Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coffee, Los Angeleno-style

Coming from a country where cafe culture is big, and it's easy to find a decent coffee, I'd been warned about American coffee before we moved here. I also had faint memories of the Starbucks "cafes" which seemed to be on nearly every street corner during an earlier visit to Seattle, about ten years ago. The main issue that Australians tend to have with the coffee served in chains such as Starbucks, or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, is... well, there are a few, actually.

Let me illustrate. A quick google search for images of coffee from these chains revealed the following:

Notice the images are all about the branded logos. There were far fewer images which showed the product that was inside the cups. Which is probably just as well.

If you prefer your coffee to be made from beans that are well-roasted, the steamed milk to add just a creamy texture (not a foamy froth that could support a spoon standing on it's own), and not made so hot that the first taste will burn several layers of your tongue off, then these chains are not for you.

My own personal issue with buying coffee from these places is that every time I order a cafe latte, I am asked, "Would you like that hot or cold?" Every time. Yes, please give me a cold latte... because I love it when I've been so busy that my coffee has gone cold before I've had a chance to drink it. Let's save time and serve it to me cold. I am also frequently asked if I'd like whipped cream on top. No, but thanks for asking. Lastly, I've even had so-called baristas try to sneak in a shot of brewed coffee into my latte - instead of using espresso. And then using the espresso machine solely to steam the milk. Cheeky.

It wouldn't be fair to say that all American coffee is bad, though. A recent trip to Portland, Oregon, taught me this and gave me hope. There were some places there which served wonderful coffee that I'd be more than happy with in Australia. I've since reviewed my stance, and concluded that the problem is La La Land. Coffee culture here is just not very cultural.

Not long after we moved here, some friends suggested that we try coffee from Intelligentsia, which has a handful of cafes throughout the country. So we hopped in the car and drove to the nearest Intelligentsia cafe, in Silver Lake - about a 15 minute drive away. Was it good? You bet. Pretty much just like back home. But to have to drive that way every time the urge for a proper coffee struck? Not worth the cost of petrol! So these last few months, I've had to just suck it up and drink the chain swill when in need of a caffeine hit.

Believe it or not, I am getting somewhere with this whinge about coffee in La La Land. Last Saturday, J and I had a rare date night, so we decided to stroll around Old Town Pasadena and check it out properly. We'd been meaning to do this for quite some time, as we only live a 5-10 minute drive away. We were already feeling the love when, walking along the twinkly, fairy-lit, tree-lined Colorado Boulevard, we spotted a newly-opened Intelligentsia cafe. Excited is an understatement for how we felt. We raced inside, and were not disappointed. This was much more like it!
The happy ending to this self-indulgent tale is that I now only have to drive 5-10 minutes if I want a proper coffee. By L.A. standards, this is not bad. It also means I shall not complain about American coffee again... however, a shiny espresso machine is on mine and J's wish list.

Speaking of which, I could really do with some caffeine right about now...


  1. I don't personally drink it but I can imagine it's like drinking pre-mix Coke. Or like those hippy cafes that refuse to even carry Coke and offer me an organic cola instead. Ha!

    Yep, I think it's probably just like that.....

  2. Totally. Pre-mix Coke just doesn't cut it compared to the real thing. And, although I realise Coke is an American company, American Coke doesn't cut it for me, either. Give me Aussie Coke sweetened from sugar cane (as opposed to high fructose corn syrup) any day!