I was going through Google Analytics the other day and pretty excited to see that one of our most read posts is about what do around LAX on a layover or delay. Another popular post was our guide to ethical eating in Los Angeles. Looking to eat good and do good? Then that post is for you! And it got us thinking: While we know a lot about travel, we also know a hell of a lot about a place near and dear to our heart: Los Angeles. Oh I know, you think Los Angeles is nothing but traffic, fake people, and Hollywood. While that’s all here, that’s only a fraction of the story that is LA. LA, arrogant as it may sound, is a city for people in the know. You have to dedicate your love to it and when you do, it loves you back. I could go on in cheesy clichés, but the reality as it pertains to this post is this: LA has some damn good coffee, and if you’re drinking Starbucks, Coffee Bean, or Peet’s Coffee, in the words of a 1980’s hero of mine Mr. T, I pity the fool…
So you’re in LA. Maybe you’re in downtown. Perhaps Santa Monica or one of the Playas. You’re looking for third wave coffee. No matter where you are in this great city of ours, we’ve got coffee that will rock your socks, and have you flippantly talk with disdain about Starbucks. Want to know where to get the best and most unique cups of Joe?
One of the things I love most about LA is Latino culture. The other day as I tried unsuccessfully, yet again, to fall in love with Guinness while I stared down a plate of Shepherd’s Pie that looked anything but appetizing, it hit me: God made a mistake. I crave $1 tacos, michelada, and yes, spicy shit poured on top of my ice cream and fruit. I speak Spanish better than I speak with an Irish brogue, and I spent and continue to spend a considerable amount of my time in Latin America. God meant for me to be Latino.
And so maybe that’s why I love Tierra Mia so much:It’s a place where great coffee culture meets great Latino culture. The go to items are their Tres Leches Muffin and Horchata Latte.
For those more Irish than Latino, let me explain:
Horchata is God’s gift to creativity: Mix cinnamon, rice, water, almonds and a touch of simple syrup and you get a goodness hard to articulate, impossible to forget. Now take that, and combine it with caffeine via a latte, and you’ve got a sweet but oh so good cup of energy in front of you.
As much as I love horchata, tres leches cake is something that steps it up to a whole other level. It’s a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Don’t look at the calories, just look at how moist the beautiful muffin is when you cut it in half.
Tierra Mia is located in various parts of LA and growing.
For tourists, the easiest ones to get to are probably their downtown and Echo Park locations but if you want to go where it all started, head out to the original South Gate location off Firestone near the 710 freeway.
G&B Coffee (Downtown)
We’re big fans of Grand Central Market. Sure, Egg Slut is highly overrated, but the rest of the place is great. And there’s a tiny coffee joint called G&B that you might miss, if not for the lines and the New York Times article about it. And here’s the thing: As much as I don’t want to be that guy to fall in line behind a newspaper review, the New York Times is spot on: The best iced latte in LA is at G&B. No splenda or skim milk. You want a latte, you’re gonna get a latte. And in this case, what you want to order is the Iced Almond-Macadamia Nut Latte, a coffee so good it deserves to be typed in caps-lock. They also run a place called Go Get Em Tiger in Larchmont Village. Never been, but I imagine if you find yourself in that area, you’re also in good hands.
Philz Coffee (Santa Monica)
In case you’re not in the know, there’s an odd rivalry between Nor Cal and So Cal. If I listen to one more Bay Area person talk about how we steal their water and yada yada yada I’m going to just start saying yada yada yada in my head. In 2012, the Golden State Warriors found their way to relevancy for really the first time since 1994 (they did make the playoffs once in 2006 only to get their butts kicked in the 2nd round) and everyone I know from that area can’t stop talking about the demise of the Lakers over the last couple seasons. But I digress. The point is this: I hate to do it, but I gotta give some love to my friends from Nor Cal. Because of them, we have my favorite coffee shop on the West Side: Philz. Everytime I was in San Francisco, I’d try and find a way to get over to Philz.
Each cup is made individually. The baristas have their own signature blends if you’re daring enough to try it. Coffee purists and those who like creative takes on coffee alike will be happy here. I’m more on the creative side, and so the Iced Mint Mojito Latte hits the spot on a warm day. I love to grab a cup and then walk down to the beach.
Blue Bottle Coffee (Downtown Arts District as well as Abbott Kinney Venice) and Stumptown Cofee (Downtown Arts District)
While we’re giving some love to our neighbors to the North, I’ll give a little more love: Blue Bottle Coffee is legit. Of course if you’re in the Arts Districts, your choices are many (thanks hipsters?) and so you’ll have to decide if you want some of the most famous coffee from San Francisco, or if you want to journey a little further North and check out Stumptown Coffee, a coffee shop that got it’s start in Portland and also has locations in New York. Try a unique LA pastry: The kimchi and spam croissant. Sounds weird, it’s actually great!
Intelligentsia (all over LA)
Intelligentsia was the coffee place I heard the most about when I learned about third wave coffee. They got started back in the mid 90’s so certainly seem to have a first to market advantage. They pride themselves on working with growers in pursuit of the purest and thus presumably most delicious coffee around the world.
Groundwork claims to
be the largest organic coffee roaster in Southern California. They have some fun sodas too! Like Intelligentsia and Tierra Mia, they’ve got multiple locations making them easy to track down for thirst tourists. What’s more, you can buy their stuff in Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, and other shops throughout LA. A friend gave me one of their bottled iced coffee’s and I must admit, it was an off the hook good treat to have with breakfast at home one day!
85 Degrees Bakery
Going back to the “LA is so damn diverse it’s awesome” argument, we bring you 85 Degrees. Founded in Taiwan, they now have over 800 stores throughout Taiwan, China, Australia, and the USA. You really go to 85 degrees for the awesome baked goods. Taro bread, pork sung bun, and milk pudding are all wonderful. But we’re also huge fans of their iced sea salt coffee. You just got to try it to understand it.
Everyone has a local bias, and I’m certainly no exception. I don’t think Tanners is at the level of these other coffee shops, but I do like what they do and more important still, I like the vibe of their beachside location in Playa Del Rey.
Again, we have a bias, and if you have followed this blog this much you know: Social justice is mine. That’s why we wrote about the best ethical eats in LA recently and that’s why no list is complete without adding HomeGirl Cafe. The tacos are great, everyone knows that. But the coffee, especially the brew with cinnamon, is a big hit for Laura and I. They’ve got a location near ChinaTown, one in City Hall, and you can also grab a cup if you’re leaving from terminal 4 at LAX!
Those are our 10 best coffee shops in Los Angeles, but if we can impress nothing else upon you, we want to leave you with this: LA, like any big city, is too damn diverse in its culinary and libation (coffee counts as a libation here) offering to stick with the same true and known stuff you can get almost anywhere in the world. Sure, Starbucks is easy and convenient, but why not branch out and try some new stuff? There are many little shops here and there that didn’t even make this list, and so we hope you explore some of the places listed above, we hope you find new places to share with us, but most of all, we hope you move beyond Starbucks and yes, even beyond Dunkin Donuts since we have one of those now, and explore some more creative coffee spots!
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