Down a residential street, across from an elementary schoolyard, and protected from the shouts of playing children by a wall of manicured hedges, Ignatius Cafe is possibly the most unassuming coffee shop in Los Angeles. That’s likely because Ignatius is not actually a “shop” at all. The cafe is part of the St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church and operates as a non-profit organization with proceeds benefitting those in need. Opened in 2011 and staffed entirely by volunteers, the cafe provides a peaceful place to relax and come together over coffee. The cafe features a limited menu and drinks are served in exchange for donations. I met with Father Choi, the man behind the cafe, who gave me the lowdown on the history of Ignatius and his own experience with coffee.
Originally from Korea, Choi began working with pour-over coffee in 2005. The brewing method had been introduced to Korea by way of Japan and was gaining in popularity. Pursuing his passion for coffee, he received a Q-Grader certification from the Coffee Quality Institute before moving to Los Angeles in 2010 to further his role in the church. In 2011, Father Choi opened Ignatius Cafe to support the church and provide a place for the community to congregate. The cafe takes its name from Ignatius of Loyola, a Spaniard who, in 1540, founded the Jesuit congregation of the Catholic Church. “As a Jesuit and in the Jesuit faith, we find God in all things—coffee is in God and God is in coffee,” Choi told me. As coffee is prepared, Choi and his team of volunteers pray for the happiness, peace, and health of others.
The cafe occupies the first floor of a quaint two-story house. As if taken from a storybook scene, a stone path lined with rose bushes leads to the cafe entrance. Vines grow up columns on the porch where patrons sit looking out to the garden. Inside, a wooden staircase lit by a golden-yellow stained glass window leads upstairs to bathrooms and three study rooms.
By contrast, the closest intersection, at Adams and Vermont, is lined with auto body shops and peppered with cell phone refurbishers and fast food joints. The Adams/Normandie neighborhood isn’t trendy or particularly close to businesses, however, during my visit the cafe maintained a steady and notably diverse string of customers. Professionals, students, and community members of all ages flowed in and out. The University of Southern California is only a half-mile away and a few in-the-know students were taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi while a group of middle-aged men and women quietly spoke Korean near one of the large windows.
Every morning before opening, Choi operates the cafe’s Primo roaster for about two hours. Choi noted that before roasting, volunteers hand sort beans for quality or defects. The usual selection of origins covers Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Tanzania, Colombia, and Indonesia, however, on my visit, a limited Kona roast added a seventh option.
The drink menu is simple with a mere four offerings (six including iced variations). Customers mark orders on sheets of white paper, which are then handed to the staff. Espressos are pulled from a Brasilia machine and lemon tea is available as the singular non-coffee choice. Iced lattes are served with espresso layered over milk, and the hand-drip is meticulously poured. A three-dollar donation is suggested for all drinks.
Proceeds are collected and distributed both locally and globally to those in need. Father Choi noted that the good will of the Jesuit faith and the cafe extends to those outside of the church, and their donations are made to organizations independent of faith. Primary recipients are low-income and disadvantaged groups. Beneficiaries include some local organizations here in Los Angeles and others as far as Korea, Bolivia, and Mongolia.
Father Choi hopes that the cafe offers a place for people to take time out of their day to converse and enjoy the company of others. He believes that the mission of his faith is “for others” and seeks to embody that in Ignatius Cafe. In a neighborhood otherwise devoid of coffee, where your only other choice is sitting dismally on the hot plates at the corner gas station, Ignatius certainly provides an island of respite. Anyone looking for simply a quality coffee and a place to relax is surely welcome to stop here.
Mackenzie Champlin is a freelance journalist based in southern California. This is Mackenzie Champlin’s first feature for Sprudge.