Entry #9: Love Coffee Bar

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Love Coffee Bar, located on Ocean Park between 17th and 18th, is a place that I drive past regularly, but have never been to until now. With quality pour-overs and an equally impressive vibe, this is a great place to sit down and take a minute to enjoy craft coffee for what it is.

Coffee With cold brew season coming to an end, I ordered a pour over — Ethiopian — and was thoroughly impressed. Sweet yet robustly nutty, this was better than anything I could consistently make at home, thus validating the purchase. While Love Coffee Bar does not roast beans in-house, partnering with high-quality local roasters allows them to serve a wide variety of top-shelf coffees from around the world.

Setup While the nuts and bolts of Love Coffee Bar are very standard, there are a few things worth pointing out. The first is the price. I paid $6.50 for my pour-over, which is not unheard of for craft coffee in Santa Monica, but is still higher than average. That being said, with an ample amount of coffee, tasteful presentation — see photo above — and above all tasting great, I did not feel in any way ripped off. I get the sense that Love Coffee Bar consistently changes their beans, meaning the price for pour-overs may fluctuate. Unrelated, Love Coffee Bar offers cold brew tea, which seems worth checking out if you are a “tea-person”.

Ambiance With aesthetically pleasing yet comfortable chairs abound, a large table ideal for hipster power meetings, plus a wooden table carved in the shape of California, Love Coffee Bar is a textbook example of how to tastefully design a coffee shop. If Love is  going for the “hip-cali-craft-coffee-shop” vibe, they gave certainly nailed it.

Intangibles  Located .5 miles from Lo/Cal, Love Coffee Bar is not the only craft coffee shop in the area. I think Love may be a slightly better coffee shop, but Lo/Cal is also slightly cheaper. I also don’t have much data to make comparisons between these two shops, so why not go and try both yourself? The overall point is that there are two great coffee shops in the same area, which is a great thing.

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There is nothing fancy about Love Coffee Bar, nothing you could not find at other coffee shops in Santa Monica. But they take coffee seriously, and make a damn good pour-over. In my book, this is enough to warrant a thumbs up and a second trip back.

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Entry #8: Lo/Cal

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Lo/Cal’s cold brew, served over ice in a glass tumbler. 

In entry #5  I wrote that Groundwork Coffee located in the Santa Monica Whole Foods 365 was the only good coffee shop in the area. I was very wrong in this assertion, since literally across the street is Lo/Cal, which is not only the best coffee in the area, but also one of the better places in the city. 

Coffee A bike ride that left me sweaty made a cold brew the natural option. In addition to being nice and balanced, Lo/Cal serves their cold brew in a chilled tumbler. This is a major plus in my book, and coffee shops that do this stand out simply because the act invites the drinker to sit, stay in the shop, and enjoy their beverage, which unless I’m on the way to work, is the way I like to enjoy my coffee.

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Lo/Cal, with their simple setup, has nailed the “simple-coffee-shop” aesthetic 

Setup With an espresso machine, cold brew on tap, assorted pastries and various chilled beverages, the setup at Lo/Cal is very standard. It is worth noting that they offer three different types of cold brew: standard (i.e. house blend), single origin, and nitro. I ordered the single origin, which is 75 cents more than the house blend, but is also a lighter roast, which I prefer for cold brew. They also serve cold brew floats, which may be worth checking out if that’s your thing. Lo/Cal also serves empanadas, the first time I’ve seen this in a coffee shop.

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What’s better than a cold brew on hot day? A cold brew and an Eames chair on a hot day. 

Ambiance With beautiful mustard colored Eames chairs, really good music bumping on the speakers, Lo/Cal has really nailed the ambiance for a coffee shop. And if music isn’t your thing, there are two nice looking tables outside to escape to. Even though shop is very simple, you get the sense that there was much thought put into crafting an aesthetic at Lo/Cal.

Intangibles Centrally located, free wifi, comfortable seating options, clean bathrooms, and above all seemingly very solid coffee, Lo/Cal is a place I will definitely be returning to. Conversely, I do not see myself returning to the Groundwork Coffee at Whole Foods across the street.

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Lo/Cal definitely exceeded my expectations. Maybe this is because I walked in with no expectations, but there is no denying that Lo/Cal is a top-notch coffee shop that is worth checking out.

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.

 

 

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.