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Drive Thru by Coffee Commissary to Bring Craft Coffee to Laguna Beach

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Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge A cappuccino at Coffee Commissary's West Hollywood location.  Imagine this in a drive-thru setting. - R.E.~/COFFEE COMMISSARY
  • R.E.~/Coffee Commissary
  • A cappuccino at Coffee Commissary's West Hollywood location. Imagine this in a drive-thru setting.

Tyler King, co-owner of Coffee Commissary, wants to bring great coffee to Laguna Beach, one car at a time. That's right, one car at a time: the West Hollywood craft coffee shop is hauling a 3-group Synesso Cyncra espresso machine, a good number of pour-over filters, and bags of beans from Victrola Coffee, Sightglass Coffee, and Coava Coffee down to Orange County and into a small two-lane drive-thru just above the sands on Pacific Coast Highway. King hopes that the local community of surfers and commuters will take to Drive Thru by Coffee Commissary's hand-crafted espresso drinks and pour-over cups of joe, even if they're drinking it on the go.

This particular iteration of Coffee Commissary wasn't quite on King's radar when he was thinking about opening another outpost of his popular coffee shop. When he heard about a drive-thru coffee shop in Laguna Beach that shuttered, though, "it was a no-brainer." And so, King put his plans for a second location of Coffee Commissary in LA proper on temporary hold -- though he's still eager to open another shop in the near future -- and began working on Drive Thru by Coffee Commissary. The drive-thru is set to open by the end of the month, just in time, coincidentally, for National Drive Thru Day.

Going the drive-thru route may have been a "no brainer," but less intuitive is how to offer pour-over coffee in a drive-thru setting. Pour-over coffee takes more time than preparing lukewarm vats of drip coffee every morning: individually hand-poured to order, this particular style of brewing involves freshly ground coffee beans placed in a special cone filter and slowly saturated with water in measured increments. The result, discerning coffee drinkers say, is a clean, crisp cup of coffee that do more justice to the coffee bean and its roaster than most other traditional drip methods.

King seems more excited than daunted at the idea of using the pour-over in a setting originally designed to quickly deliver burgers and fries. He plans to implement an assembly line of pour-over brewers that he hopes will expedite coffee orders. To further streamline the process, there will be a somewhat more limited menu than the one at the original location. And, taking note from the holy inventor of the drive-thru, In-N-Out, there are tentative plans to have someone going car to car to take orders on an iPad while regulating flow.

To nosh with the coffee: donuts, natch. "Gourmet donuts," is how King describes these, throwing out a few anticipated flavors: spicy Mexican chocolate. Lemon-rind orange zest.

The finishing touches will include a walk-up window for the car-less, and a standing bar to let guests enjoy their craft coffee and gourmet donuts in full view of the Pacific Ocean. With the sounds of waves crashing on one side and the shop's "loud, but not so loud as to annoy the neighbors" music blasting on the other, the drive-thru is pointedly the anti-Starbucks.

Which brings us to the perhaps the more interesting obstacle: to convince those accustomed to overly sweetened Frappuccinos and bitter, dark roast coffees that Drive Thru by Coffee Commissary is worth the gas. After all, even with Portola Coffee Lab now open in nearby Costa Mesa, Orange County has but a handful of coffee shops that view coffee as a drink to be appreciated, like a good wine and that source their beans from high-quality, direct-trade microbatch roasters. And yet, King is not too worried.

"Once our drink hits their lips," he says, "They'll be back for more."

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