Los Angeles’ beloved Cognoscenti Coffee Modbar cart has moved from its location at Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park a few neighborhoods south, to Chinatown. Before the big move, operator Jack Benchakul took some time to visit Thailand, and came home inspired to create a few signature drinks for the new location.
Yeekai Lim originally opened the first Cognoscenti Coffee at Proof Bakery in Atwater Village, after a series of pop-up locations (and has subsequently opened a location in the Culver City Arts District). Now partnering with Benchakul, they have parked the Cognoscenti Coffee Modbar cart inside Scoops Ice Cream in Chinatown, alongside Roy Choi’s Chego, Alvin Cailan’s Ramen Champ, and Andy Ricker’s new Pok Pok Phat Thai.
At Good Girl, Benchakul had worked on a version of a Vietnamese iced coffee with cold brew to pair with the Vietnamese comfort food on the menu. Using a 48-hour cold brew method made with Colombian coffee roasted by Roseline in Portland, the cold-brew lattes at Scoops Chinatown feature a decidedly more Thai flair. “Initially I jumped to basil and thought about chili,” shared Benchakul. “But then I was walking around my backyard and I forgot I had a Makrut lime tree back there. I like working with alcoholic drinks and desserts and savory foods; I also knew I wanted to work with red wine.” Thus by this circuitous path, the Makrut lime Malbec iced latte was born.
Benchakul starts by making a red Malbec wine simple syrup reduction that he cooks down for about 30 to 40 minutes, then adds some Makrut lime zest and juice. “I used to be able to make a batch for a week, but now it is gone after about two days,” he says. To build the drink, Benchakul measures about 60 grams of the syrup, then adds equal parts cold brew and ice with two to three ounces of whole Clover milk. The latte is shaken in a cocktail shaker and poured into a cup.
The cold brew is a 48-hour infusion with a two-step process. The first 24 hours are at room temperature, so as to speed up extraction; the second 24 hours in the fridge to slow down extraction, but also to develop a depth of flavor. Benchakul developed this method at Good Girl for their Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, where he wanted the coffee component to be different than the traditional iced lattes. “There is usually so much milk in lattes. I think the cold brew stands up quite nicely.”
So far Benchakul’s crop of Makrut limes is holding up to the demands of the shop—he also makes a vanilla pandan iced latte that has proven to be popular at the Chinatown location. When and if they run out of limes, he will take that as a signal to come up with a new signature drink option.
Benchakul plans to open his own Chinatown coffee bar this summer. Menu brainstorming has already begun, including a hot palm sugar caramel latte and a Jack Daniels latte. Get ready for more culinary coffee creations from Benchakul—the man who dreamt up the surprising pairing of red wine and lime with cold brew to create a little Thai inspired magic.
Julie Wolfson is a culture writer based in Los Angeles. Read more Julie Wolfson on Sprudge.