Entry #7: Primo Passo Coffee Co.

DSC_7092Located on the corner of Montana and 7th, Primo Passo Coffee Co. may not be in the upper echelon of Westside coffee shops, but is nonetheless a great place grab a cup of coffee, sit down and watch the poshness of the Westside unfold.

Coffee I ordered an Ethiopian pour over. Balanced, with a hint of sweetness and a robust nutty aftertaste, this cup of joe was enjoyed from the first sip to the last. Their cold brew, however, is hit or miss. Sometimes it is a perfectly balanced beverage that quenches the thirst and energizes the body. Other times, however, it is bitter, leaving your thirst unquenched and your body unenergized. The espresso, while never unpalatable, has never left a lasting impression, but this makes sense for a place that does not specialize in espresso.

Setup Primo Passo boasts an open, modern space with all the action happening in the middle of the shop. Menus on clipboards can be read while in line, which alleviates much of the anxiety that can be associated with ordering for the first time at a new coffee shop. The menu is very standard for a craft coffee shop, with the addition of overpriced juice. And I don’t mean OJ. I mean $14 green cale juice with radishes ‘n stuff in it. Aside from the juice, nothing is ridiculously expensive at Primo Passo. While the prices may initially seem steep, one has to remember that the shop is located on one of the bougiest shopping blocks in LA.

Ambiance Primo Passo seems to have put much effort into cultivating an aesthetics, as evident in the sleek and stylish interior. While the result is a very tasteful coffee shop, the vibe inside often gets too high-brow for a fella like me. As one of the only coffee shops I know of with valet parking, it is not uncommon to see parents get out of $100,000 Teslas, put a baby into a $500 stroller and order the tot $5 steamed almond milk complete with latte art. Lavish displays of wealth aside, Primo Passo is a great place to grab a cup of coffee with a friend, read a few chapters of a book, or pretend to work on that screenplay that is never getting finished.

Intangibles No wifi makes Primo Passo ill-suited to getting work done, but the bathrooms are clean and many of the seats are comfortable. I go here a fair amount since the front door is less than 800 feet from my house, but it should be noted that Cafe Luxxe is only few blocks away, which is a better coffee shop in my opinion. That being said, there is a Starbucks right across the street, so it is safe to say Primo Passo is the best coffee shop on the block.

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There is nothing wrong with Primo Passo, but there is also nothing special about it either. I would never go out of my way for their coffee, but also would not complain if somebody asked to meet their. It is, after all, my neighborhood craft coffee shop.

 

 

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Entry #6: The Refinery

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Note: this photo was taken at The Refinery in 2012 before they switched to using Heath mugs

It’s funny how a 23 year-old can feel nostalgia for a coffee shop, but whenever I go to The Refinery, I hark back to simpler times (i.e. 2011-2012). Located on Santa Monica Blvd between 3rd and 4th, The Refinery was part of the first wave of coffee shops in L.A. making pour-overs. My high-school was located less than a mile away, and I would often go for coffee during lunch hour. It had been over a year since I last visited The Refinery, and when I walked in to the friendly confines, it was like stepping back to an era when craft coffee shops were rare and the President of the United States was not unhinged.

Coffee As one of the first places on the Westside to put pour-over on the forefront of their brand, it is no surprise that The Refinery is still churning out top-notch coffee years later. The Nicaraguan I got for this entry was a perfectly balanced beverage. A medium roast with hints of sweetness and a citrusy aftertaste, this is the type of coffee that makes people understand why craft coffee should be enjoyed black.

Setup The Refinery keeps it simple while still offering a fairly wide-range of options. With standard pour-over and espresso drinks available, the Refinery also boasts an extensive list of teas. I don’t ever see myself ordering tea here, but tea drinkers of the world will be satisfied. At $5 for a pour-over, The Refinery may seem a little expensive, but it’s nothing ridiculous and makes sense due to its central location.

Ambiance A tasteful minimalist, modern interior, along with soothing tunes, make The Refinery a great place to get a zen workspace going. There is wifi, a bathroom, and ample seating, including a large communal table with comfortable seats. Located amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Santa Monica, stepping into the Refinery is like stepping into a calmer world where quality pour-over is always on tap.

