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.
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; http://www.espressocielo.com.
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; http://www.balconicoffeecompany.com.
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; http://coffeecommissary.com.
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. http://www.cafecitoorganico.com.