With an average of 329 sunny days per year, Los Angeles lacks the rain and gloom that makes residents of other West Coast cities like coffee-rich Portland and Seattle clamor for a warming jolt of caffeine. But just because it’s hot out more often than not doesn’t mean Angelenos are averse to a steaming mug of exceptionally brewed java. In recent years, boutique roasters have been popping up across the city, and they’ve elevated the cuppa-joe to a refined art with hot-rod espresso equipment, custom made-to-order brewing options, and refined fare to match.
Yet the best coffeehouses in Los Angeles are more than just places for a haute drink. They’re also de-facto headquarters for the city’s distinctive subcultures, from the legions of laptop-toting screenwriters to ironic-t-shirt-clad hipsters to celebrities and their gawking fans. Here are our top picks for both quality coffee and a slice of life in La-La Land.
The Skinny: The startlingly potent coffee here may not be of the newfangled gourmet variety, but it’s strong and tasty enough to have fueled many a screenwriter through a late-night script revision. Even more legendary than the coffee (and the chai tea lattes, which draw raves) is the edgy décor, complete with concrete floors, neon blue walls, grungy overstuffed chairs, and an oddball chandelier. Also a delight for laptop-weary eyes: the rotating exhibitions of local art and the “Forest Room,” a psychedelic installation of foam trees and dim green lighting.
The Scene: A mix of rumpled creative types and tattooed rockers, with a behind-the-scenes movie industry vibe.
Pair Your Coffee With: A tuna panini with avocado
5931 Franklin Ave.
Neighborhood: Silver Lake
The Skinny: While many high-end coffeehouses boast direct-trade relationships with growers, Intelligentsia (which started in Chicago) takes that concept a notch further to champion seasonality and produce single-origin, micro-lot roasts. The result is that Intelligentsia’s beans have what the café calls “distinct flavor profiles,” from dark chocolate, cherry, and brown sugar to cranberry, vanilla, and fig (yum!). Superstar baristas pull perfect shots—custom brewed based on a description of your taste—on tricked-out espresso machines.
While there are also locations in Venice and Pasadena, the Silver Lake outpost is where to come if you want to plant yourself in the epicenter of hipster territory.
The Scene: The sprawling posses of too-cool-for-school types and coffee connoisseurs can make nabbing one of the outdoor tables difficult.
Pair Your Coffee With: Apple crumb pie
3922 W. Sunset Blvd.
Neighborhood: Silver Lake
The Skinny: The ultimate cup of coffee here starts with Lamill’s proprietary filtered water and continues with your selection from a veritable library of direct-source beans along with your choice of extraction method, executed with a mind-boggling array of flashy gizmos. The result? Incomparably rich brews that aficionados savor like fine wine.
The carefully crafted Cal-gourmet café menu keeps foodies satisfied all day long with everything from artisan baked goods to cage-free vegetarian hen egg dishes to fine French jambon au beurre sandwiches. Baroque touches like the ornate chandelier and gray-toned murals contrast to the brightly painted red exterior, a classy-cool setting that invites lingering.
The Scene: Silver Lake business as usual: Screenwriters with laptops mingle with moms toting strollers and the hipster-intellectual set.
Pair Your Coffee With: Warm brioche donuts
1636 Silver Lake Blvd.
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
The Skinny: Though it’s now a global chain, this homegrown coffee purveyor (since 1963) is still a standout on the L.A. java landscape and remains a favorite of loyal locals. The scrumptious Ice Blended drinks (coffee extract blended up with flavored powders, milk, and ice and topped with whipped cream) really put The Bean on the map—there’s no finer cool-down on a baking Los Angeles afternoon. But even the hot drinks, brewed with Arabica beans, are a cut above the offerings at more standard chains.
While there’s a location in practically every neighborhood in Los Angeles, the West Hollywood outpost is notable for its celebrity cred: Celebs are known to breeze in for their daily brew (gossip blogger Perez Hilton famously made this his first “office” for good reason).
The Scene: Really varied—everyone from Tinseltown insiders to trendy tweens, brooding writers, and business travelers.
Pair Your Coffee With: Fresh pastries
7915 W. Sunset Blvd.
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
The Skinny: This organic coffee chainlet pulls in the health- and environmentally-conscious set with beans that are free of chemical fertilizers and grown with practices that preserve the rainforest. Unsurprisingly, the menu of breakfast dishes, salads, and sandwiches is healthy and organic to match. Even the decadent, freshly baked desserts come in low-fat and vegan varieties. The flagship location in West Hollywood has a sun-drenched patio that’s perfect for celeb sightings and soaking up the California rays.
The Scene: Peak times bring massive lines at the counter and tussles over tables, so be prepared to elbow your way in among the yoga enthusiasts and size-zero starlets.
Pair Your Coffee With: 18-Carrot Gold Cake
8565 Melrose Ave.
For more information on these as well as many other chic venues in Los Angeles, check out The Purple Passport’s Los Angeles Guide.
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Photo courtesy of The Purple Passport.