There is no shortage of coffee shops in Los Angeles, but when one sparkles like Rubies + Diamonds, it’s hard not to pay attention. For one, it’s eye catching. The gold-plated R+D sign mirrors the palm trees overhead and—on an inclement day—maybe a few clouds. Its strong jewelry store motif may beguile some passersby, but R+D has more to offer than appearances. At the heart of Rubies + Diamonds is a dedicated team of coffee and tea lovers whose mission it is to stretch the boundaries of what goes into an exceptional drink. It’s that dedication and ingenuity that makes this shop really shine.
Rubies + Diamonds is Jean Shim’s first independent venture after working with LAMill, distributing coffee wholesale. When opening R+D, Shim wanted to first establish all those things expected from the modern specialty coffee establishment: high-quality coffees and teas, a well-trained staff, and modern ambiance. From there they would push beyond. Shim didn’t want to create a luxury brand, she wanted to challenge expectations with a shop that was creative at its core. That creativity is evident throughout, from the drinks to the paintings on the walls.
The interior has a hotel lounge atmosphere interposed with modern elements. Bench seating wraps around one wall and small gold-plated and obsidian black tables pop up at knee level. The dangling chandelier is the work of artist Vincent Tomczyk. The hundreds of gold rods connected with small gems evoke feelings of Old Hollywood glitz. The design was intended to give a nod to the neighborhood as well as owner Shim’s creative interests. Modern art pieces are scattered on the walls; one Takashi Murakami print is part of Shim’s personal collection. Opposite the bench seating, the bar runs the length of the room featuring a BKON brewer, a La Marzocco Strada EE, Nuova Simonelli and Mazzer Grinders, and an elaborate keg and tap installation suitably plated in gold.
Their drink offerings are numerous, and starting from the way they serve coffee, you'll notice things are a bit different here. The defining aspect of their coffee program, the “Caf Rating System” delineates coffee offerings as the name would suggest, by caffeine content. A caffeine level of “00” is decaf. The high-quality, single-origin Arabica beans rank a modest “02” on the caffeine scale. And the once-shunned Robusta coffee bean tops the scale with a “04” rating. The scale is helpful for coffee drinkers like Shim who readily admits the attraction to coffee is about getting “that boost of energy.” The taste and quality need to be there too, but the caffeine is very important.
Not surprisingly, most customers are drawn to the 04, the Robusta, for its elevated caffeine. Shim says that it has quickly become the most popular coffee on the menu. What is surprising, however, is how the rating system has broken down that Robusta stigma. Once known for bitter acidity, R+D is working to bring these beans to a higher standard. Rubies and Diamonds sourced the highest-ever rated Robusta coffee from Magundi, India: the first Robusta coffee certified by the Coffee Quality Institute’s R Coffee System. They then fine-tune the flavors they want during roasting, done in-house, in Whittier, California. The result is actually a very fine-tasting coffee, with a pleasant graininess, and savory finish. “It’s an easy-drinking coffee that you won’t feel bad if you add milk to,” said Aaron Rodriguez, Creative Drink Development—which is a job here.
Beyond black coffee, R+D offers a world of signature drinks constantly evolving and in different stages of, as the shop's initials like to hint at, research and development. Shim brought Rodriguez and Precy Betiong over from LAMill to lead the beverage program at her new shop. Creating, tweaking, and experimenting are their primary responsibilities. So far, they’ve developed croissant-infused lattes, sea salt cold brew, and an array of nitrogenated teas—and that’s just the beginning for these science-minded bevologists.
One year before opening, Rodriguez and Betiong began tinkering in the back of a rented trailer parked in a driveway somewhere in Pasadena. Inside, they installed their entire bar set, espresso machine, nitro taps, and got down to work in the makeshift laboratory. “The nitro teas were the most difficult to get right,” says Betiong. Getting the right consistency, the right amount of carbonation, so the drink settles out nicely and has that nitro creaminess took a lot of work. One standout result is the “Peppermint Patty” poured on tap: a combination of black tea, cocoa nibs, and peppermint for a lightly sweet taste almost like a “Thin Mint” Girl Scout Cookie.
The tinkering didn't stop once they arrived in the cafe itself. Rodriguez and Betiong are ceaselessly poring over new ideas, new hypotheses, trying to figure out the best way to infuse beers with flavors in the BKON machine, or inventing new combinations of spices and teas for their nitro tap. The creativity is contagious and it is exciting to see a team of people so excited about the new technology available in the coffee industry. It takes a few people not afraid to break some rules to move boundaries. The crew at Rubies + Diamonds is certainly not afraid to mix things up. And those things taste really good.
Mackenzie Champlin is a Sprudge contributor based in Los Angeles. Read more Mackenzie Champlin on Sprudge.