Intangibles Beverages are served in Heath mugs, which if you know a thing or two about mugs or ceramics, is a major plus. But even if coffee was served in styrofoam cups, I would still return to The Refinery simply because the coffee speaks for itself.

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When The Refinery first opened up, it seemed cutting edge. Years later, however, it may seem fairly run-of-the-mill due to the sheer number of craft coffee shops in Los Angeles. Yet The Refinery has weathered the test of time, by sticking to their roots and brewing quality drinks on a consistent basis.

Entry #5: Groundwork Coffee Santa Monica

IMG_6757Groundwork Coffee was making quality coffee in Los Angeles before people knew what quality coffee was. Founded in 1990, Groundwork Coffee was a leader in the proliferation of sustainably sourced coffee in Southern California. With a handful of locations throughout the city, a new branch recently opened up inside the Whole Foods 365 market on Pico and Cloverfield in Santa Monica. While stocking up on provisions, the coffee shop caught my eye and I stopped in for a cold brew.

Coffee  They were out of cold brew, and gave me the nitro (nitrogen infused coffee), but never informed me that they were out of cold brew and that I was drinking nitro. I figured it out because nitro coffee, with its slight carbonation and almost creamy texture, is easy to identify. The barista was very nice, however, and the nitro was tasty. It was nothing exciting, though, lacking the character that makes certain coffee beverages special. In general, however, all of the coffee at Groundwork is quality and should satisfy most snobs.

Setup This particular Groundwork, located within a supermarket, suffers from the set up, or lack thereof. While quality beans are certainly being used and the coffee is solid, there is not much that separates this Groundwork from a chain like Pete’s or Caribou. And while there is nothing wrong with this, in a city where two craft coffee shops can be found on the same street, the slightly corporate, industrial setup of this Groundwork makes it a place I will not be returning to unless I am at the Whole Foods.

Ambiance In addition to being inside a Whole Foods, this Groundwork is very small, making it ill-suited to sitting down and enjoying your beverage. An outside patio, however, shared with the Whole Foods is very nice. A tasteful modern aesthetic, ample tables and a few comfy seats, make this a great place to sip on some coffee, send a few emails or read a book before braving the madness of Whole Foods.

Intangibles There are simply better coffee shops in the Santa Monica area, including the Main Street location of Groundwork. Because this branch is located in a Whole Foods, however, I can see myself returning out of sheer convenience until I find a better coffee shop in the area.

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At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with this Groundwork, and like many reputable coffee shops, suffers simply because the competition is better. The Whole Foods 365, however, is brand new, cheap and worth checking out. If the shopping experience was overwhelming, Groundwork Coffee may provide the restoration you need.

Entry #4: Cafe Luxxe Brentwood

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A euro-style coffeehouse with a simple menu, Cafe Luxxe offers one of the best espressos in LA.

The original Cafe Luxxe on Montana Ave in Santa Monica became one of the pioneers of the LA craft coffee scene when they opened in 2006. The Brentwood location on 26th, nestled in the Brentwood Country Mart is a tiny coffee shop that packs a big punch, and consistently delivers quality coffee.

Coffee Cafe Luxxe does not do cold brew, which is worth noting since I often overhear costumers asking for cold brew when ordering only to be disappointed. They will make any of their excellent pour-overs on ice for you, which is all well and fine, but can be done at home for a fraction of the price. Despite this lack of cold brew, Cafe Luxxe offers quality options across the board. Specifically, if you like espresso, this is the place for you. I say this because my father, an espresso connoisseur, approves of the espresso at Cafe Luxxe. The latte art is also on point, as evident by the number of people spotted Instagramming their drinks.

Setup Cafe Luxxe Brentwood operates on a very simple setup. With one espresso machine and a few pour over cones, it is no surprise the menu is spartan as well. Everything will be of great quality, however, and prices are also very reasonable, with drinks ranging between $3-$6. Considering it’s located in one of the country’s most bougie neighborhoods, it almost feels like you are getting a great deal.

