Tierra Mia Explores Coffee for the Latino Palate 

A journey through the world's best beans

Wednesday, Aug 20 2008
We’re all used to the “third-wave” coffeehouses by now, the post-Starbucks cafés like La Mill or Caffe Luxxe, where beans come not just from Guatemala but from obscurely located fincas, where baristas command more machinery than some industrial chemists, and your morning cappuccino, drawn from a $12,000 machine, is decorated with a heart, a leaf or the likeness of a Powerpuff Girl lovingly coaxed out of foam. Tierra Mia, Ulysses Romero’s coffeehouse on a busy corner in South Gate, is a new kind of third-wave joint: the impeccably sourced beans, varietal characteristics and latte art of the uptown places, but with flavors adjusted to the Latino palate. What this means in practice is not just world-class espressos and lovingly brewed coffees from tiny El Salvador estates, but killer Cuban-style café con leche, syrupy and rich in a way rare even in Miami; lattes enriched with the Mexican rice-pudding drink horchata; and mochas flavored with an intense, peanutty chocolate Romero brings in from Guadalajara that is to commercial Mexican drinking chocolate what a Stone IPA is to a can of Coors Light. Romero, a young Stanford MBA who came to the bean after he realized consulting wasn’t feeding his soul, is undoubtedly ambitious, and the comfortable modern-Mexican feel of the place is distinctive enough to be eventually franchisable, but for the moment it is his caffeinated enthusiasm that makes the place run — that, and the espresso frappé flavored with horchata and crushed coffee beans, a concoction he calls Rice and Beans. 4914 Firestone Blvd., South Gate, (323) 563-3948.

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