When Paul Hibler debuted Superba Food and Bread in Venice, California, back in 2014, one of the all-day restaurant’s most acclaimed—though now discontinued—items wasn’t served on a plate. Instead, it was a hazelnut cappuccino developed by opening barman Tyler Wells that immediately earned the place praise, composed of two espresso shots and house-made hazelnut milk sweetened with maple syrup.
Over the last few years, and due in no small part to this city's interest in nutritional wellness and environmental sustainability, Los Angeles area cafes and specialty coffee shops have upped their alternative dairy milk game beyond the usual soy.
While Superba Food and Bread may have thrust hazelnut milk coffee drinks into the spotlight, one of the city’s earliest adapters of house-made nut milk was Culver City’s three-year-old caffeine hub Bar Nine, which has also served its myriad coffee drinks with a proprietary hazelnut milk since inception. According to owner Zayde Naquib, “It is our only non-dairy alternative to whole milk, and we make it every morning.” After three months of research and development, testing out various nut combinations, Naquib decided on a simple blend of water, hazelnuts, dates, and sea salt, and now that combination is ordered almost as frequently in drinks as traditional cow’s milk. “I find that hazelnuts are a little less bitter than other nuts, and the flavor pairs really well with the bright and vibrant coffees we like to roast and serve,” Naquib tells Sprudge.
Similar sentiments are echoed at Gjelina co-owner Travis Lett’s Gjusta bakery in Venice, where the breezy, rustic eatery offers a hazelnut-almond milk blend in traditional coffee beverages, from lattes to cappuccinos.
For those keen on caffeine but looking to avoid dairy, no trip to Los Angeles would be complete without a Business & Pleasure at Charles Babinski and Kyle Glanville’s Go Get Em Tiger, a minimalist Larchmont Avenue coffee bar known for its excellent coffee, sure, but also an addictive blend of almond and macadamia milk. While customers can order the rich, creamy nut milk as a dairy replacement in a variety of hot and cold drinks, the Business & Pleasure itself is, in fact, a three part beverage. It consists of an espresso shot, a palate cleanser of sparkling tea, and finally a mix of espresso, simple syrup, and the house-made almond-macadamia milk that’s dusted with ground espresso beans. Explains Babinski, “We have made an effort to not treat the almond-macadamia milk simply as a dairy-alternative, but as a completely separate ingredient in our menu. It’s not something you suffer from when you can’t have [or] don’t want to drink milk.” Almond-macadamia milk drinks now account for nearly half of their business at Go Get Em Tiger.
But it’s not just cafes and coffee shops looking to supply quality vegan milk alternatives. Hollywood fine dining restaurant Republique, which serves from breakfast through dinner, added almond milk—made once or twice a day depending on demand— to its coffee mixer roster as of last March. Next up, chef and owner Walter Manzke is working on a peanut milk recipe. Meanwhile, buzzy Fairfax Italian eatery Jon & Vinny’s also offers a house-made almond milk, perfect for your cappuccino après-meatballs.
Yet, one of Los Angeles’ most delicious almond milks hails from the unlikely locale of a Santa Monica ice cream shop. While Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Restaurant Group first made house-made almond milks at their casual Santa Monica bakery and pizzeria cafe, Huckleberry and Milo & Olive, respectively, it was a tweaked version for sale at Sweet Rose Creamery on Pico which really took off, especially when paired with quality local roaster Caffe Luxxe brews. That recipe is now the standard at many of the group’s venues.
Last spring, Santa Barbara’s popular wellness-focused fruit bowl haunt Backyard Bowls landed on Beverly Boulevard, planting its açai and porridge bowls on new turf. While the cafe’s initial alt-milk on offer was a house-made coconut-cashew blend, co-owner Dan Goddard is currently providing either straight cashew or hemp milk mixed into bowls, coffee, or sold in jars to go. However, in the next few months he’s planning to launch an alt-milk line, which will include the original coconut-cashew, plus lavender cashew, and matcha cashew.
No matter your milk preference, try one of these alternatives the next time you're in LA. In this health-minded city's newly ascendant food and beverage scene, baristas and restaurant operators will take any opportunity to make their menus stand out—and the results are some truly delicious and singular house-made nut milks.
Top photo courtesy of Michelle Park.