Ambiance As aforementioned, Cafe Luxxe Brentwood is a very small shop. There are no tables with two small counters functioning as the only indoor seating options. There is, however, a great outdoor seating area with ample shade and nice tables. If you are meeting a friend for a cup of coffee here, make sure you take your drinks outside.

Intangibles While there are better coffee shops in Santa Monica, I frequent this particular Cafe Luxxe often as for years it has been the only good coffee shop in the area. Recently, however Blue Bottle Coffee opened a block away and it will be interesting to see if this competition will affect Cafe Luxxe. That being said, if you are craving an excellent espresso and are in Brentwood, Cafe Luxxe is worth checking out.

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Amid all the cutting edge craft coffee shops in Los Angeles, Cafe Luxxe Brentwood, with it’s simple menu and small space, may seem somewhat spartan. That being said, if you can brave the bougie Brentwood crowd, it is a solid place to grab a cup of coffee. If you do, park on Georgina Ave, as it will spare you the chaos of the Country Mart parking lot.

 

Entry #3: Demitasse

IMG_6715.jpgI’ll try to keep this entry short since I’ve written about Demitasse more than any other coffee shop. In one sentence, Demitasse is a coffee shop located on 3rd and Wilshire that makes the best cold brew in Los Angeles. There are also locations in Little Tokyo, West Hollywood and Mid Wilshire, but I have never been to any of these since the Santa Monica branch is within walking distance of my house.

Coffee. The Kyoto Drip is what I normally get at Demitasse. I value your time1  so will spare you the details of Kyoto Drip, but in a nutshell it’s the best damn iced coffee you will every have.2  Every drink at Demitasse is top-notch, with the skill of the barista and quality of the ingredients apparent in every sip. It is also worth checking out the barista signature creations, which are often tasty and unique takes on classic coffee beverages.

Setup. The menu at Demitasse is fairly extensive, but in no ways overwhelming. Alongside stellar Kyoto Drip, exceptional pour over/espresso options and quality tea-based drinks are also available. The pastries, which are not baked in-house, are nonetheless excellent. In particular, the miso brown butter cookies are dangerously tasty. When it comes to pricing, Demitasse is surprisingly reasonable. While the Kyoto Drip is expensive ($6.50), pour overs and iced coffee can be purchased for as low as $3.50, depending on the roast.

Ambiance I can only speak for the Santa Monica location, but at various times throughout the day Demitasse is a great place to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or get some work done. The baristas are also all friendly and have great taste in music. It is a small space, however, and during peak hours (mornings, weekends), Demitasse becomes crowded and a bit noisy.

Intangibles Free drinking water, wifi, and a clean bathroom are all part of the package at Demitasse, but this is not necessarily why I return. Whenever I head to Demitasse, I know in the back of my mind I will get a great cup of coffee. It is this confidence in their product that makes Demitasse a place worth going back to again and again.

With a wide-range of top-notch beverages, including world-class cold brew, Demitasse is a must-go place if you’re looking for coffee in Santa Monica. If it’s during a lull in the crowd, you’ll be rewarded with a relaxing coffee-sippin’ experience. And even if it gets busy, you’ll witness a coffee shop operating on all cylinders, churning out quality drink after quality drink, satisfying customer after customer.

1. If you do not value your time, here are some posts on Kyoto Drip and Demitasse I’ve written over the years. 
The Summer of Cold Brew
How a Coffee Shop Can Stand Out
Kyoto Clarification
Another Cold Brew Post     

2.Just be warned that one cup of it is equilivant to four espressos, so be sure to not drink it all at once.

Entry #2: Philz Coffee

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This photo is misleading, showing the only comfortable seating option in Philz. 

In the introduction to this project I said I would not be visiting coffee chains. I should have specified what I meant is that I would not be visiting Starbucks and other similar places. This is because there are plenty of chains that take their coffee seriously and play an integral role in the Santa Monica coffee scene. Philz Coffee, located on 6th and Santa Monica Blvd., is such an example. With 35 shops in California and 2 in D.C., Philz Coffee specializes in blending different beans to create a unique cup of coffee.

