Ristretto | Los Angeles Coffee Crawl
| AUGUST 24, 2011, 9:00 AM
The intrastate rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco doesn’t make much sense if you live outside of California. Or really, if you don’t live in the Bay Area. I grew up in one city and went to college a BART ride away from the other, so I feel qualified to paint a picture of the two with broad strokes: Los Angeles is crazy about San Francisco, and San Francisco wishes Los Angeles would go away.
This might explain why one of the great coffee cities in the world has almost nothing to do with one of the largest cities in the world, even though the two share a coastline and a couple of highways. You would think that at least one of the Bay Area’s superb small-batch roasters would send a Sprinter south, set up shop and give millions of Angelenos a taste of what they’ve been missing, but no. San Francisco would much prefer to let Los Angeles figure things out on its own.
And so they did. Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea took a stucco storefront on Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake and became the home team. Since its arrival four years ago, Intelligentsia has opened a total of three coffee shops and a roaster, training a generation of baristas and managers who are going on to start new projects. The Los Angeles coffee scene, which always had good style, now has the substance to back it up.
The newcomer that has the coffee nuts buzzing is Handsome Coffee Roasters. Founded in April by three Intelligentsia alums — Chris Owens, Michael Phillips (the 2010 World Barista Champion, the only American to win the title) and Tyler Wells — Handsome is only beta-testing coffee right now; the plan is to open a coffee shop this fall in its warehouse on the eastern edge of Downtown. In the meantime, you can find the coffee if you know where to look.
The Handsome team has big plans for the city. Until those come to fruition, I compiled a short list of the most outstanding coffee I found in Los Angeles on a recent visit. I should note that even though I went to many of the coffee shops on my to-do map, I didn’t make it to the Inland Empire and Klatch, one of Roast magazine’s “Roasters of the Year” for 2009, or to Café de Leche in Eagle Rock; Drip Bar wasn’t dripping when I was in town.
Also, an addendum: Cafecito Organico and La Mill have their shortcomings, but both are worth a visit. Go to the Cafecito Organico in Silver Lake for the laid-back feel of a taco stand — sit outside under a corrugated awning or at one of the tables next to the palm trees and the “No Parking” sign. Go to La Mill in Silver Lake for the Hollywood Regency redux: lacy landscapes on the walls, stools in green pleather, a gold espresso machine polished to a high sheen.