Sometimes a cafe's personality is so strong that its name, logo, or even its slogan can affect a neighborhood's character. Alfred Coffee is one of those cafes. Coffee aficionados may have heard the expression “But first, coffee,” and seen it hashtagged alongside perfectly composed and Instagrammable coffee shots—well, this is Alfred Coffee’s claim to fame (it's even trademarked). With locations in some of Los Angeles’ trendiest neighborhoods—Silver Lake, Brentwood, two in Melrose, and a soon to open Studio City shop, all supplied exclusively with Stumptown Coffee—Alfred has become a quintessential LA coffee chain and continues to expand.
Alfred's growth now includes the new Alfred Tea Room, also in Melrose, just about a block away from their first spot. It’s easy to spot, with its tiled, cotton candy-colored exterior, which matches the interior space, also completely splashed with the pink hue. All around the shop are catchy phrases like “I love you so matcha,” “Can’t we just all get oolong!” and a neon sign declaring the slogan: “Tea, yes. You, maybe.” (As payment here is by card only, they could have added “cash, no.”)
The selection of tea here is vast: herbal, black, white, green, and even fermented teas are available, and kombucha from Health-Ade is on tap, all of it sourced from myriad different vendors. A mirror on the wall lists seasonal iced teas and boba specials. As you wait for your drink, gaze at artwork curated by Tappan Collective, or take a peek at the shelves lined with various Alfred merch and books.
The shop's manager, Jordan Hardin, is something of a tea expert, having spent more than five years in a variety of managerial positions at American Tea Room. He says that, in contrast with most specialty cafes' quality control over their coffee, “it’s easy and satisfactory for most shops to just throw a tea bag into hot water and serve it.” Not so here. Alfred cleverly uses a Modbar pour-over tap setup—originally designed for coffee—for the teas. “It’s way better than any other water heaters we’ve used,” says Hardin. “We know the exact temperature and we set up the auto-dose, so we don’t have to measure out the water.”
According to owner Josh Zad, the inspiration to open a tea shop began after Alfred Coffee’s matcha tea soared in popularity. (Matcha and chai are on the menu at every Alfred location.) Zad saw the rising demand for tea just as he saw an opportunity to open another shop on North Alfred Street, and it just clicked. “The spectrum of tea is so large that this opening just made sense,” he says.
Just like coffee shops stocking tea, if you happen to find yourself craving coffee here, you can get some nitro coffee on tap or a Stumptown carton from the fridge. There's a good reason for not serving (or brewing) any other type of coffee, according to Hardin: “Once you grind the coffee, the smell is so overwhelming that you lose the intricacies of the tea aromas in the space. One grind of coffee automatically makes it smell like a coffee shop; we want to get away from that and let the tea influence.”
Alfred makes everything for its drinks in-house—even the boba. “Everything is fresh and made from scratch,” says Hardin. “We use real tea as the concentrate for our milk teas; nothing’s artificial, there are no powders, no preservatives—that’s why we don’t have a huge selection of boba, we wanted to make sure it’s good.” As with coffee, pastries are essential, and there is a variety here supplied by Sugarbloom Bakery—including a matcha-almond croissant, an item exclusive to the Alfred Tea location and a perfect pastry for pairing.
Hardin feels that people are ready to embrace specialty tea the way they have coffee. “The widespread success of coffee shops has informed people who are open to the idea that another beverage can be done with the same attention to detail and the same passion,” he says. Maybe this will be the year tea has its Third Wave moment?
Tatiana Ernst is a Sprudge staff writer based in Los Angeles. Read more Tatiana Ernst on Sprudge.