In mid-April our MD Mike headed off to the USA en-route to the Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. On the way he stopped in LA to check out the coffee and hospitality scene. This is the first in a series of blog posts on the US and Vancouver coffee scene and his visit to the show.
I’ll admit I am not very good at taking holidays. If you give me the choice of exploring a city and hunting down good coffee over a sandy beach in Fiji it’s pretty obvious which option I’ll take. So I forced myself to try and take a break on my way to Seattle for the Specialty Coffee Expo, but to me a holiday and work are kind of all mixed up. And I don’t think drinking coffee in LA could be described as work. I love walking cities and exploring new suburbs and precincts, and taking wrong turns and ending up finding things unexpected.
I had three days to explore LA and as it’s such a big city I based myself in Korea Town which is within easy reach of Downtown LA and the Hollywood/Fairfax areas, but you’ll need to grab an Uber to get out to Venice Beach/Abbot Kinney Boulevard. I couldn’t get to all the places on my list so here are the ones I did visit.
Downtown LA and the Arts District
DTLA and the Arts District is undergoing a bit of a transformation and regeneration; the predominantly industrial hub of character commercial buildings is slowly being peppered with new hospitality businesses and large scale conversions of industrial buildings into retail and mixed use residential. I started at Stumptown Coffee at 806 S Santa Fe Ave where you can order your brew and stand around the glass-walled roastery watching them roast on their vintage Probat. They do public cuppings every Wednesday at 2pm and you can see straight into their cupping and training room too.
A few minutes walk and you can check out one of what was the first Blue Bottle Coffee site in LA; this was originally where Handsome Coffee started before they were acquired by Blue Bottle. It’s at 582 Mateo St and has all of the signature Blue Bottle range including their famous New Orleans Iced Coffee. I was a bit too early to check out the Zinc Café and market next door but it does come highly recommended, as does the Spirit Guild (below) which has an enticing looking entrance and willy-wonka style vats.
Not far from here is the new ROW DTLA development at 777 Almeda Street; a series of character buildings that formed the original produce traders alley of LA. . There are a number of excellent makers of nice things here, and a Saturday night food festival called “Smorgasburg” worth making time for. I spotted a new fit out on the go, and subsequently found out afterwards that it is the (now opened) second LA site for PCPLA (below) – the excellent café and coffee collaborative originally started in Sydney by Mark Dundon of Seven Seeds (Melbourne) and the team behind Reuben Hills Coffee . The whole development felt like it was going to be a new hub for creativity in the downtown LA, with a nice mix of office workers and creatives helping to breath new life into this part of the city.
Heading back towards downtown LA proper you’ll find a bevvy of interesting retail around the Ace Hotel on S Grand Ave. I didn’t stay here but it might be worth checking out; the cafe looked good and was super busy. I popped into Verve Coffee at 833 Spring St and the filter brew Costa Rican Helsar Torrez Villalobos (notes of raisin and molasses) was so good I picked up one of their 25g “Adventure Packs” to share with the team back at Kokako HQ.
A good recommendation for lunch comes from Kokako Café owner Troy Mentor was Guisados; not only is this Mexican tortilla joint fresh and tasty but it is also a good way to help equalise all the coffee consumed in the morning. Check it out at 541 S Spring St. Further up the street you’ll find the Grand Central Market at 317 S Broadway. G & B Coffee are in my opinion one of the most progressive coffee shop operators in the USA; I had been to their pop up residency at PCP Sydney a few years back and their Grand Central locale did not disappoint. Positioned at the top end of the market the circular bar makes the baristas the stars of the show with really friendly and engaging service to match. If you are still hungry you could also try braving the queues at Eggslut (below) which is also in the Grand Central Market.
Starting out in the upmarket Larchmont Village and having devoured a peanut butter bagel to ready myself for another day of coffee research I started out at Groundwork Coffee on N Larchmont Blvd; - these guys were started in 1990 and like us are Fairtrade and Organic certified. I was stoked to find them stocking coffee from the Wasu region of Papua New Guinea which was brewed on a V60. This was one of three PNG coffees I was pleased to find on offer from various roasters in LA.
