Coffee Cultured: A taste of the LA coffee scene
(Insun Park/Daily Bruin)
By Michelle Lin
Aug. 10, 2017 12:41 p.m.
From latte art videos on Facebook to not-so-witty quotes on T-shirts, coffee is an indisputable aspect of our everyday lives. Every frappy hour is national news, and liking the taste of coffee is viewed as a mark of adulthood. I don’t claim to be a coffee expert who can easily discern between single-origin coffees and blends. However, I love coffee because of how much it has to offer in regards to its taste, variety, effect and experience. During my time at UCLA, I will be embarking on an in-depth exploration of coffee from all aspects, and hopefully become more coffee-cultured.
So far, my summer internship has been filled with countless cups of Keurig coffee accompanied by a sickening amount of half-and-half containers. As I find myself drinking crappy coffee every day both for its convenience and to get through eight-hour work days, I have never appreciated the great coffee shops of LA more. Here are some more of my favorites near UCLA.
Espresso Profeta is the closest quality coffee shop to UCLA, near Tender Greens and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Despite its proximity, it feels detached from UCLA and the Westwood Village bubble. I love the brick interior and the cute outside patio. There are always people studying here, and it’s a like a breath of fresh air to come here rather than the Westwood Starbucks or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The coffee is standard and solid, and the store itself has a relaxed nature and a beautiful view.
Down the street from Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle in Sawtelle is a gem of a coffee shop – Balconi. While the store itself is small and for some reason has jarringly red walls, it makes up for that in its drinks and amazing customer service. Balconi specializes in the siphon method, where a contraption with two chambers that looks like an hourglass is used to brew coffee. Water is heated in the lower chamber and pressure rises, forcing the water into the upper chamber, where the ground coffee is. Then, the heat is turned off, and vacuum force sucks the coffee back down into the lower chamber. This creates a smooth, less bitter and fuller bodied cup. The siphon method is extremely interesting and beautiful to watch, reminiscent of a science experiment.
Another element that sets Balconi apart is its almond essence lattes. Both the hot and cold versions are addictingly incredible, and the hot ones sometimes come with cute animal latte art. The almond flavor is unlike anything I’ve ever had, as it uses sweetened pulverized almonds.
Bricks and Scones is the most unique coffee shop that I have been to. It’s quaint and eclectic, with ample outdoor and indoor seating. Indoors, the building is curved like the tower of a castle. It features a huge chandelier, and the seating is on an upstairs level with plenty of couches.
I have never been in a coffee shop with more people studying or with a quieter atmosphere. Inside the shop, just about every single person was intensely working, thanks to “The Study,” a no-talking room in which each person gets his or her own lamp and desk. In contrast, the outdoor seating is fit for conversation.
The menu is extensive, with many food and drink options, including afternoon tea and scones. I tried the iced sea salt caramel latte, which was pretty salty but oddly satisfying. The cold brew with coconut milk was nicely balanced and refreshing.
If you’re looking for a place to study, this is the spot. It’s cute and cozy and a nice break from the minimalistic and modern nature of typical LA coffee shops. Also, it’s located on Larchmont Boulevard, down the road from Salt & Straw, among other trendy shops and restaurants.
This Intelligentsia location is one of my favorites, because of its super hip and open coffee bar layout, its surroundings in Venice, and the fact that there’s a parking lot behind it. There’s quite a bit of seating available, and there are always people studying here. The open layout allows for a great view of the baristas, and it is located in an area that’s quintessentially Venice, filled with hip shops and interesting street art.
Intelligentsia has, hands down, the best iced mocha. I was always sad about the fact that Blue Bottle Coffee doesn’t offer an iced version of its mocha, so I immediately jumped on this opportunity. The chocolate flavor is so deep, strong and smooth.
The speciality at Intelligentsia is the Iced Angeleno – four shots of Black Cat Espresso shaken with ice, agave nectar and milk. Although I’m only brave enough to have ventured a few sips, it tastes great because of the Black Cat Espresso flavor and is perfectly balanced.
Plus, it’s only 285 feet from Salt & Straw, if you’re like me and have a raging sweet tooth and no self-respect.
As much as I absolutely love the donuts from Sidecar – Mexican Hot Chocolate, anyone? – I cannot overemphasize the fact that their iced caramel latte is literally the best caramel latte that I have ever, and will ever, have. The first few sips had me in complete shock and awe. The caramel taste is so strong and powerful, without being overly sweet. It’s buttery, creamy and indescribable. Not only has Sidecar won the donut game, but it has also completely knocked the caramel latte game out of the park. Any shop or individual who wants to top Sidecar’s, give up now, because it’s impossible. If you want to change your life for the better, please try this.
Espresso Profeta: A shining beacon of hope in Westwood Village.
Balconi Coffee Company: Almond galore.
Bricks and Scones: The Study away from UCLA’s The Study at Hedrick.
Intelligentsia: How I imagine the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee: Crack or caramel? The world may never know.