Need a caffeine buzz? L.A. is full of unique coffee shops where you can pick up your favorite drink. Here’s a look at three local spots that are definitely worth the try.
Intelligentsia: Of all the standout coffee places I have been to in the world, Intelligentsia is the best hands down. Despite the air of pretentiousness, their cappuccinos are exquisite: creamy but strong, and in need of only minimal additional sweetening. The menu is simple and straightforward—nothing is unrecognizable or complicated besides the “Agave Latte.” The lines are rumored to be insane, but I have always been able to walk in without a problem. There aren’t many places to sit indoors—only a marble bar with a few barstools opposite the elaborate coffee machines. I once ordered a single cappuccino and got a disapproving look from a barista who replied, “We only pull double shots.” The same goes for nonfat milk—don’t even bother asking. As it’s located in Silver Lake, the scene is standard artsy, but Intelligentsia makes for a good pit stop on the drive back to Claremont from anywhere in Los Angeles. It is expensive, but with good reason: The owners are highly conscious of where they buy their coffee beans and regularly visit the farms where they grow, keeping a “direct trade” and fair trade with their farmers. To anyone who understands the difference between chain coffee and an independent artisanal café, Intelligentsia is an important destination. I even buy the beans to make coffee at home, and they are just as good when brewed from a coffee press. (3922 W. Sunset Blvd.)
LA Mill: Also in Silver Lake, LA Mill stands out with its all-red, square building. The decor is charming, with ostrich and textured-leather seats and benches. It looks a lot like a café inside a modern museum. Compared to other coffee shops, the menu stands out. The drip coffee list is substantial—it’s clear they take it very seriously. There are also lists of “Signature Drinks”—house specialties with or without espresso—and “Espresso Drinks”—classic coffee combinations. At LA Mill, the creations are innovative and interesting. A different concoction seemed to sweep by me every minute. Some of the drinks look like works of art, and their ingredients are like a meal in themselves. I ordered a “Crme Brulée” latte, which literally tasted like a crme brulée and even had flambéed sugar on top. It was very sweet, and the espresso was barely noticeable, but I appreciated it like a dessert. LA Mill’s other options are intriguing as well. The “Caramel Corn” is made of fresh peanut milk and espresso topped with popcorn-infused cream and caramel sauce, and one called the “Coffee and Jelly Donut” is composed of strawberry essence layered with donut-infused milk and topped with espresso. The “Sweet Basil Julep” mixes muddled fresh sweet basil and lemon with white tea and a little sweetener. The iced coffees are award-winning, and for good reason. They do not require milk or sugar, and the taste lingers and improves after consumption. I tried to order the donut holes, which come with Madagascar vanilla cream and looked delicious, but sadly they were sold out. I would go again just to taste another one of their espresso creations, which are well worth the wait. (1636 Silver Lake Blvd.)
Urth Caffe: Urth Caffe is a quintessential Los Angeles hot spot which some of you may have already visited. As a self-proclaimed healthy and ethically-conscious establishment, Urth Caffe prides itself on serving fair-trade and organic coffees. While ordering espresso drinks, customers are asked if they prefer mild or strong beans. I prefer them strong. Customers can choose from a slew of espresso drinks, ranging in flavor from highly sweet to boldly rich. If you are partial to sweet espresso drinks, the honey vanilla latté is amazing, but it’s more of a dessert than a coffee. If you prefer the unsweetened variety, but the taste of coffee is too intense for you, I would recommend a Spanish latté, in which condensed milk is used. It has a thicker consistency and is slightly milder than a typical latté. As for the decaffeinated drinks, the blended iced drinks look better than they taste—which is basically just slushy ice. Nothing special. However, the boba teas are renowned and very good, as are the iced teas. (The Moroccan Green Iced Tea in particular is amazing). As with the coffees, the teas are artisanal and only sold in Urth Caffe stores. There are three locations throughout Los Angeles, but my favorite is in Beverly Hills because it is the least crowded and is conveniently located near boutique shopping. (267 S. Beverly Dr.)