Los Angeles’ coffee scene has been steadily growing since I left it back in 2008, and one of the most acclaimed newcomers is Handsome Coffee Roasters. Based in the Downtown Arts District, Handsome was founded by several Intelligentsia expatriates: Michael Phillips, the 2010 World Barista Champion; Tyler J. Wells, former manager of Intelli’s Pasadena cafe; and Chris Owens, former head of education at Intelli’s Venice cafe and holder of a range of positions at other well known roasters like Ritual, Gimme, and Counter Culture.
The space they’ve created is really bright, airy, and warm, with seating that wraps around the bar. It is a bit out of the way for anyone who doesn’t live or work in downtown LA, but quite a few different food trucks make regular appearances, potentially making your pilgrimage slightly more justifiable if you weren’t convinced coffee alone was worth the traffic and price of gas. They’re also right around the corner from the LA Gun Club, so you can get wired on caffeine and then go shoot shotguns (!).
As a relatively new operation I haven’t had all that many chances to try their roasts, but I’ve heard mostly positive reviews from coffee professionals working with their coffee in multi-roaster cafes. On the two occasions I visited the Handsome shop in LA, I had mixed experiences. I’m not a big fan of iced lattes, but my fiancee and many others certainly are, and at Handsome they don’t do iced lattes – instead, they mix cold brew with a bit of whole milk. I thought it tasted weak, watery, bitter. They offered that it highlighted the coffee’s flavor better than an espresso based drink. Matters of taste, I suppose. [Update: Tyler from Handsome writes in the comments below that they've changed their menu and now offer iced lattes. If that's your thing, rejoice!].
Handsome also eschews coffee brewed by the cup (pour over, siphon, etc.), instead opting for batch brews that are rotated often. I went in with an open mind because I think that we fetishize the theatre and narrative surrounding manual methods, and that there’s missed potential for good batch brews. In the end, however, my coffee was just a bit underwhelming, lacking the clarity of flavor I’d expect from a specialty cafe with Handsome’s pedigree. If you’re not super picky this won’t be an issue, but I was looking for more.
However, this was all offset by some of the best espresso shots I had on my visit to LA. It was a single origin coffee under the ‘Scout’s Honor’ label. The name of the coffee escaped my notes, but the taste was clear: “citrus and berries, crisp fruity acidity, smooth and sweet, no unwanted bitterness; a lower temperature in the demitasse than expected.” It was very nice. The quality of espresso has improved in LA such that you have a greater chance of finding a drinkable shot than you did in years past, but the places serving drinks that transcend drinkable and approach the mythic ‘godshot’ are still few and far between. Handsome definitely makes it on to that list.
I’d be back without hesitation on the regular if I was still living in LA, even with the caveats noted above. Stick to the espresso drinks, or venture into other beverage territory with your fingers crossed. I only visited twice so it may have been bad luck on my part, which is entirely understandable with a product as finicky as coffee. Also, the baristas working behind the bar are friendly folks, don’t let Yelpers with hipster-anxiety-disorder persuade you to think otherwise. Do share your experiences below if you’ve been to Handsome, and for those who haven’t, enjoy the photos of the space and the surrounding neighborhood!
Map & Directions:
582 Mateo Street Los Angeles, CA 90013
View FRSHGRND – Global Cafe Guide in a larger map