If you've been following Brunchographers for a while, you'll recall that back in October, I embarked on an ambitious journey to sample a cappuccino at all the best coffee shops here in Los Angeles. The project was designed to push me out of my coffee-comfort zone, to help me learn more about espresso and the people who make it, and to allow me to explore my city through one of my favorite rituals. In an effort to enjoy every excursion and every cappuccino to its fullest, I've taken it slow, and now I'm about halfway through the list of coffee shops that are considered the "best" in Los Angeles.
So, what have I learned so far?
For one thing, I learned that coffee tasting is subjective. By taking my time and savoring each cup, I feel like I've been able to identify distinct flavor differences between varieties (as best I can with an untrained palate, anyway), and I've begun to narrow in on what specifically tastes great to me. At the same time, it has become clear that what tastes great to me won't always taste great to others - sometimes, when having coffee with a friend, we will pick up on completely different characteristics when tasting the same variety of espresso. They may love it, and I may not. And that's ok.
Similarly, I've found that describing a coffee's characteristics can be challenging and often hilarious - how are you supposed put a qualifier on a flavor when you've never experienced anything quite like it before? A lot of times, I feel like a wine tasting novice, ignorantly repeating phrases I've heard in movies ("just look at the legs on this one!"). But, since some people claim that wine tasting is completely subjective and that no sommelier's palate is any more valid than your own, I've tried to embrace the silliness I feel and have fun with it. When stumped, I've found Counter Culture's coffee tasting wheel to be a valuable resource, especially when I'm having trouble conjuring adjectives.
And most importantly, I've learned that talking to the barista will make your experience infinitely better. At establishments that take their coffee very seriously (and the vast majority of these spots do), the baristas are going to be bona fide coffee lovers. They live and breathe coffee, and they've made it their life's purpose to make your morning cup as good as it can be. They understand the complexities of each variety, what makes it good and unique, and how to prepare it in the best way possible. They're wildly passionate about this stuff, and as much as you think you're a coffee lover, they love it even more. So of course they want to geek out about it with you! Ask them about their craft, tell them what you liked about your drink, and thank them for their hard work. They'll probably share some really interesting information with you, and if you're lucky, they'll let you taste something else they're working on. Oh, and one more thing I learned about baristas: they don't all have beards. In fact very few have beards. Apparently that's a vicious stereotype.
For those curious, below is a quick rundown of where I've been so far, with some notes on each one.
Espresso Cielo in Santa Monica has seriously delicious espresso in a beautiful, relaxing environment. It was the first spot I visited for The Great Los Angeles Cappuccino Project, and it's still one of my favorites. Read more in the blog post about it here. In February, they opened a second location, also in Santa Monica - and it looks beautiful!
Coffee Tomo is located just off of bustling Sawtelle Blvd, sandwiched between ramen joints and sushi restaurants. Beans are roasted in-house, in a gorgeous shiny red roaster located in the front of the café. Apart from their delicious coffee, Coffee Tomo is also known for their delicious, made-to-order pretzels in unusual flavors. The vibe is very mellow, full mostly of people working or studying, and the staff is super friendly.
Coffee Commissary is quickly becoming a mini-empire in L.A., and I'm not complaining. At their four locations throughout the city, they offer up a rotating selection of beans from some of the best roasters around (including one of my all-time favorites, Temple Coffee). Be warned - this place is no secret, and it's bound to be packed. Read all about it in the blog post.
This is the tiniest little coffee shop, nestled in the middle of busy Little Ethiopia, and it is manned by a guy named Taka who loves what he does. While this cappuccino was on the milky side for my taste, the entire experience at Paradocs is delightful, and I'd still recommend it. Snag a table and an antique chair (if you're lucky, they're in short supply), a matcha-flavored pastry, and hang out for a while.
If Coffee Commissary is becoming an empire, Blue Bottle already is one. With locations in the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, Blue Bottle is probably one of the best-known third wave coffee companies out there. It's not my favorite cup of coffee in the city, but it's still a solid choice, and their space in Culver City is light-filled and gorgeous. You'll like it.
A delightful spot that specializes in one of the most perfect foods in the universe (PIE, duh) in addition to coffee. The North Hollywood location is enormous and typically packed with people working on their laptops, and on more than one occasion I've witnessed people having their first date here. Weird. What's not weird? Their version of happy hour - from 3-5 pm on weekdays, coffee drinks are 50%. A serious bargain!
A mainstay in Studio City, Aroma offers diners a beautiful garden patio and cozy home-like indoor seating areas. They're best known for their delicious brunch and pastries, but the coffee here is pretty good, too. This is not your hip, third-wave coffee shop, though - expect an old-school cappuccino piled high with foam and served in a ginormous mug.
