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.

 

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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.

Santa Monica’s Comprehensive Coffee Guide

IMG_8335Barring having the status of a millionaire, trying out every coffee shop in Los Angeles would bankrupt most individuals. Santa Monica, however, with a population of just over 100,000, is a much smaller beast to tackle. I am not sure exactly how many coffee shops Santa Monica has, but I would guess the number is under 50 (not counting chains). For most people, this means nothing. For a fella with a keyboard and a food blog, however, this is an opportunity and an excuse to visit each and every one of these establishments.

I will post a short recap/review of my experience at each of these coffee shops. At the end of this journey, not only will you know how many coffee shops there are in Santa Monica, but will know all too well my opinion on each and every one of these establishments.

To keep my evaluations on track, I will follow a rough guide when writing a review.

Coffee. This is the most important and simple criteria: was the coffee good or was the coffee bad? 

Setup. This addresses the nuts and bolts of the coffee shop. Things that will be considered in this section include brewing equipment and menu (i.e. prices).

Ambiance. A coffee shop’s environment is often the determining factor in whether or not I will return in the future. Here I will consider the seating, music and staff on hand.

Intangibles. Basically this is where I get to rant if I feel like it.

It is important to understand that these blog posts are not journalism. I am neither researching these coffee shops nor interviewing the baristas/owners. I am simply ordering coffee, sitting down, and writing my opinion. Therefore take what I have to say with a grain of salt and if you really want to experience what a particular coffee shop is like, go there yourself and try it out. Finally, if you are in Santa Monica getting coffee, let me know and I will gladly join you (provided I know you personally).    

Another Cold Brew Post

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I am sitting at Primo Passo Coffee Co. in sunny Santa Monica, CA1 sipping on some cold brew, pondering the current state of this caffeinated beverage here in the southlands. A year ago, were I writing this post, I would have needed to spend a paragraph explaining what cold brew is. Today, however, cold brew is as ubiquitous bubble tea (i.e. boba), and craft beer. 2 

The proliferation of this upgraded iced-coffee, makes it difficult for a particular coffee shop to stand out in regards to their cold brew. Walk into any hip cafe, and I betcha a cold brew that they will have $5 cold brew.3 This does not mean there are not all-stars when it comes to cold-brew. Demitasse and Balconi — two elite L.A. coffee shops — are evidence that when it comes to cold brew, all the glitter and gold comes not from the beans or grind size, but from the Kyoto drip system.

Kyoto drip is a way of brewing cold brew that embodies everything people hate about coffee snobs. It also yields the best cup of cold coffee you’ll ever have. In most cold brew methods, coffee grounds are immersed in water for 12-14 hours before filtration to create a concentrate. Kyoto drip, however, employs a slow drip system. An egg-timer like contraption (as seen in the photo below) allows water, one drop at a time, to filter through coffee grounds. Initially, it seems like no coffee is being brewed, but after an hour or so the drops of water begin to make their way through the coffee grounds, yielding a coffee concentrate that is sweet, complex and bold.

Because of the precision of this drip system, high-quality batches of cold brew can consistently be produced (provided good beans are being used). It is this consistency that in my opinion justifies the $6 price tag. At a place like Primo Passo, that employ traditional cold brew methods, you may spend a dollar or two less, but the coffee will be hit on miss. For example, this cold brew I am currently sipping on, while made with quality beans, is too bitter for my palate to enjoy. But just last week I had a cold brew here that was excellent. At Demitasse, however, I know that in return for my $6, I will be given a Kyoto drip that taste like perfection. So if you have a hankering for coffee, but don’t want a hot beverage, a cup of Kyoto drip is exactly what you want. And after one sip, you’ll understand how one could write 543 of words about it.

1. Note: at the time of writing it is in fact not sunny here in Santa Monica.
2. This is a topic I explored in great depth a few months ago in “The Summer of Cold Brew.” If you have literally nothing else to do and want to catch up on the state of cold brew, this is the post for you.
3. If you have indeed found a hip coffee shop not offering $5 cold brew, let me know. If you are in L.A., coffee is on me. If you are not in L.A., coffee is still on me, but you provide the plane ticket.

Road Trippin’ into a Calmer State of Mind

DSC_2386Cruise control at 65, AC on cold, podcasts cranked up all the way. Approaching a slow 18-wheeler, the left blinker is turned on, and cruise control is turned off while passing the dawdling truck at 70 mph. Repeat this process for the next 6-10 hours, with a handful of stops to fuel both the car and body.

This is the core of a road trip, and while often boring, is at the end of the road a rewarding mode of transportation. In addition to acquiring a slew of podcast factoids, road trips instill a sense of patience and purpose into the driver that lasts well beyond the final destination is reached.

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It’s the 21st century, and with thousands of flights each day, getting from Point A to B takes only hours, regardless of where point A and B are in relation to each other. Driving from Point A to B, however, can take days. In addition, driving is more dangerous than flying. This raises the question “why drive?”

For starters, taking a road trip is a great way to see the country. When you fly, it can take less than an hour to pass over a state. This, coupled with being 30,000+ feet in the air, make it hard to get a lay of the land while flying. When road tripping, it can take an entire day to drive through a state, and for good or bad, one gets a glimpse into the rural Nebraskas and northern Oklahomas of the country. Driving also reveals just how big the United States is and will send your head in circles trying to comprehend how much asphalt and concrete were used in the construction of the interstate system.

Not only does driving display the immensity of the U.S., but it also reveals its diversity. As you travel from state to state, gas stations, fast food chains and the landscape are in a constant state of flux. The day may begin in central Iowa, with rolling hills and corn fields and end in the Rocky Mountains, with craggy peaks and conifers. Yet there is no single point where the landscape changes. Rather it transforms gradually, with each exit leading to a slightly different area.

As fast as flying may be, it is an incredibly stressful way to travel. Driving, with all it’s dullness, is comparatively a relaxing way to get from point A to B. If alone, driving provides a great setting to think, and with company, yields to great conversations and ideas. Regardless of whether or not there are other passengers, road trips instill a great mindset into the driver. In addition to teaching patience, driving long distances provides a sense of purpose. Each day the task is simple: drive to the final destination. When that destination is reached, the job is complete. There is no homework. No overtime. No thinking about how the job could have been better. Just a Motel 6, small town restaurants, and unwinding to prepare for the next day of driving.