Los Angeles raises the bar for coffee lovers, opting for a drip-free brew.
There’s something about Los Angeles that has kept the latest wave of fine specialty coffee at bay.
So the August opening of Intelligentsia Coffee in Silver Lake, complete with some imported Pacific Northwest baristas, was a quantum leap.
The shop, on a busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard, is a bold stab westward by the Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea.
The bright space is divided into an outdoor seating area, for lounging with a laptop, and an indoor workshop with counter-only seating for focused caffeine administration.
Inside, a cool marble work surface floats above a sea of white-and-blue Nicaraguan tile.
Above, a ceiling of shiny plywood (originally meant to be a conceptual skate ramp, as experienced mid-back flip) accentuates the hollow hiss of two gleaming Synesso espresso machines.
The cash registers are recessed into the work surface, making them refreshingly invisible.
Something else is missing, too: Intelligentsia offers no drip coffee, opting instead for a pair of Clovers – high-tech brewers that make each cup fresh with a stream of hot water and a precisely machined inverse plunger.
It’s a bold move, anything but the best beans show glaring imperfections with the Clover.
I had a cup of Flecha Roja, from Costa Rica (US$2.50), which, lightly roasted, embodied the ringing, fruity acidity favoured by cutting-edge roasters.
It’s quite a counterpoint to Intelligentsia’s signature Black Cat espresso blend. Black Cat is syrupy and naturally sweet, and dark as crude.
Served as a ristretto with a small glass of water on the side (US$2), this could be the acme of the American third-wave espresso style.
Unlike most cafes, Intelligentsia has a menu simplified to a handful of espresso drinks (lattes, topped with finely wrought milk foam designs, start at US$3.25); single-origin Clover brews, starting at US$2; and bags of freshly roasted, rare beans, from US$13 a pound).
A few coffee fetish items are also available, including Baratza Virtuoso burr grinders (US$200) and Intelligentsia skateboard decks (US$55).
On weekends, the line extends out the door onto the sidewalk. The wait is social, but for serious coffee drinking go midweek and take a seat at the marble bar.
Watch the action, chat with the eager baristas, and down cup after cup of the best coffee in Los Angeles.
Intelligentsia Coffee, 3922 West Sunset Boulevard; (323) 663-6173. Open 6am to 11pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday; till 8pm other days.