When a Florist Opens a Coffee Shop, Pretty Drinks Are Created
Rose-infused lattes. Lavender cold brew. You can find them both at Bia Coffee in Koreatown, a coffee shop the internet is going crazy for, lack of unicorn drinks notwithstanding.
Founder Silbia Lee, 35 — "Bia” for short — worked as a florist in Korea for the high-end, London-based brand Jane Packer, a company whose clients have included Madonna, Donna Karan and Kate Moss. Lee crafted wedding arrangements for three years before ditching it to move to Seattle.
There, she slung coffee at various cafes for almost eight years, working her way up to the general manager level. When she moved to L.A. last year, she found work as a barista at Klat Coffee, just a block from Bia’s current location. It was there that she met her soon-to-be business collaborator, Moses Choi, 38.
His background is colorful, too: Besides having worked in food importing and exporting, he spent time as a producer for Food Network in Korea. This brought him to the States and gave him exposure to Michelin-starred chefs. “I saw that flowers were used as garnishes in upscale restaurants,” he says. “I was thinking this could lead to a food trend.”
Flowers as garnish isn’t a new concept to be sure, though it’s one that’s been filtering down from high-end cuisine to more casual establishments. Floral coffee has made appearances elsewhere in L.A. — Demitasse has a sipping chocolate infused with lavender oil that our own Besha Rodell shortlisted as the best in L.A., and places like Echo Park’s Eightfold also feature lavender lattes. But Bia Coffee seems to be the first to create a whole business around it.
"We were together almost every day [last summer],” Choi says of brainstorming business plans with Lee. “We came up with so many ideas. We started to purchase syrups, and they were so sweet and synthetic. When [Silbia] likes something, she likes it a lot, and when she doesn’t, she hates it. So we started to test out flowers, and how long to infuse them.”
Finding suitable coffee also proved to be a challenge. “We tried every [brand]. Coffee beans are so strong, they cover up the floral scent. Balancing the floral and coffee was really hard.” They settled on Klatch Coffee, an L.A.-based microroaster. Bia’s lattes — of which the iced lavender is the most popular — aren’t terribly strong, so you might want to add an extra shot.
Lavender lattes are dusted with açai powder; rose lattes, with rose.
After this interview concluded early one morning, Lee and Choi opened their doors to people waiting outside. Over the next hour, a steady stream of customers trickled in without pause. Almost all Instagrammed their drinks before taking a sip. Lee stayed busy behind the bar; she’s the only one who makes drinks currently. “I don’t even have time to train a barista,” she says. Though there are a couple of part-time employees, Lee works six days a week. Choi handles the register. And customers Instagram and sip.
3907 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 568-3007, facebook.com/bia-coffee.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.