10 Places to Get a Damn Good Cup of Coffee

A pretty cup from Espresso Cielo in Santa Monica.
A pretty cup from Espresso Cielo in Santa Monica.
T. Nguyen

Intelligentsia's founder, Doug Zell, told us in 2009 that "LA got a later start in terms of the very best coffee can offer, but they seem to be embracing it with the religious zeal of a convert." The conversion didn't happen overnight, but the good word has finally spread.

Coffee aficionados are no longer confined to Espresso Profeta, Caffe Luxxe or Conservatory for Coffee for a decent cup of joe. Over the last two years, "third-wave coffee shops" have opened their doors.

These specialty coffee shops brew small-batch coffee beans, train their baristas in the art of pulling an espresso shot and serve espresso drinks the way they were meant to be enjoyed (read: no 31 ounce coffee monsters here).

Those who fret at the mere thought of Starbucks buying Peet's need not worry: You can only go up from here. Here are 10 specialty coffee shops (plus two honorable mentions), heading west to east, where you can get a damn good cup of coffee.

[Update: An earlier version of this post stated that LA Mill serves Intelligentsia coffee. That is incorrect. The Silver Lake coffee shop roasts and serves its own beans. And they are very good.]

1. Espresso Cielo: Sure, the stretch of Main Street between Santa Monica and Venice has a few coffee shops (Urth, Peet's-potentially-Starbucks), but keep going towards Venice until you happen upon this blue tinged-shop. It's French by way of Canada. Serving coffee in distinctly blue cups, Espresso Cielo offers coffee from Vancouver's 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, one of the very few cafes outside of Canada to do so.

3101 Main Street, Santa Monica; (310) 314-9999;

2. Balconi Coffee Company: When Cafe Balcony lost its lease in a tucked-away spot at Centinela and Rochester in 2009, broken-hearted lovers of siphon-brewed coffee cried coffee-stained tears. Ray Sato re-opened his coffee shop earlier this year in this new location at Olympic and Sawtelle, much to the relief of his fans. Sato plans to offer a few beans at a time. On a recent visit, he was brewing beans from local roaster Cafecito Organico. Word to the wise: Sato wants to focus on the social aspect of coffee culture, so there is no wifi here. Take that as your sign to disconnect and re-connect.

11301 W. Olympic Blvd #124, Los Angeles; (310) 906-0267;

3. Coffee Commissary: Coffee Commissary's décor is minimalist, allowing you to focus on the coffee. And what great coffee: one of the few places in LA that offers Portland's Coava Coffee Roasters, the shop also offers coffee from Sightglass Coffee and Victrola Coffee Roasters. Coffee Commissary is located right next to soon-to-open butcher shop Lindy & Grundy, so it'll likely become a two-shop stop when you visit.

801 N. Fairfax Ave., #106, Los Angeles; (323) 782-1465;

4. Farmers' Markets: If you can find Starbucks at Vons, it's only fitting that you can find an artisan coffee stand at your local farmers' market. DripBar is a simple stand: two girls, a coffee cart, a few bags of San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee beans and a few Hario V60 cones for pour-overs. Find them at the farmers' market on Crenshaw, in Los Feliz and on the USC campus. Longshot Coffee was started by Mark Baird, who wanted to introduce us to the art of Australian espresso. He primarily caters to Hollywood sets and events, but starting April 7, you'll be able to find Longshot at the Yamashiro Farmers' Market in Hollywood.

5. Cafecito Organico: Cafecito Organico is one of the few coffee shops in LA to source and roast its own coffee. Its beans are carefully selected from sources who engage in sustainable, fair practices. Cafecito has two locations; the second one, on Heliotrope between Scoops and The Bicycle Kitchen, is the more coffee shop-py shop of the two, with plenty of seating. In both locations, the baristas can wax poetic about how South American coffee differs from, say, Indonesian coffee.

534 N. Hoover St., Los Angeles, (213) 537-8367.

710 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, (213) 305-4484.


The counter at Spring for Coffee
The counter at Spring for Coffee
T. Nguyen

6. Spring for Coffee : To say that Spring for Coffee is small is a bit of an understatement. It's all of 200 square feet, a tenth of the size of the 2,000 square feet CoffeeBar just a few doors away. Where CoffeeBar's generous space invites you to stay, Spring for Coffee understands that you're busy and need to go. Each cup is individually crafted, and you have your pick of coffee, including beans from Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters and San Francisco's Ritual Coffee Roasters.

548 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles; (213) 228-0041;

7. CoffeeBar: CoffeeBar is Intelligentsia without the pretension, Seattle without the rain (present weather excepted). This is is truly a coffee bar: the shop judiciously features multiple roasters so that on any given day, you can have your pick of specialty beans on tap. Recently, the shop had beans from Noble Coffee Roasters, Verve Coffee Roasters and Four Barrel Coffee. Oh, and CoffeeBar happens to have a very rare Slayer espresso machine, an $18,000 beast that, in the hands of the right barista, may give you the best shot of espresso you've ever had.

600 S. Spring St., Los Angeles;

8. Intelligentsia: With the exception of the aforementioned Espresso Profeta, Caffe Luxxe, and Conservatory for Coffee way over on the Westside, Los Angeles was arguably a coffee wasteland until Chicago's Intelligentsia rolled into Silver Lake. The shop also has locations in Pasadena and Venice. For those who can't make it out to any location (or for those whose conversion is so recent they prefer not to deal with Intelligentsia's often holier-than-thou vibe), The Fix in Echo Park and Paper or Plastik in the Mid-City area all brew Intelligentsia beans.

3922 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, (323) 663-6173.

1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-1233.

55 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 578-1270.

9. Cognoscenti Coffee: When Yeekai Lim left his pop-up coffee stand at Blue Dot Acai & Yogurt in Eagle Rock and set up shop inside Proof Bakery in Atwater Village, most of his loyal customers followed him -- with good reason. An architect-turned-barista, Lim is almost obsessive about details. Ask for a cortado and talk to him about how he decided which milk to use for his drinks. Cognoscenti brews beans from San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee.

3156 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles; (323) 664-8633;

10. Cafe de Leche: Cafe de Leche is either the harbinger of gentrification or a much needed artisan coffee shop in Highland Park. Brewing beans from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, the shop offers the staples (lattes, macchiatos) as well as neighborhood specials like the horchata con espresso.

5000 York Boulevard, Los Angeles; (323) 551-6828;

Honorable mentions

Bru Coffee Bar : The coffee shop formerly known as Psychobabble in Los Feliz brews beans from Ritual Coffee Roasters on its La Marzocco machine. The shop is still young, the shots are a bit uneven and the latte art needs work, but give it a few months and it will likely be a contender.

1866 Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 664-7500;

Gelato Bar: While not strictly focused on coffee (it's called Gelato Bar for a reason), this shop belonging to Gail Silverton (sister of Nancy) acquired a Synesso Cyncra espresso machine in 2009 and procured beans from Sonoma County's Ecco Caffe. The baristas do a fine job with the machine and the coffee. The highlight is when Gail's son, Nik Krankl, is in town and pops up behind the counter. Krankl is an award-winning barista, most recently competing in the Southwest Regional Barista Championship. Keep an eye on Gelato Bar's Facebook page for updates on Krankl's guest shifts.

4342 1/2 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; (818) 487-1717;


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