What follows is a little photographic ode to Intelli’s California outposts. I took these around August, 2011, and also earlier this June, 2012. These remain some of the best coffees I’ve had and I always enjoy stopping by when I return home to Los Angeles. I wanted to highlight how unique each location is, each reflecting their neighborhoods while presenting different ways of consuming coffee prepared to the most exacting standards.
I’ve written about Intelligentsia’s Venice cafe in the past, but it really is one of the world’s premier specialty cafes. The Venice shop showcases Intelligentsia’s training program and careful long-term commitment to quality coffee and tea sourcing with a unique layout and a consistent level of quality that, while not perfect (none can claim to be), would be difficult for many to match with the volume they handle every day. They have four espresso machine stations, and a fifth custom machine in the back serving the slow bar. The slow bar is actually one of the most exciting features. It’s a space in the rear of the cafe where baristas are given relative freedom to create their own unique menus presented to four seated guests at a time. As you’ll see below, this can result in unexpectedly pleasant surprises.
The pour over is enough to share.
The view from the slow bar, with Charles Babinski (who recently opened his own shop with Kyle Glanville).
Customized by Espresso Parts, the folklore behind this machine suggests it was one of the original machines used by Starbucks back when they were getting started.
An example of a custom menu for the slow bar. Justin Coates’ menu includes the mysterious “White Light from the Mouth of Infinity.”
The star of Justin’s menu was this home made honey lavender gelato, a shot of Kenya Tegu, topped again with home made raspberry cream.
Jaymie is my old friend from UCLA who’s now the coffee educator at Venice. When I visited she was focusing her slow bar menu on tea service, highlighting the same tea steeped several times at various lengths, and the way it brings out different flavors. That’s the fun thing about the slow bar – it lets the barista share what they’re currently exploring and experimenting with.
This is one of the newest locations and it also serves food, beer, and wine. Unfortunately Pasadena is a bit out of the way for me so I’ve only been to this Intelligentsia location twice and never had a chance to try the food or have a beer, but by all counts their offerings are delicious and represent yet another creative take on coffee and the cafe space paired with complementary ingredients. The space also manages to blend cafe brightness in the front, and bar-like ambience in the rear at the same time. It’s a place I’m looking forward to visiting again next time I’m in town.
Intelligentsia Silver Lake
This was Intelli’s first outlet in Los Angeles, and it tends to have a line out the door whenever I’ve visited. The outdoor patio gets a lot of foot traffic and it’s typically packed, which is great if you want to people watch as a parade of Silver Lake characters and caricatures file by in line. The coffee menu is slightly more pared down compared to Venice, but it is well prepared. The atmosphere here can be a bit harried during a rush, making this more of a pit stop unless you want to hover until you find a seat – something, it turns out, many are indeed willing to do, making the scene even more busy and entertaining as a microcosm of this peculiar neighborhood.
And that about wraps it up. My favorite space is the Venice coffee bar for it’s consistency and slow bar experimentation, but each spot has it’s own unique character. What’s your favorite?