It used to be that you just needed one hand to count all the truly outstanding coffee shops in Los Angeles. Now, thanks to a recent surge of brave coffee geeks-turned-entrepreneurs, you need both hands to tick off all the stellar shops in the city, and maybe that isn't quite enough. We decided it was about time to stack up all those newcomers against our old favorites to come up with our definitive list of the ten best coffee shops in L.A., period.
Before we start the countdown, a word on our criteria. As coffee shops often serve as third spaces, everyone has intensely personal definitions of what makes a great café, and we're no different. We looked for shops that elevate your typical café experience with quality coffee beans, a warm ambiance, and skilled baristas who could pull perfect shots just as readily as they could smile with sincerity. At the end of the day, whittling our list down to just these ten, then ranking them, was an agonizing -- but welcome -- problem to have. If your favorite neighborhood Central Perk didn't make the cut, rest assured that it probably was number 11. And we just couldn't turn this list up to 11.
10. Caffe Luxxe
Some say the Northern Italian-influenced Caffe Luxxe pulls the best espresso on the Westside, and with good reason: When pulled just right, the shots are thick and intense, drinkable on their own or excellent in a cappuccino. The shop formerly brewed beans from Seattle's famed Espresso Vivace, though it has since switched to its own custom roast. Remnants of the Emerald City still can be found on the menu in the form of the Cafe Nico, a shot of espresso infused with candied orange and cinnamon that also is found at Espresso Vivace's cafes. There are three Luxxe locations (two in Santa Monica and one in Brentwood), and all are coated in the same picket fence-white decor that gives the cafes a refined, definitely upscale feel. 925 Montana Ave. Santa Monica; 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles; 225 26th St., Santa Monica (at the Brentwood Country Mart). (310) 394-2222.
9. Tierra Mia
Tierra Mia's original location in South Gate brought so-called "third wave" coffee to the region when it opened in 2008, and it has since expanded to Huntington Park and Santa Fe Springs, with a third coming to Pico Rivera next year. The shop sources its beans from the farms that also supply Intelligentsia, and the coffee is roasted in-house at the Huntington Park location. And, yes, while these Gateway Cities may seem far, particularly for those Westsiders who believe that the world begins at the ocean and ends at the 405, a coffee lover surely would not regret hopping on the freeway on a weekend to try Tierra Mia's third wave take on the cubano con leche and Mexican mocha. 4914 Firestone Blvd., South Gate. (323) 563-3948; 6706 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park. (323) 589-2065; 11700 Telegraph Rd., Santa Fe Springs. (562) 864-2323.
"It ain't your 50-cent cup of coffee" was how a delighted but slightly overwhelmed Huell Howser described his experience at LAMILL on an episode of California's Gold. Indeed, LAMILL goes out of its way to upscale the café environment, billing itself as a "boutique coffee experience." And all three descriptors are on point: the decor is just plush, and at times bizarre, enough to look and feel boutique. Nearly every imaginable brewing method is offered here, and regardless of whether you have your coffee made in a siphon filter, a Chemex, or a better-than-French-press Eva Solo, it's excellent, particularly for those who like their cup bold. The food is an experience all its own. As is its very own gift shop right next door. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 663-4441.
Angel Orozco taught himself the messy logistics of roasting coffee, as well as the equally messy politics behind growing the crop, then applied the lessons he learned to his Cafecito Organico. Appropriately, Cafecito's coffee is earthy and complex, and sourced from farms that maintain sustainable practices. He started a few years ago with a simple coffee stand at a few local farmers markets; before too long, he had enough fans to open not one, but two, bona fide cafes around Los Feliz. The first location opened on Hoover Street and Bellevue Avenue in 2010; the second café on Heliotrope Drive quickly followed that same year. The Heliotrope location is our preference, as it's a bit more comfortable than the first and has the distinction of calling Scoops a neighbor. If you suddenly have a hankering for an affogato, follow in Orozco's footsteps and DIY. 534 N. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 537-8367; 710 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles. (213) 305-4484.
Spring for Coffee opened on 6th and Spring in Downtown in 2009 and brought much-needed relief to an area that then was limited to Starbucks and dreary office drip. Two years later, it continues to hold its own against the more spacious CoffeeBar barely a full block away. The well-versed and friendly baristas make coffee with beans from Ritual Coffee Roasters, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and Blue Bottle Coffee. Nearby on Los Angeles Street, Spring's second location is the size of your dog's toy box, yet still manages successfully caffeinate the Fashion District. Because both locations don't have much elbow room, much less seating room, Spring for Coffee is ideal for those who wish to take their caffeine jolts to go. 548 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-0041; 817 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles. (213) 228-0041.