Yeah, and I don’t mean tea shirts! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I am so funny.
But seriously, I go to cafe’s a lot. Before kids, with kids (there was a lot of drawing), and after kids. After kids meaning kids are teens now and even though they still love a good “coffee cookie” as we called it, they are just really busy, and like in college and stuff. So, since I figured out that variety is really helpful for my creative process ( I used to write in the same cafe for months and then switch. I called them residencies.), I end up trying a lot of different coffees and teas in Los Angeles. There is still so many more drinks to try, but for the most part these are served close by where I teach or live.
So, I am so excited to share with you my “Best Coffee and Tea Drinks of Los Angeles” list! But, because this IS a Clothes Story, I will describe the outfit that would best go with each cafe. Naturally.
A word about “best”. Now, you think because a place has the best matcha then why doesn’t it have a killer cappuccino? It is clearly a mystery of the coffee and tea universe. Also, this of course is all just a matter of my taste buds. But I have to tell you, that yes, I have tried cappuccino’s at all of these places and more and there is only one cappuccino that is the best in my book in LA County, and I know a lady from Milan who agrees with me. But just because they make the best cappuccino at that fine establishment does not mean they make my favorite chai latte. I know! Is there any rhyme or reason to this? Let’s just enjoy that there is a reason to venture and mix it up. Because depending on what hot caffeinated drink you are in the mood for, there is a cafe for every occasion.
Latte: Coffee Tomo
To be honest, sometimes I get the worst impressions of people the first time I meet them. There have been instances when someone who ends up being dear to my heart is also someone I thought I would never be friends with the first time I met them. Usually, it’s just crazy circumstance. That is what happened with Coffee Tomo. It was one of those ozone depleted days. I parked near Cinefile because I needed to purchase a Miyazaki film to give to a birthday girl. Evan wanted coffee and we didn’t want to re-park, so we walked and walked under a sun that seemed to grow hotter and more scalding with every step towards the epicenter of Sawtelle. Maybe I was close to sun stroke; I don’t know, but when we walked into a cafe I ordered an iced coffee and I don’t even like iced coffees. I put sugar in it. I don’t usually put sugar in my coffee. See, how we were off to a wrong start? That was Coffee Tomo. So, then I would see the cafe from afar on other visits to that hood and subconsciously think, “Oooh, sunstroke coffee.” But then one cool and breezy night, I was meeting a friend at Balconi down the street and there was no place to sit, so we wandered down Sawtelle finding no other espresso bar type places. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Coffee Tomo. “Well, I guess we can go there.” “Oooh,” said my friend looking at the menu on the wall, “Let’s order a pretzel!” She’s a foodie. “What?” I said. “They don’t have food here. Where do you see that?” “Right there,” she said, pointing at the menu. “They make FRESH pretzels to order. I’m getting one with red bean paste and cheese!” Before I knew it she inquired about the Tomo Latte made with condensed milk. We ordered two pretzels and two Tomo Lattes. Incredible. Then I loved the place and kept going there ordering pretzels filled with cheese and Tomo Lattes. Of course, the Tomo Lattes were tasty; they had condensed milk in them! But, then, one day — no, this riveting story is not over yet — Evan and I just slipped in for a moment to get two coffees to go and I ordered a simple latte. I didn’t even think about it. I was skipping the Tomo Latte because I go off sugar at least once a day. I stepped back onto the sidewalk, took a sip of that latte and it was like the clouds parted and the most beautiful ozone-protected sun shined through right onto me and my latte. I had gone to latte heaven. I’m not kidding. I actually said, “What is this?!” And Evan said, “Laura. You ordered a latte, right?” “Yeah! But it’s so GOOD.” Did I mention they roast those beans every morning in house? Maybe that matters.
And this I know because I have tried lattes EVERYWHERE. Yeah, like donuts, which brings us to…
Oh, wait. The outfit. Coffee Tomo is best in a super comfy cashmere oatmeal beige hoody sweater with equally comfy black stretchy modern slacks. Slip on leather sneakers. Hair in up do. Bring your homework.