Just a few doors down is hipster joint Go Get em Tiger; part of the G&B coffee business. They serve coffee from various US roasters which is selected by a rigorous blind cupping process. It was so busy I stood at a leaner and enjoyed my perfectly constructed short black while watching the daily routine of the local customers with their little dogs. You’ll find Go Get em Tiger at 230 N Larchmont Blvd.
The original PCPLA is located on N Fairfax Ave. As already noted this stemmed from the already successful PCP Sydney and the antipodean influence in both design, menu and coffee is noticeable and welcome. It’s difficult in many LA cafes to get brunch so this is actually quite novel and different. They too have selected coffees on rotation from various roasters.
The West Beverly outpost of Verve is exceptional; the large space with semi-circular bar was open and spacious and they had all the toys; if you’d like to read about their coffee setup Sprudge put it quite nicely in this article.
Coffee Commissary is another coffee shop (they have several locations) that celebrates and offers coffees from a selection of different roasters. I visited their 801 N Fairfax store and found their staff to be really knowledgable and super friendly. There is a relatively new Blue Bottle store across the street but Commissary seemed to be the better choice due to the range and diversity of coffee available; I enjoyed an exceptional naturally processed Colombian filter brew here.
Dinosaur Coffee was also recommended to me but I never quite made it there – next time!
For dinner I have four recommendations if you happen to be close to Koreatown
- Cassells Hamburgers at the Normandie Hotel. They even have a vegan burger which I tried. Or you can look up Impossible Burgers which bare served in a number of LA locations; they look like real meat patties but are vegetarian.
- The Line Hotel, Wilshire Blvd (I stayed here as it was really central for exploring). Check outComissary on Level 2; it’s in a greenhouse next to the pool.
- Here’s looking at you LA; is atop LA restaurant with super fresh seasonal menu, 3901 W Sixth St. This is worth going to if you want a great dinner out in LA with a Korean influence.
- Hangari Kalguksu is a fast service Korean noodle jointwithexcellent qualityfoodandis reallygood value; 3470 W Sixth St, Koreatown.
Venice Beach/Culver City
The Venice beach area is rich in fresh and healthy food & beverage options and a plethora of good coffee. For breakfast a must visit is Gjusta Bakery at 320 Sunset Ave; this huge bustling rustic bakery has amazing food. One of the best spots to observe the open kitchen is from the standing bar. This establishment is from the same owners as the more upmarket Gjelina which is located a few hundred meters away at 1429 Abbott Kinney Boulevard.
One of the earliest specialty coffee spots in LA was Intelligentsia Coffee (above) at 1331 Abbott Kinney Blvd; one of the original LA specialty roasters who now have multiple locations across various US States. On customer experience alone the Venice beach location scores 10 out of 10. Some of the design features reminded me of our flagship Grey Lynn Café in Auckland and the elevated seating at the back of the shop allows you to have a birds eye view of the enormous U-shaped bar which features two 2 group Synessos and an array of pour-over stations. I chose a Organic Peruvian coffee from Santa Terea which had notes of citrus, stone fruit and dried fruits which was prepared on a V60 at the bar.
If you are into healthy organic food an alternative to the larger Wholefoods stores is Erewhon Market at 585 Venice Boulevard (they also have three other stores in California). They have an excellent juice and smoothie bar and fresh sushi, and the kombucha and cold brew coffee fridge has more choice than you can handle. Their coffee bar was not busy which seemed like a missed opportunity – they would be well placed to consider an organic specialty coffee to complete their offering.
For lunch or dinner grab an Uber (or walk like I did) down to A Frame (above). This Hawaiian and Jamaican style eatery by celebrated LA chef Roy Choi is housed in a simple A-Frame building and the food (try the beer can chicken) is excellent. Best to check their opening hours before going there; you’ll find it at 12565 W Washington Blvd. Roy Choi also recently opened LoCol, a fast casual restaurant that hires local people to ensure that the restaurant is staffed by people who may not otherwise find meaningful employment. I never made it here but wanted to go; you’ll find it at 1950 E 103rd St.
So if you are planning a trip to LA soon be sure to hit some of the spots on this list, and let us know if you find any other hidden gems!