Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with a world-class food and drink culture just waiting to be explored (provided you're down to occasionally wait in traffic). The city's coffee scene is particularly exciting, and while there are many exciting single-origin pour-overs and nuanced espresso shots to be had, there's also an exciting strain of fun, free-wheeling coffee concoctions being made at some of the city's top cafes.
Coffee bars in LA seem less beholden to old ideas of “seeming cool”, and more likely to whip you up something special; it makes this a really fun city to be a coffee drinker. To that end, I recently set out on a quest to try five of LA's least conventional coffee drinks, purists be darned. From fancy nut milks to hand-crafted syrups to ice cream, the creative coffee bars of Los Angeles did not disappoint.
The Business & Pleasure — G&B Coffee
G&B Coffee has become almost synonymous with their location at Grand Central Market, the rejuvenated downtown Los Angeles market that has become a major destination for food lovers. The coffee bar has been experiencing a great amount of attention lately thanks to their recent feature in the New York Times article titled, quizzically, “The Best Iced Latte in America?”
I’ve tried the raved-about latte, and it is dreamy, but this time around I wanted to focus on a more unique offering: The Business and Pleasure. Sounds delicious already, doesn’t it?
This order is actually three drinks in one. It starts out with G&B's well-loved signature “fizzy hoppy tea”, an elixir that combines cold-brewed oolong, beer hops, and magic. Next you're served an espresso, from G&B’s rotating roster of top North American roasters. This is the “Business” portion of the drink.
After sipping (or downing) the espresso, you’re served a silky macadamia-almond milk latte. This is the “Pleasure” half of the equation It'll coat your tongue with a creamy, nutty taste, indulgent enough to be pleasurable, but strong enough to hold its own next to the bright, sparkling tea and complex espresso.
Blanco y Negro — LA Mill
A Silverlake staple, LA Mill has been around for 6 years now, and it still feels chic. There’s a reason why locals flock to this coffeehouse.
I actually live in the area, but I hadn't had the pleasure of trying their delicious and refreshing sounding “blanco y negro” before. This drink consists of cold-brewed iced coffee, espresso granita, and housemade Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the coffee was smooth, the granita was refreshing and fun to break with the spoon, and the ice cream melted away beautifully to create a mélange of coffee flavors that changed with each spoonful.
Pistachio-Rose Latte — Demitasse
Demitasse has two Los Angeles locations, in Little Tokyo and Santa Monica. At both shops, each and every one of the baristas has their own signature coffee drink. Some of these include: a mocha with muddled jalapeño, a raspberry-infused espresso with a touch of lime, and a grapefruit zest and soda based cappuccino. Life is too short not to try at least one.
If you don’t have the time to stalk a particular barista, one of the permanent unique drink offerings at Demitasse is the pistachio-rose latte. A pistachio butter base (much like almond or cashew butter) is paired with rose water and honey syrup, with the addition of steamed milk and espresso on top.
While good lattes should be silky and creamy, this one is downright velvety, and manages to achieve a delicious thick texture without being too rich. You won’t feel heavy or guilty after drinking this special drink, I assure you, but it tastes so good, you’ll feel as if you’ve cheated. Nut-lovers everywhere take note.
Horchata Latte — Tierra Mia
Tierra Mia has been on a roll lately. Opening up stores throughout both NorCal and SoCal, the small chain certainly has found a large enough following to expand in the Golden State. The family company has a fascinating history and perspective–for one, they source their beans exclusively from Latin American countries–and it's safe to say that we here at Sprudge are fans.
Tierra Mia's tentpole signature is their horchata latte. Fans of Mexican cuisine already know horchata well, but for the uninitiated, it's a drink with Latin American origins (and many different variations) that typically combines rice milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. Horchata is completely delicious and widely available throughout Los Angeles, which is awesome.
The horchata latte at Tierra Mia is pretty much what you'd expect, combining horchata powder, vanilla, and the base of a latte (espresso and milk). The result is a cinnamon-y, buttery drink that sort of tastes like a liquid cookie.
New Orleans Iced Coffee Carton — Blue Bottle Coffee
It was a bit of a hunt trying to find the new Blue Bottle NOLA Iced Coffee carton. I ventured into the newly opened Blue Bottle store (formerly Handsome Roasters) in the LA Arts District early one afternoon expecting pick one up, but my heart sank when I discovered an empty ice cooler with a sign and a little drawing of a carton. Foiled!
I asked the friendly barista what the deal was. She confirmed they were out, but told me that I could get my carton fix up the street at Urban Radish. Wandering only a few blocks away, I was luckily able to snag one.
[Sprudge Editorial can attest that Urban Radish delightfully handled all of our urban curated market needs during a recent visit to Los Angeles. The depth and breadth of their curatorial prowess is indeed impressive. -Ed]
I used to live in San Francisco, and I enjoyed Blue Bottle’s NOLA iced coffee drink before they opened up shop here in LA. While claims have made both ways on whether the carton version measures up to the original, I have to say that the carton is worth it if you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time to wait in line for a fresh-made NOLA at the Blue Bottle coffee bar. Also, it’s a very nice option to be able to keep a stock in your fridge for when you’re too lazy to get out of your PJ’s, or if you're going on a picnic.
Tatiana Ernst is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and photographer. This is her first feature for Sprudge.com.