La Marzocco’s retail cafe is having a lasting effect on coffee lovers outside of Seattle. Drawing inspiration from their rotating coffee spot inside KEXP (recent winner of a Sprudgie Award for Best New Cafe), CoffeeHall is a brand new coffee pop-up tucked inside the Mandarin Plaza of Chinatown, Los Angeles. The simple, minimalist space is the work of Aldo Lihiang (creator of Mooon, a coffee directory app) Yeekai Lim, owner / operator at LA coffee trail blazers Cognoscenti Coffee. Together they've teamed up to create a comfortable, ever-changing cafe featuring the city’s favorite coffee roasters on a quick three-day residency.
CoffeeHall started out as a way to expose the Chinatown area and other locals to the specialty coffee world—with the industry’s rapid growth and nigh-constant cafe openings in Los Angeles, it's only natural to see new openings like this expand beyond the Echo Park / Silver Lake nexus. While the space was originally intended for pour-over classes and brewing education, Aldo Lihiang and Yeekai Lim quickly changed their minds in the brainstorming process when the two remembered La Marzocco’s new cafe in Seattle.
“I think literally that week or a couple days after, Yeekai was like, ‘La Marzocco is on board,’” Lihiang remembers. “I was like,’What?!’ And he just kept adding.”
Every piece of equipment inside CoffeeHall, from the La Marzocco Strada AV to the notNeutral cups and even JoeGlo cleaning agent, is sponsored by the brands themselves, and also acts as part of a retail account while featured. As for roasters and local cafes, the calendar is jam-packed with the LA coffee community’s finest and brightest. Spots like Laguna Beach’s Commodity, former Toby's Estate roaster Deaton Pigot's new Take Flight Coffee, and Bunch Coffee are just a few of the names lined up to serve. For each residency, the brand’s baristas come through, dial in, and serve coffee to Chinatown locals and tourists for three days.
The cafe is simple. Aside from a singular “coffee” sign outside the plaza’s sidewalk on Broadway Street, there’s minimal advertising for the space. The interior is clean and white with charming details: distinctive tables and seats from Rad Furniture, an all-white ping pong table, and a poster of Ninja Hunter behind a table spinning music—a lot of which is provided by the brands themselves. While CoffeeHall is hosted by Mooon and Cognoscenti, each cafe / roaster partner can put their own stamp on how the space is operated.
In addition to the above mentioned brands, scheduled to appear are Bar Nine LA, Stereoscope Coffee, Hidden House Coffee Roasters, and even Philadelphia’s La Colombe Coffee Roasters, a sneak preview of their soon to be permanent place in LA later this year. Beyond brewing education, the pop-up concept allows for more exposure to the entire coffee community, a more formal and palatable way of exposing people to the specialty coffee community rather than just the product itself.
“We’re just surrounded with community and people that really want to take coffee to the next level,” says Lihiang. “I think it’s pretty awesome that everyone who’s on board is on board with that idea of what we wanna do with this space.”
In addition to popping up, Lim and Lihiang encourage the shops to add an extra twist to their menus while serving. The Combine Kitchen from the Inland Empire kicked off CoffeeHall with an idea that incorporated their baristas’ outside talents into the menu. For every latte a guest ordered, owner Mike Lee snapped a portrait of the guest and e-mailed it to them afterwards. Cognoscenti got a little in-depth and asked guests to blind sample several milks before choosing their favorite for a drink. It was only until after consumption that they revealed the final decision. While it’s not a requirement, it adds a fun twist that customers can only get during their residencies at CoffeeHall.
So far, CoffeeHall’s intention of attracting locals and the curious has succeeded. Whether they’re artists from the many bustling galleries in Chinatown or employees from the dim sum restaurants nearby, everyone is excited to see another addition to the rapidly developing neighborhood.
“We’re able to educate them on what this is and what the specialty coffee movement is, whatever that means, we’re kind of able to tell them,” Lihiang says. “The more roasters or coffee shops that come to the pop-up, they get to hear so many different stories and backgrounds and the people behind it.”
While the space currently functions as a pop-up, Lihiang and Lim plan to incorporate coffee events to the calendar as it gathers speed. Expect nerd-outs like Barista Championship screenings, latte art throw downs, and even potential reunions through the remainder of CoffeeHall’s time in the Mandarin Plaza. The team constantly bounces ideas back and forth, but ultimately want to make a place that’s memorable for coffee lovers, both consumers and industry folks.
“This is how we just want it to be fun and we want it to be like, that’s the two months that LA coffee had something going on there,” Lihiang tells Sprudge. “It could be bigger, or maybe it could be just this. We’re open to it… it’s just a playground, I guess?”