforts in sustainability and connecting with community. It must have been daunting to set up shop in a city that while strongly influenced by their efforts, has exploded into a different animal, all its own. With only one location that also happens to be steps away from some of the best coffee shops that are native to L.A., it's difficult to tell how much of a stamp Caffe Vita has made on the city at this point - but if they keep pouring coffee that's this good, it stands to reason that the Caffe Vita name will one day be as synonymous with L.A. as it is with Seattle.
4459 W Sunset Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA 90027