Hong Kong Milk Tea: Cafe DulceThe crown of all Hong Kong milk teas can be found at Cafe Dulce. (And the best Spirulina churros) in Little Tokyo. I know this list is Japanese neighborhood heavy so far. I know. I never even had a Hong Kong milk tea until I tried this one, and then I thought, “WHAT just happened to my mouth?!” I have since tried others, thinking, “Yay, they make Hong Kong milk teas, too!” only to be disappointed. Don’t be disappointed. Go to Cafe Dulce. And everyone is really friendly that works there. I would put Cafe Dulce on my “Friendliest Cafes in LA” list if I had one. Did you know that some cafe’s actually train their staff to not be friendly? I know this for a fact, and I have this game I play at those cafe’s. It’s like trying to make the guards at Kensington Palace laugh, except getting it to actually work. You might be surprised that you don’t have to try that hard. It’s just that everyone gets intimidated right away and usually doesn’t try. Tangent! Oh, yeah, and because Cafe Dulce is in Little Tokyo, you can go to Footland, my favorite place for sneakers.
Outfit: Well, cosplay. Duh.
Matcha Latte: GjustaYou know how when you go to Paris, you feel like Paris just makes you a better person? That is what the unsweetened 100% organic homemade almond/hazelnut milk matcha latte at Gjusta in Venice does. When I’m drinking that nut milk matcha latte in an earthy cup, I just feel so… right. I feel smart. Like, “I made a smart decision today.” Sure, it was just about what hot drink to get, but it feels like so much more. Did I mention that EVERYTHING at Gjusta is locally grown and organic. That’s right. That biscuit will not give me a stomach ache. Yay. And they serve it in a cup that feels so satisfying to hold. The cup is a collaboration between Gjusta and a ceramic artist, and you can buy them next door. Again, locally grown; I’m not kidding. So, yes, that is a fresh biscuit and homemade jam that is not too sweet in the background. Gjusta is a bakery after all. I know I keep saying homemade, but at Gjusta everything tastes like someone loved you while they made it.
Outfit: Omg; I have a WHOLE Pinterest board about Gjusta as an outfit. Not even kidding.
Macchiato: The Conservatory for Coffee and TeaThe Conservatory for Coffee and Tea has a decades-old, excellent reputation for quality and personal attention. Macchiatos are a drink where you need a strong, beautiful espresso. With only a mark of steamed milk, the espresso is on stage. It’s live! This macchiato at The Conservatory on Friday afternoons could become a tradition for me. Why? Two words: Live. Jazz. Imagine my surprise when one Friday afternoon — well, first of all, I found parking in the back! — as I approach The Conservatory doors I hear a sound that goes straight to my heart: a live stand up bass and a dreamy electric guitar. I had the pleasure of meeting on bass, the amazing Michael Saucier and on guitar the super pro Josh Skair. I talked to A.J. the owner of The Conservatory and he said they try to have a couple of hours of live jazz every Friday afternoon. Omg. The secret is out. You had me at coffee roaster right in the room, with specially chosen beans, expert baristas producing the a superb macchiato in a cup that reminds me of Coyoacan, Mexico. Then, you had to put live jazz on top of it?? An embarrassment of riches. THIS is an experience. You’re welcome.
Outfit: One of those 40’s silk flowered dresses with jelly heels we used to wear in the early-mid nineties. Crocheted matador style wrap. Red lipstick. No jewelry.
I feel like so many of my coffee and tea stories are about surprises. It’s true! Here’s another one. Now, everything on The Commissary (which has four locations, but I am speaking of an unassuming little industrial modern spot below a modern apartment building in Palms – yeah, I know their website says Culver City) menu is pretty solid — God, we are so spoiled coffee-wise in LA — but it’s The Cubano that made me go there just for the drink. This is not a traditional Cuban coffee. The coffee is “espectacular” from Ethiopia, the cinnamon sugar syrup is added, creating all at once a cappuccino like drink that takes you to a fantasy version of Cuba that is very “internacional”. The drink was a surprise because I wasn’t expecting anything so out of the ordinary, and ordered The Cubano on a whim. The name was inspiring. I’m not going to tell you that the iced matcha latte is also supreme because I am really strict about only talking about one drink per establishment.
