There was a considerable amount of of interest—and a double shot of hot takes—when Intelligentsia Coffee announced the dramatic transition of their Pasadena coffee bar in April of 2022. In what might well be a specialty coffee first, Intelli Pasadena was reborn as an “instant espresso only” cafe, built around the brand’s new Instant Espresso Black Cat Classic, “a new freeze-dried instant iteration of their signature espresso blend.” Aided by the new La Marzocco Wally Milk steamer—itself a much-buzzed about new product in the world of the coffee bar—and you have the makings for an inflection point, the sort of thing people talk about (and talk about and talk about) on Twitter, behind iPads, and at hotel bars during coffee conferences.
Often here at the Build-Outs series, we’re giving ourselves and you a very first look at a brand new project. But today is more like a follow-up, and a chance to go a bit deeper, on our reporting from last April around the launch of Illumination Bar. The more we look the more interesting it gets.
As told to Sprudge by Lori Haughey.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Intelligentsia is a specialty coffee pioneer, rising from humble Chicago roots in 1995 to a company driven by curiosity, empowerment, and the never-ending quest for the most extraordinary coffee in the world.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
The Illumination Bar opened in March 2022. This space is where Intelligentsia will focus a lot of its energy on innovation. We are the first to bring La Marzocco’s Wally Milk to life in the US. A Marco POUR’D is on our back bar. Ground Control is used to make small batches of single origin concentrate for various drinks. We also opened with no espresso machine, but instead shifted to an instant Black Cat espresso to better understand the pros and cons of working with this format of coffee and what its potential can be in other spaces outside of retail.
What’s your approach to coffee?
Great coffee is not the result of chance. Extraordinary coffee is created by design at the hands of dedicated professionals around the world. Our coffee professionals collaborate in a shared, uncompromising environment, and have a commitment to quality.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
La Marzocco Wally Milk, Marco POUR’D, Ground Control, eight-tap handle draft system
How is your project considering sustainability?
The first feature that comes to mind is the more sustainable demand on the barista. We have eliminated so much of the mental expenditure. There is so much less urgent and stressful decision making involved in producing high quality coffee in Pasadena. We’ve also eliminated the most stressful repetitive motions which are tamping and managing the portafilter in and out of the espresso machine. I am hopeful that this creates more space for deeper engagement with our coffees and our guests.
The second obvious feature of sustainability in Pasadena is the reduction in coffee waste. Our freeze dried coffee is extracted to a much higher percentage than done by espresso machines. So that same amount of coffee can be stretched across more drinks. We also don’t have to dial in recipes or purge oxidized and degassed doses of coffee directly into the trash.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Danny Wicke was our architect with Prospect Studio.