Tactile Coffee sits on the corner of Towne Avenue and 10th Street, a quiet block of Los Angeles’ Fashion District dominated by clothing stores, beauty shops, and a few stop-and-go eateries. While nearby Downtown LA has its share of specialty coffee, with the likes of Verve, Blue Bottle, and G&B, the Fashion District has been in dire need of some quality espresso. Luckily for businesses and patrons, the sleek Tactile Coffee truck rolls in every weekday morning at 8 a.m., ready to caffeinate the community through to 2:30 p.m.
Tactile is the work of brothers Mike and Eric Yi, two coffee and culinary alums who were determined to open a business together. According to Mike, “After a lot of discussion, we decided on a coffee truck because it was the right combination of both of our experiences. It was just the right choice at the time.” Eric had primarily worked in catering, while Mike learned the ins and outs of the coffee industry. “I worked in a few coffee shops in Dallas, but got most of my coffee experience by working in Dallas roastery Eiland Coffee Roasters. It’s not a huge company, but I really grew in my appreciation for attentiveness and intentionality in my approach to coffee. I got a good look at the whole process, from sourcing, cupping coffees, and the whole production chain from green to cup,” says Mike.
Although it may seem like a small space from which to operate a cafe, the truck is just big enough to house all the necessary equipment and ingredients. The Yi brothers serve Counter Culture Coffee in espresso, drip, and cold-brew form. As for the top-notch gear, “We use a Synesso Cyncra two-group, Macap M7D espresso grinder, a Ditting KF804 as our drip grinder, and a Fetco CBS-2131XTS for batch brewing,” says Mike.
Other beverages on the menu include Earl Grey and jasmine-green teas from Paromi Tea, a small-batch tea company in Maryland. “They have some of the most aromatic full-leaf tea sachets I’ve ever had,” says Mike.
In addition to the always in-demand cold brew (for those hot LA days), some of Tactile’s most popular drinks are creative takes on espresso-based beverages, all with house-made syrups and add-ins: The Blackstrap uses the Yis’ own syrup recipe, featuring Plantation Blackstrap Molasses. “Blackstrap molasses is made when regular molasses is boiled for additional time, and it has a complex flavor that features bitter, mineral-y, and sweet notes,” explains Mike Yi. For chocolate fans, the cocoa mix in the mocha is made with a simple mixture of Bensdorp Dutch-processed cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and sea salt. Mike notes that “Bensdorp has a relatively high fat content, so it can clump, but the tiny bit of starch in powdered sugar acts as an emulsifier and helps smooth things out.” For those looking to cool off with something other than cold brew, there’s the Black and Tan—“Our cold version is a riff on Vietnamese iced coffee, where we mix cold brew with our B-and-T syrup, which has a base of condensed milk and barley malt, among other things. The syrup tastes like melted Frosted Flakes and acts as our ‘white mocha’ syrup if customers want a hot version.” (Tactile’s vanilla latte is their only special drink that doesn’t use house-made syrup—it’s made with syrup from French company 1883 Maison Routin.
In the future, you’ll be able to catch the Tactile Coffee truck roaming other areas of Los Angeles—it’s already started to pop up outside of parks and schools in Downtown. “We’re really excited to see what opportunities lie ahead, and we know that this first truck is not our end game. We love what we can do on the truck, but it has limitations. A brick-and-mortar could really allow us to offer some great non-coffee beverage items—we have no shortage of ideas—and food. I love wild-yeast breads and fruit preserves, and I’d really love the opportunity to explore the possibilities there,” says Mike Yi. Maybe toast and coffee on wheels is in the works? For now, Tactile Coffee doesn’t offer any bites to go with their brews, but their patrons don’t seem to mind—as long as they can get their daily fix on foot.
Tatiana Ernst is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and photographer. Read more Tatiana Ernst on Sprudge.