My story for the April issue of Gloria Glam dipped me in the fascinating world of coffee. I’m a tea drinker so there was a lot to learn. In spite of its roots being in Seattle (“Vivace”) and Chicago (“Intelligetsia”) Los Angeles managed to establish itself as the capital of the third wave of coffee: the first being just cheap and easily accessible coffee, the second being Starbucks and the discovery of more enjoyable coffee – which quickly turned into a massive chain (21,000 locations worldwide!). The third wave is about discovering best coffee beans and techniques from all over the world and turning them into a very personal experience.
I interviewed Charles Babinski, one of world’s leading baristas, at his “Go Get Em Tiger”, a wonderful coffee shop in Larchmont which feels very European because of its long bar people stand at, chat and sip on Charles’ creations. I spoke to Ashlee Lawson, manager at “Alfred”, the posh coffee shop on Melrose Pl., where young celebrities hang out. She told me a very funny story of hundreds of teenage girls and their moms who stood around Alfred and waited for days hoping to see Harry Styles(“One Direction”) who occasionally gets his large iced latte there. The girls somehow found out what Harry likes so apparently they were all high on too much caffeine from their large lattes. I spoke to Bobak Roshan, who left a career in law to make excellent coffee and open “Demi Tasse” with its beautiful glass siphons for the Tokyo technique in which cold coffee is slowly brewing for 15 hours. When teaching me about what you need for good coffee (great bean, roast, grind, filtered water, good milk, and perfect technique for preparing the coffee and foaming the milk), Kristen Kovaletz of “Verve” (where I love to work) told me how the most important thing is the passion for what you do. It never fails.
Did you know that there are insanely complicated competitions for baristas? That they hate milk substitutes? That baristas create their signature drinks? That coffee has more than 800 organic compounds, which attribute to its taste – more than wine, scotch or beer? That there are roasting specialists who listen (!?), watch and smell beans as they are being roasted in small batches to bring them to the point where their aroma is perfectly developed? I didn’t.
I also learned that coffee grows in very high and humid places, which are always isolated and poor (Ethiopia, Bolivia, Kenya, Guatemala) so coffee business is full of politics and exploitation. This is why fair trade is so important, and businesses like Verve and Intelligentsia go beyond it and have their specialists spend almost a whole year at the farms, teaching and supporting farmers. I also learned about ”Green Tip” Gesha, a super exquisite bean, which sells for $65 per 8oz.
And I learned something more about L.A. When I asked Charles why did L.A. become the capital of best coffee, he told me that this city is extremely open to new people and new experiences because everyone seems very relaxed and unassuming so you never know if you’re dealing with the next genius or a crook. How true. You must love (and hate) this town.