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.

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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.

An Ode to Pilot G-2 .38

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Here I am, in Kauai, on the beach, writing about pens. “What a waste of vacation,” you may say. While I would agree with this statement 99/100 times, I am not writing about any old pen. I am writing about the Pilot G-2 .38, which in my book is the Mona Lisa/Roger Federer of pens. Smooth, precise, bold and consistent, the Pilot G-2 .38 represents thousands of years of writing utensil evolution.

If somebody asks to borrow a pen, never give them a Pilot G-2. When pens are borrowed, rarely are they returned, and Pilot G-2 pens are too fine of a writing utensil to just give away. Coming in four sizes (1 mm, .7 mm, .5 mm and .38 mm) G-2s are all smooth and durable writers. If not misplaced or “loaned” away, a Pilot G-2 will produce results for many moons. And their timeless design lets everybody in the room know you take your pen game seriously.

While all four sizes of the G-2 series are top-shelf pens, it is the .38 that separates itself from the pack. Retaining the smoothness of its larger relatives, the .38 brings to the pad an unprecedented degree of precision. For fellas like me endowed with sloppy handwriting, this precision is essential in the same way H2O is essential for Homo Sapiens. Furthermore, unlike many fine-pointed pens, the G-2 .38 manages to write in a surprisingly bold fashion. In other words, stop messing around with that feeble Bic Round Stic. Do yourself a favor and elevate your pen game. Invest in a pack of G-2 .38s, stick one in your breast pocket, and walk around oozing with the confidence that can only come from possessing a superior writing utensil.

The Summer of Cold Brew

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67 was the Summer of Love. 2007 was the Summer of Crocs. 2016 was the summer LaCroix first made a splash. So what about 2017? What trends will take off this summer? Don’t quote me on this, but we may look back upon these warm days and call it them the Summer of Cold Brew.

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Summer poses a problem for coffee enthusiasts. There is still the same need for coffee, yet warm temperatures make a hot beverage unappealing to many. “Just add ice,” you may retort, but alas satisfying an connoisseur’s palate isn’t that simple. When ice is added to a hot beverage, the melting cubes dilute the coffee. When dealing with a bitter dark roast, this is not an issue, and in many cases actually improves the cup of coffee. With top-shelf beans, however, melting ice becomes a liability in the same way adding water to a fine wine or craft beer is a liability.

Cold brew is the answer to this dilemma. A 12+ hour brewing process creates concentrated coffee. When ice is added to this concentrate, it melts yielding a delightfully balanced cup of cold, refreshing coffee. Insert this cup of coffee into any hot summer setting, and you have a recipe for a great time.

Today cold brew is everywhere and seems to be on everybody’s mind. Last week I was Demitasse, a coffee shop in Santa Monica sippin’ on some cold brew and couldn’t help but notice how many people were also ordering cold brew. I decided to count. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, seven costumers came in and ordered cold brew. To be clear, these people did not come in and order “iced coffee.” They came in and specified that they wanted cold brew.

This cold brew frenzy is a relatively new phenomenon. To illustrate this, lets hop into a time machine and turn the dial to 2007. Step out and find a coffee shop.

“What can I get you?” asks the circa 2007 barista, sporting a snazzy new pair of Crocs.

“A small cold brew please,” you respond. “And make it to go. My time machine is parked in the red.”

The circa 2007 barista looks at you confused. He is puzzled not because you have a time machine and are wearing something other than Crocs on your feet. He is puzzled because it is 2007 and cold brew was not really a thing then. There were some fringe craft coffee establishments scattered throughout cities here and there offering cold brew, but until recently, iced coffee was simply coffee with ice. And people seemed okay with this. As the craft coffee scene began to expand, however, people began to realize their summer coffee game could be taken to a whole new level with cold brew.

And this brings us to the Summer of Cold Brew (i.e. this summer). From the bougiest of coffee shops to the dingiest of convince stores, cold brew is always within an arm’s reach. I will not get into the where/what of cold brew in Los Angeles in the light of keeping this a blog post, not a long read. With that being said, however, if you want the ultimate cold brew experience, head to Demitasse. With two locations in L.A. (Santa Monica and Little Tokyo), Demitasse has perfected the Kyoto drip cold brew system. Again, not going to get into the specifics about Kyoto drip, but you can read this blog post I wrote a few years ago if you have nothing better to do.

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Demitasse is obviously not the only place that serves great cold brew. There are probably thousands of coffee shops throughout the world that make a great cold brew. Whether charging their costumers Dollars, Pesos, Francs, or Yen, what all these places have in common is that they take coffee seriously. More specifically, they all use quality beans.

Places like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts may tout the drinkability of their cold brew, but what they are not touting is that they are using sub-par beans. As a result, their cold brew is bitter. Copious amounts of milk and sugar may mask the bitterness in the same way they mask the diluted nature of normal iced coffee. But soon people will wake up the fact that the cold brew they are drinking at places using yucky beans is no better (and simply more expensive) than the normal iced coffee they had been drinking all along.

This does not mean that there is not a future for cold brew. Places like Demitasse that really care about the taste will continue serve it and look for ways to make it better. I do not think, however, that in ten years from now I will be able to walk into a gas station in Hastings, Nebraska and find an assortment of bottled cold brews to choose from. If I am wrong, contact me and I’ll buy you a cold brew.