Compared to its other locations scattered throughout the South Bay, Tierra Mia's new downtown location at the base of the Bartlett Building at Seventh and Spring streets is small. "Yeah, this is downtown-sized," owner Ulysses Romero says, noting that a few of Tierra Mia's comparatively spacious cafes are located in former fast food restaurants. And yet, maybe because of its downtown size, the shop -- the former home of another cafe, Night Toast -- fits in nicely with the bustling Historic Core neighborhood.
This would be Tierra Mia's first location within L.A. proper, though Romero has been looking to bring the shop's specialty coffee and horchata-inflected drinks into the city for sometime. And that time came when the owner of Night Toast Cafe decided to move on; Romeo then took over the space and, within a month, converted the old into the new.
That Tierra Mia finally has opened in L.A. is fitting, in a way. Prior to opening Tierra Mia, Romero worked with Martin Diedrich at Kean Coffee. Inspired by his experience and what he learned about the depth of flavors in coffee, Romero opened the first Tierra Mia shop in South Gate back in 2008 -- well before the current tidal wave of specialty coffee shops splashed its way across the city. Outposts in Pico Rivera, Huntington Park and Santa Fe Springs soon followed, along with a delegation of duties: The coffee is roasted in Tierra Mia's Pico Rivera cafe, and the Huntington Park location makes and bakes the pastries.
While the newest member of the Tierra Mia may be smaller than its older siblings, it is otherwise just like the others There's the familiar inscription on the wall ("El mejor cafe viene de tierra mia"), lovingly framed photos of coffee farms on the walls and a bounty of pastries, including the shop's popular tres leches muffin. You might even recognize the barista behind the bar: Staff with at least a year's experience at other Tierra Mia cafes relocated to the downtown shop. For the discerning coffee drinker, this means that though the shop is new, the baristas are not; they can consistently pull a nice espresso shot off the Marzocco Strada machine and handle the pour-over bar with ease.
As with his shops in the South Bay, Romero aims to serve the best quality coffee possible, at reasonable price points, with an eye on the local community. Hence both the coffee-geek menu of coffees available on the pour-over bar -- there usually are at least two or three options listed, complete with tasting notes -- and the rather tasty horchata frappes and horchata lattes where the horchata complements, rather than overwhelms, the shots of espresso.
As for the future, Romero says additional shops in L.A. and even the Bay Area are options. Also a possibility: Getting into the farm business to grow the coffee itself. This would be, he says, a "natural progression," given his interest in ensuring the quality of the bean from source to roast to cup.
But that's all in the long term. For now, Romero's focused on getting the downtown shop off the ground. With any luck, the summer heat will convince even the most ardent of coffee purists to give that horchata frappe a shot.
Tierra Mia Coffee is now open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.