In what was once the small kitchen where Jessica Koslow made her legendary jams – think Blenheim apricots with brown sugar and Santa Rosa Plum with flowering thyme – the space at LA’s Sqirl has been transformed over the last month into a shared temple of toasts, teas, and endlessly delicious coffee courtesy of G&B, run by Charles Babinski and Kyle Glanville.
G&B opened their doors while I was in Colombia at Sustainable Harvest‘s Let’s Talk Coffee event. Sadly I missed their opening day, but I have been in to visit around a half dozen times since returning home. I have ordered espressos, and cappuccinos (with organic milk or Koslow’s fresh house-made almond milk), and cups of brewed coffee. I have tasted the jams, and brioche toasts (from Proof Bakery), and rice bowls topped with poached egg, feta cheese, tomatoes, hot sauce, and sorrel pesto. And I’ve seen the regulars: specialty coffee industry types; USC students; small business owners and restaurant managers and bakers and writers. I now call G&B one of my very favorite cafes in Los Angeles.
The set up at G&b inspires enthusiastic conversations about the coffee, the food, music, philosophy and more. This is wholly on purpose, and quite conducive for interviews, so naturally I asked Glanville and Babinski to share some thoughts about their G&B adventure so far. They kindly obliged.
Julie Wolfson: How do you approach choosing which coffees to serve?
Glanville: We use the same roasters frequently. There are some roasters with lineups peppered with spectacular coffees. I think the vetting is huge, the discipline of it. If we fall out of love with a coffee we don’t have to pretend that we are still in love — we can just stop ordering it and stop serving it. We buy the good stuff, as much as we need.
We want the roasters who sell to us to feel psyched, and to feel like they are getting a good deal out of it. I would say nearly half or more of our customers are in the coffee industry. So it’s amazing advertizing. You come in and you can try coffees from these roasters and I am almost certain that baristas and shop owners have tried a coffee here and decided to buy it for their own café.
Wolfson: Of the “not from the coffee industry” folks, how much conversation is happening about coffee right now?
Glanville: I would say a lot. Our location is a bit out of the way, and because of that, we have to be “found”. The folks who make the journey to be here are signed up. They are in. To some extent have already cultivated an appreciation of this upper tier of coffee, and then the format here at our shop facilitates a degree of engagement. There is no line. You belly up to the bar. You can hang and chat as long as you want. It’s not a get your drink and get out.
Wolfson: Why has there has been some confusion about whether you are offering take-away cups?
Glanville: For whatever reason there is a rumor that we don’t do takeaway, but we do have takeaway. We use reusable glass jars. We wanted to make sure it was cup holder compatible. We are not anti-convenience at all. I love drinking coffee in my car, but paper cups are diabolically bad on a number of levels. They are bad for the environment and bad for the taste of your coffee. It was an easy choice to say, ‘let’s have a deposit for glass jars’ and the response has been really positive. It’s a buck and you can bring them back to exchange for a new one.
Wolfson: What has been your favorite coffee to serve the first month?
Glanville: We’ve been surprised at how good the Sidamo Fero has been as an espresso. That’s a 49th Parallel filter coffee. It’s organic. It’s a classic washed Ethiopia. The profile…it’s very sort of lavender, floral, and slightly citric. In the espresso machine it just turns into this beast of aromatics, in terms of sweetness, depth, and complexity. We are serving it pretty aged…like two weeks plus. We are loving the profile of this coffee, becuase it’s so soft, and not at all aggressive. You can really experience it without feeling overwhelmed by all of these strong flavors. For me floral coffees are what I enjoy. We also have been able to try a lot of Kenyan coffees recently; today we have the Gichathaini from Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland, which is killer, and we also just had an Intelligentsia Kenya that was really great, called Karatina.
Wolfson: What has been the response to what’s happening here at G&B been so far?
Babinski: The response so far it that everybody digs it. We are a hole in the wall. What we serve is just really tasty things. People come here and they get a cappuccino and toast or a rice bowl. The thing that I find the most exciting about it is how people are enjoying it. People are loving it, but on a level that is very comforting. Some are coming every day.
Glanville: We are doing some challenging things, but people don’t feel challenged.
Babinski: Some of the coffees we are serving are challenging coffees, like serving a light roasted Sidamo as an espresso. It’s very bright. It’s very floral, a coffee that most people say you can not serve as an espresso. We are serving it that way, and people are loving it. Nothing is being presented as earth shattering, but the flavors we are working with are a little outside of the norm. We are doing brighter coffees. We are doing lighter coffees. We want to find ways to rotate coffees that we really love in a way that suits the coffee. A lot of the presentation, a lot of how we showcase them is based towards that coffee. So like the small bowls and the carafe for the brewed coffee, the thinking behind it is that that is an advantageous to serve a very aromatic very sweet coffee. This is a cliché, but this is a coffeebar I would actually like to come to and hang out.
Wolfson: Why does it make sense to do this with Jessica Koslow? What excites you about serving coffee with her food?
Babinski: First off, her ingredients… the way she is finding them and buying them, all of that is very much being done on a progressive level. The ingredients have to be good and that is the driving force behind everything she is doing. The dishes showcase the jams and ingredients. The food that Jessica and Ria Wilson are making is inventive. The common thing is that each dish and there is an inherent sense of the quality of the ingredients which I think is a marvelous thing to pair with great coffee.
Julie Wolfson is on Twitter at @JulieWolfson.