Life as an Angeleno truly does involve a lot of monotonous time in cars, especially if you’re trying to traverse the ever-more sprawling LA-area coffee scene. So when Audi offered to lend me a clean burning diesel vehicle on Audi Diesel Day, I jumped at the chance to change up my driving routine and take them up on their offer to drive an Audi Q7 for a day. Their suggestion was to take the car “anywhere you want”. Clearly, I took that to mean “see how many coffee shops you can manage to drive to in one day”.
The morning started at a gas station where Audi Diesel Day was already in full swing – people were lined up for their free tank of gas, Audi swag, and cups of complimentary Handsome coffee. Then I was ready to head out on the road for a day fueled by clean diesel and improbable amounts of caffeine.
First stop was at Menotti’s Coffee Stop to see our friend Nicely and start off with some FourBarrel espresso. Nicely greeted me in his overalls with a smile and a predictably pretty cortado.
I had one more stop in Venice: Deus ex Machina for a Handsome Roasters espresso. My caffeine buzz was firmly on for the long drive to Costa Mesa to check out Portola Coffee Lab.
Pulling up to The OC Mix, I walked through the mixed use space, past at least 25 moms with tiny babies gathered in a lounge area, to meet up with our friend and coffee-obsessed chef Gary Menes, of Le Comptoir. We made our way past the strollers, cafe, cheese shop, and boutiques to find Truman Severson from Portola waiting for us in their Theorem Concept Bar.
First up, Mr. Truman served a natural processed coffee with a hint of blueberries. He then brewed up a pot of coffee in a Sowden Soft Brew from Sweden, claiming “it’s impossible to make bad coffee” in a Sowden. Mr. Severson and Mr. Menes discussed grind, ratios, and brew times and we tasted the coffee at several intervals as it cooled.
After that warm-up, it was time for the fancier portion of the service. Mr. Severson started with The Sauce, which had a strong but balanced combination of coffee, cranberry, and thyme flavors. The thyme aromatics were especially present thanks to the sprig of garnish adorning the drink’s champagne coupe.
Growing up in a wood-burning house, the smells of fall for Mr. Severson were smoke, leaves, and charcoal, which he wanted to capture in the The Autumnal Cappuccino. This cappuccino features 7 grams of pure maple syrup, vanilla infused whole milk and alderwood smoked salt, all very subtle and smoky with just a hint of sweetness.
In an attempt to rework a popular autumn coffee drink and prove he is not a hater of fall, Mr. Severson then created a Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned by combining Fee Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters with pumpkin spice simple syrup, cold brew coffee (their Los Luchadores) brewed at a high concentration, and some turbinado sugar. This is the ultimate “mocktail” — no booze, just a warm fall caffeine buzz.
All of the espresso drinks were made with a seasonal espresso of washed El Salvador and a Kochere natural Ethiopia, roasted in-house by Portola. After a tour of their roasting facility and a stop at The Cellar Cheese Shop for a speck and Taleggio sandwich, I hopped back in the Q7 for a thoroughly buzzing drive back into LA.
The last stop on our tour was Brew / Well, one of my favorite coffee bars in Koreatown, for an espresso and a chance to taste a few of their new ice cream flavors.
I’d say we did a pretty good job with our goal of maximum miles & maximum caffeination: from Santa Monica to Venice, then Costa Mesa and back home via Koreatown. Despite all that, the needle on the Q7’s fuel gauge barely moved. My caffeine gauge, on the other hand, was significantly more active.