Bar Nine is home to the friendliest, nerdiest, most talented coffee-lovers I have met yet. And some really great coffee. Located down an unlikely street in a huge industrial space, this is a place where coffee enthusiasts come to make friends. The space is multi-purpose; here they roast their own beans, brew perfect coffee using futuristic technology, prepare delicious food from Amara Kitchen, and offer a comfortable place for customers to hang out. Oh, and they spin some pretty good records, too.
Located in Grand Central Market, G&B Coffee is the wildly popular brainchild of Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski. At both this location, and at its sister shop Go Get 'Em Tiger, baristas follow an assembly-line-like workflow to ensure precision in creating the perfect cup every time. This is a must-visit if you're doing a Grand Central tour - the bustling 360-degree coffee bar is absolutely gorgeous. Pro tip: try the house-made almond macadamia nut milk, it's luscious (especially in the turmeric latte).
Quite possibly the O.G. of third-wave coffee culture in L.A., Caffe Luxxe has been around for years, and it's here to stay. If you're looking for a true neighborhood hangout, this is your spot - it's like the Cheers of coffee shops; everybody knows your name. The baristas are your new best friends, there's plenty of space to relax or work, and the coffee is delicious. You'll be glad you came.
Sister to G&B Coffee, Go Get 'Em Tiger is the ultimate Instagrammer's coffee shop. Both their Larchmont and Los Feliz locations are constantly packed with young creative types, who are likely drawn to the relaxed, hip ambiance and modern California food menu (mmm, yeasted waffles and things-on-toast). The coffee is great, and the food is even better - so if you can stand to hang out in such a scene-y spot for an afternoon, you won't regret it.
Paramount Coffee Project brings us a taste Australia's incredible brunch culture, offering food that's (almost) too pretty to eat and serving it up alongside some expertly crafted coffee. The location is modern and beautiful, with a charming little patio for enjoying that perfect California weather, and it's usually not too crowded. This the one of those rare places you can bring that friend of yours who's really hard to impress (you know who I mean) - there's a lot of good going on.
Paper or Plastik is a family operation that's clearly run with a lot of love. We're big fans of their brunch menu and pastry selection, and the coffee is really solid, too. Try to sit a no-laptop table when you visit, and have an actual conversation with your fellow humans - such a novel idea!
Apparently Urth Caffe was featured in a few episodes of Entourage back in the day, and has since become a Los Angeles landmark. The chain of cafés is best known for their popular breakfast and lunch offerings and their fancy boba teas, but it all started as an organic coffee operation - long before anyone else was doing it. Pro Tip: If you want some super-fancy latte art, make sure you order an Italian Cappuccino.
An old favorite of mine, The Conservatory is home to house-roasted coffee beans, a wall covered in different teas, and a giant papier-mâché tree. This is not your typical hip L.A. coffee shop - it's family-run, sincere and un-stuffy, a little quirky, and completely delightful.
With its serene, garden-like patio and ever-present vegan burrito pop-up, we love this Silver Lake spot - but no matter which you choose, all of Cafecito Organico's locations are great. Plus, their sustainable, fair trade organic coffee is delicious!
The first L.A. branch of a hugely popular Seattle-based coffee chain, Silver Lake's Caffe Vita is on-brand and damn good. The space is huge and inviting, with an additional loft space that's perfect for your mobile office, and the baristas are friendly and accommodating. The cappuccino was superb - it illustrated beautifully why Caffe Vita became so popular in the first place.
Born originally as a pop-up coffee shop, Cognoscenti now has three locations throughout the city. They offer a rotating selections of beans from the country's best roasters, and often manage to find great beans from places you've never heard of before. The coffee is often bold in flavor, but always good. The small-ish Culver City location is usually very quiet; a great place to work or read while you enjoy your cup.
Set in a spacious, bright white, minimal café on Beverly Blvd., Andante is the epitome of mellow. When I visited, it was full of people working quietly, and the calming music almost lulled me to sleep - luckily, I had a cappuccino to get me through. The coffee beans are roasted in-house - in fact, the roaster is prominently on display, situated just behind a little bar area. The cappuccino was light and subtle, with a hint of complexity and the slightest acidic bite at the end of the taste. Pop in here if you need a break from overwhelming L.A. traffic.
Located on the street made famous for Orson Welles' famous opening shot from Touch of Evil and inside a space that was once part of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, Menotti's seamlessly blends its laid-back Venice vibe with a strong sense of history. The folks who work here are some of the most friendly and welcoming baristas I met, and they are clearly passionate about what they do. The coffee is truly excellent, and it pairs perfectly with an afternoon of Venice people-watching.
Thanks for coming along with me for this ride! I'm looking forward to sharing more absurd coffee descriptions and plenty of heart-shaped latte art with you in the future.