Kensho is the latest Los Angeles creation from Triniti founder David Wynn. One of the most interesting cafes in Los Angeles, Triniti is set in a dark, masculine space and cranks out the caliber of food you see on Chef’s Table, with the kind of signature drinks you see at coffee competitions (black sesame cappuccino, anyone?). The news of his new concept—in Hollywood of all places—brought excitement, with promises of Japanese food, natural wine, and tableside siphon coffee service.
Kensho, hidden in a cul-de sac on Sycamore Avenue, exceeds expectations. Indeed, they have tableside siphon service of incredible, expressive coffees (like this year’s award winning lactic-process microlot from La Palma y El Tucán in Colombia) ground on a sweet Compak PKR grinder. There is a beautiful Mavam espresso machine—under the counter to limit visual disruption. Drinks are served in Hasami porcelain mugs that are built to be stacked and stored easily á la bento.
These details, while impressive, were to be expected. It was the intimate, serene atmosphere that surprised me the most. Located on the historic Yamashiro property in the Hollywood Hills, Kensho provides a calm space to escape from the madness percolating below. Built in 1914, this stunning property originally housed a massive art collection owned by two German brothers. The main building on the property (aptly named Yamashiro) is now a restaurant. Kensho is housed in a small building (originally used for horse carriage parking) just slightly down the hill. Adorned with gorgeous blonde wood, a few plants, and a colorful mural, the space feels like you are sitting in a cloud above all the turmoil. When I first heard of this project, I expected grandeur and a loss of the intimacy that makes Triniti special. I should have known better.
Coffee at Kensho comes from Unity Sourcing and Roasting, a brand led by Adam Strauss, who is the founder, roaster, and green buyer. Strauss told me he looks for the loudest, most vibrant coffees he can find, and is a lover of naturally-processed coffees that land as funky and experimental. He would tell you that he just wants to share the most flavorful and amazing coffees he can find, but it also strikes me as a political statement. Some in the specialty industry still hold the idea that natural coffees “just aren’t as good” as washed coffees. But to Strauss, and in turn Kensho, they offer opportunities to enlighten people to the flavor kaleidoscope of coffee.
The word kensho, in fact, refers to a first awakening towards enlightenment, a glimpse into one’s own true nature. This idea influences the offerings and service you will find here. They feature one stellar coffee for both espresso and drip (only pour-overs are available) in hopes of providing the neighborhood with interesting coffees and skipping the mediocre, filler offerings. Kensho hosts classes for restaurants and coffee shops to help improve their coffee game—a feature rarely seen at cafes that do not themselves roast and wholesale coffee.
Coffee isn’t the only star at Kensho and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food, as well as the stellar wine selection thanks to the folks at Adult Wine. Informed by experiences in Japan as well as Wynn’s heritage, the food menu is heavily Japanese-leaning but feels Californian. Dishes like Hokkaido scallop aguachile and rice porridge with aged soy are show-stopping examples of this juxtaposition. For a less adventurous (yet equally delicious) morning, you can grab an almond financier and a buttered yam latte.
I recommend you bring a few friends—ideally open minded ones who don't mind a bit of funk in their cup—and simply order one of everything.
Josh Stenslien is a coffee professional based in Los Angeles. This is Josh Stenslien's first feature for Sprudge.
Photos by Rob Prechtl