Coffee. I got the “Sooo Good” blend. I am not sure what beans are used, but it is supposedly one of Philz’s lighter blends. The bottom line is that the coffee was too bitter for my palate, but not as bitter as I was expecting.  Sweet, citrusy undertones were present and became more prominent as the cup of coffee cooled yet I am still unconvinced that blending coffee is a worthwhile venture. The bitterness present in my cup of “Sooo Good” was not due to something inherently wrong with beans, but because when you blend different beans, flavors will clash and bitterness emerges.

Setup.  There is no single line/queue, but rather a handful of baristas behind a counter ready to take your order. Options are displayed on a large menu, which divides blends up based on how light/dark the roast is. Each cup is made to order pour-over style, but instead of using a Chemex, Hario, or Melitta cone, Philz employs a standard stainless steel filter cone found on industrial drip carafes. While this may not be the most artisan method, it is better than brewing in bulk and gets the job done. Pricing is simple at Philz: $3.50 for a small and $4.50 for a large, which is reasonable. There are pastries and light munching options available, but considering all the great restaurants in the area, I don’t see any reason to get food at Philz.

Ambiance. On all three occasions I’ve been to Philz, hip-hop and rap have been bumping on the speakers. This is all well and fine, but combined with chairs that will destroy you back and poor acoustics, Philz is not a place to get work done or have an intimate conversation with a friend at.

Intangibles. While Philz definitely takes their coffee seriously, it suffers from something it has no control over. Within walking distance of Philz are three coffee shops (Demitasse, The Refinery, Metro Cafe) that not only serve better coffee, but do so in an atmosphere more conducive to enjoying your beverage.

If you like your coffee slightly bitter and are in a rush, Philz just may the place for you. If you want to sit down, get some work done, or talk to a friend over a cup of coffee, Philz may not be your best option. That being said, they seem to be a company that is genuinely interested in crafting a good cup of joe, and because of this is worth checking out.

Entry #1: Metro Cafe

IMG_6677Metro Cafe, located on the corner of Arizona and 7th, is a relatively new addition to the Santa Monica coffee scene. Don’t let its newcomer status fool you though. With its central location, solid coffee and welcoming space, Metro has all the makings of a cafe that can serve a niche market for those seeking out an everyday, reliable coffee shop.

Coffee. I ordered a cold brew since it’s still shorts and flip-flops weather and was impressed. While nothing mind blowing, this cold brew (made with Golden State Coffee Roaster beans) is served on tap and is initially sweet with a prominent nuttiness aftertaste. More importantly, there is no bitterness present, something that plagues many cold brews. In the past, I have had their pour over, and was again impressed.

Setup. Metro cafe keeps it simple. A Rancilio espresso machine, Mazzer grinder and Hario pour over cones seem to be their bread and butter. Pastries and bottled beverages are also available. Cold brew and nitro are both on tap (they are literally on tap) at Metro cafe, suggesting that these are brewed off site. Considering its prime location in the heart of Santa Monica, the prices at Metro are very reasonable. With $5 pour over, $4 cold brew and $3 espressos, you won’t walk out of Metro feeling ripped off.

Ambiance. With two indoor seating areas and a large outdoor garden section, finding a quite place to get work done at Metro is easier than finding a parking spot. Even though there seems to be construction going on inside, Metro Cafe’s decor is incredibly tasteful and inviting. With post-modern furniture and a soothing color scheme, this is a place where you can sit for hours comfortably and walk out feeling cooler.  In addition, the two baristas are constantly bantering with costumers and checking in, all in an unobtrusive and genuine manner. This general camaraderie makes Metro feel more like coffee shop in small town Middle America rather than on the West Side of L.A.

Intangibles. Cleans bathrooms, chilled water, and music that is not too loud make Metro Cafe a great place to get a few hours of work done in. Personally, it is within walking distance of my house, which makes this a place where I can see myself coming back to.

Overall, Metro Cafe is an impressive addition to the Santa Monica coffee scene. With the coffee, environment and baristas all being top-notch, Metro is a place where it is easy to walk in a costumer and walk out a regular.