Outfit: Understated yet elegant gray linen dress like a flower grower in Japan crossed with an unexplainably stylish programer. Copper earrings. Clogs.
Iced Coffee: Philz CoffeeDon’t be put off by the Halloween candy corn hoe down aesthetic of Philz Coffee (or the strange lighting. No seriously. One was covered in fluorescents. Another was spookily dark. I’m sensitive to lighting.) If you have to put on shades or bring a flash light, do it because of the Mint Mohito which is an iced coffee indulgence like no other. Medium blend coffee (their actual straight coffee comes close to competing for my just plain coffee winner), sprigs of fresh wild mint, cream, and organic brown sugar. Not too sweet, coffee has depth, and the mint mixes with the cream like they are in deep love with each other. I’m not the only one who has a Philz Coffee Mint Mohito story of coming to Jesus, but here’s mine. We were visiting our son during his freshman year of college. The three of us sat on a bench under a canopy of trees. Suddenly, he turned serious. “Oh. (Pauses) I want to tell you guys about something.” We were on the edges our seats. This was obviously some big news or revelation he wanted to tell us about. He didn’t usually talk like this. Normally, we asked a lot of questions and he was “encouraged” to share with us. “There’s this drink. The Mint Mohito. At Philz Coffee. I think you would like it.” This was not a simple sharing of a new favorite drink. We took him seriously, went to a Philz the next weekend, and ordered said drink. Upon tasting my drink (I hadn’t looked at it’s description on the menu) I realized that our son was trying to tell us something.
My baby had started drinking coffee.
Outfit: I’m thinking Ginny Weasley home on holiday. Enough said.
Chai Latte: Intelligensia
I used to make fun of Venice. Well, Venice is always an easy target. Always has been. Even in the 1920’s newspapers people wondered “why all the flotsam and jetsam always ended up in Venice?” They were referring to people, not marine debris. I lived in Venice for a number of years, dragging myself down the hill from sunny Santa Monica where I had spent most of my LA life and which I understood because Santa Monica was a “real city” with a mayor, a top notch recycling program, and everything. And it felt solid. Someone who has been through a couple of major quakes appreciates living on bedrock. So, when people would say, “Oh, you live in Venice. That’s so cool!” I would respond with “It’s a swamp.” They didn’t understand. But you know, places grow on you. And then places change. Some places change A LOT in a really short amount of time. Like Venice. Now, Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney is old change. It goes back to 2009! Ancient. People swear by their Intelligentsia coffee experience. It’s pretty serious behind that counter. They roast their beans and everything. But I’m weird. I go there for the chai latte. And I get it with almond milk, so just imagine how delicious it would be with dairy. Don’t imagine. Go try it. Again, had this chai latte; disappointed by pretty much all others. It’s not too sweet. Elegant foam. Not too spicy, but spicy enough. Every sip makes me so happy. Besides the chai latte, the people watching is top notch. Lots of “creatives”. See? Can’t stop making fun of Venice.
Outfit: Oh, man. I gave Gjusta my Venice outfit board?! Okay… Blue Nepalese wrap skirt, black Hungarian, embroidered top, gold leather flats. “I know the person who made this” necklace.
Honey Latte: Bardonna
This drink could go on the “Recent Discovery” list. I really shouldn’t include it since I only went here once and so only had this one drink there, but I am still affected by the experience. This was an emergency experience so I feel a little indebted to these people. Very FWP. Here’s what happened. The other day I took a risk and ordered an “almond latte” at a VERY fancy pressed juice establishment in a VERY fancy neighborhood. I did this because I was cold and about to sit in the wind for 3.5 hours. Don’t ask. (Okay; related to teenagers that don’t have time to go get coffee with me.) I even looked up best coffee in the area I was in and found nothing. See, I tried. The moment I saw the latte, I knew it was a mistake. It looked like a disaster. I took a sip and it was scorching. Instead of leaving it right there on the counter (because the barista was so sweet looking), I took it outside and decided to walk around looking for a trash can. So sad. It was four dollars, of course because it was ORGANIC and in a fancy shop in a fancy neighborhood, like I said. And like the mystery of best coffee and teas, this chain of juice stores has the BEST smoothies. None of it makes any sense. Anyway, I wandered into a clothing store, awkwardly still holding the latte I was never going to drink. The super friendly shop assistant saw the cup in my hand, and it turned out she was a major coffee appreciator as well. I told her what happened to me. “You have to try Bardonna! They just opened one across the street. BEST coffee. And they make their own nut milks!” So, I skipped on over, and even though it was my first time there, I didn’t do any writing, and they just opened four weeks ago, I am putting them on my list. Best honey latte goes to Bardonna. Okay, I’ve never actually had a honey latte before, and it’ not even on the menu (although a vanilla honey latte is) which makes it cooler. Not too sweet. Awesome milk. Perfect transcendent foam. They use Klatch espresso. Oh, and the inside of the cafe looks like the beginnings of the Bay Area Figurative Movement transported to Carmel in the 1920’s. It will make sense if you go there.
