There’s no question that downtown LA has undergone quite a transformation in recent years. It’s not surprising then that food and drink has followed suit. With “craft" mentality affecting all aspects of L.A. food and drink culture—whether it’s beer, cocktails, or cuisine—coffee was sure to follow. However, far from following, coffee culture has blazed the way for the new breed of eateries setting up shop.
Downtown has emerged as the hub for specialty coffee culture, with roasters setting up shop in the Arts District and independent shops dotting the city’s Historic Core, Fashion District, and Little Tokyo. The Standard set out on a caffeine-fueled fact-finding mission to sample the goods. We're happy to report back with ten perfect coffee drinks for those times you find yourself in need of that special fix.
The cousins behind sausage-fueled Wurstkuche teamed up with Handsome Coffee Roasters’ co-founder Tyler Wells on Blacktop Coffee, a vintage-vibe California coffee bar in the Arts District. The Small White features Owl's Howl espresso, which changes seasonally. The drink balances bright coffee with rich Straus Family Creamery whole milk in a Gibraltar-type glass.
When Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee acquired Handsome Coffee Roasters in 2014, they lifted Handsome’s ban on sugar. Their signature drink is the New Orleans Cold Brew. Ground espresso beans are steeped with roasted chicory in a stainless steel dispenser, and baristas sweeten the mixture with sugar cane syrup and serve it on the rocks with Clover organic whole milk, sending delightful dairy waves wafting through the glass.
People flock to Café Dulce for maple bacon donuts and churros, but their specialty coffee game is also strong—like, really strong—with beans from roasters like Four Barrel and Stumptown. Their Vietnamese Iced Coffee is a play on the classic, but with espresso instead of concentrated drip. Sweetened condensed milk and four shots of espresso are poured over ice, and the drink mellows in intensity as it melts.
A café owner, a barista and a coffee roaster founded Coffee Colab outside Santee Village in the Fashion District. If you’re spoiling for a fight, check out the (off-menu) Bruce Lee, which features a double shot of the Dempsey espresso blend, sweetened condensed milk and a dash of whole milk.
Fashion District denizens frequent The Classic Coffee. A glass front gives way to a towering wall of planted succulents, colorful wallpaper and throw pillows. A serious coffee menu is a good cover for some people-watching. On a hot day you’d be hard pressed to do better than the “classic” Affogato, which features rich Straus Family vanilla ice cream and a double shot of Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso.
Bobak Roshan has more toys at his disposal than the average specialty coffeehouse owner. He prominently displays rows of Kyoto-style cold brew towers and siphons, and that’s just a small fraction of the available brew methods at Demitasse. Roshan also creates unusual internationally inspired lattes, including pistachio rose honey syrup. Recently, his Black Sesame Lemongrass Latte featured nutty black sesame paste thinned out with hot water, simple syrup sweetener, lemongrass extract, a double shot of espresso and Straus Family whole milk.
The dudes behinds the cutting-edge G&B Coffee won the United States Barista Championship. Take that, mom. Currently they run a counter in Grand Central Market, a short walk from The Standard, Downtown LA. Their specialty is a collaboration with fellow GCM vendor McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams. The G&B Shake includes two double shots of single-origin espresso, McConnell’s vanilla ice cream and gritty ground-to-order espresso beans. Um, yes.
Maybe you’ve heard about this Nitro biznass, but it is not to be missed. Stumptown Coffee Roasters was one of the first specialty coffee companies to settle in the Arts District, and they’re known for their cold brew, but even better is to order your cold brew on Nitro, which tastes like the love-child of iced coffee and a nice smooth stout (sans the alchohol part)
Tierra Mia Coffee specializes in Latin-tinged flavors, and they have a Horchata Latte made with espresso and rice milk, but the Mocha Mexicano is even better. This coffee-spiked riff on a Mexican hot chocolate features espresso whisked with hot steamed milk, raw sugar, ground chocolate, and warming cinnamon.
Verve Coffee Roasters started with a surfer/skater vibe in Santa Cruz, but took a turn toward progressive design with their first L.A. location. The outpost shares a space with Juice Served Here in the Fashion District, and the two companies collaborated on a signature Tres Leches ($5) latte. But Verve steers clear of animal-made milks altogether. Instead, Street Level espresso joins Juice Served Here coconut water and “milk” from hazelnuts, cashews and almonds. Shaved Ibarra chocolate spiced with cinnamon and sugar completes this delicious mixture.