Outfit: Oooh, this is fun. Crimson red silk shirt dress under ivory car coat. Large thick leather brown simple tote. “To Catch a Thief” sunglasses.
Lavender Tea Latte: Milk and Honey
(Click on a photo – all by Evan Hartzell – to start the slide show above.) I will be brief because I am SO breaking the rules right now. But, come on. The traffic has gotten so bad in LA proper that an hour trip to the OC (when there’s no traffic… like, on a Sunday) isn’t really going that far for tea. When I’m in Huntington Beach on the weekends I don’t go write in cafe’s. Instead, I do things like clean my dad’s bathroom, make waffles, and walk the dog to the beach. We make wonderful stove top espresso on my dad’s O’keefe & Merritt. But there’s this place that caught our eye on a walk to the beach. It didn’t look very O.C. Milk and Honey had lots of moss and eclectic, funky industrial furniture. We decided to venture in. Doggies welcomed. I perused the menu and was intrigued by the listed “lavender tea latte”. I tried it hot. They also serve their hot drinks in vintage cups. You know I love that. I was instantly transported to a French lavender garden. The air was suddenly pleasantly dry. Did I hear the sound of pétanque? I kept ordering it on future visits. I was just going for the lavender tea latte now. In the photos above, I tried it iced. So. Good. Sometimes you have to go to the OC because you’re kid is so ace at soccer. You know who you are. Milk and Honey. Two locations. You’re welcome.
Outfit: Oh, yeah. There’s one in the photos above!
Cappuccino: Caffe Luxxe
Cappuccinos are the Mexican rice of cafe’s. You’re a pretty hard core foodie or just Mexican if you know that the best way to judge a Mexican restaurant is by their rice. Do you know how hard it is to find a drinkable cappuccino in LA? If you’ve had tons of them, and you don’t understand what I am talking about, then you have never had a truly perfect cappuccino, and I am deeply saddened by this. I have three standards that I compare things to when someone tells me something is good. TV series? I ask if it is it as good as Sherlock. They usually say, “Sherlock? Right, then. Well, no. But this one grows on you after a few episodes. Blah, blah, blah.” I’m not listening. I don’t have time for a show that “grows on you”. That’s called lowering my standards. Food? “Is it as good as Gjusta (yeah, the place with the best matcha lattes)?” “Oh, well… Gjusta? I mean, you can’t really… I mean, Gjusta. Right. Well, no.” Cappuccino. “Is it as good as Caffe Luxxe?” Ha. You know what? I just realized I never ask that question. BECAUSE I ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER. The only cappuccino that is worth drinking is at Caffe Luxxe. It’s just perfect. Well, I think it is what a cappuccino is supposed to be. Like, you go to Italy and you just go anywhere like the Illy Cafe and it is like this. People in Italy just wake up and assume they are going to have cappuccinos this excellent. Oh, if only it were true here. Cappuccinos are the things that are the hardest to get right. When we go to some random cafe we’ve never been to, and I say, “I’ll have a cappuccino, ” my love says, “Whoa, are you sure you want to do that?” He’s eyeing the machine, the barista, looking around.
Little piece of Italy, I tell you. No passport required.
Outfit: Crisp white “boyfriend” shirt tucked in, 501’s distressed rolled up, real gold jewelry, messy French hair, no makeup, black leather sandals.