One of the things I loved most about Berkeley as a student was the café culture. There were literally three dozen cafés I could go to in Berkeley and Oakland, and I could go to any number of these shops to fit a particular mood. The standard was Caffe Strada, which being on the corner of College and Bancroft was the most convenient place to get caffeinated in the morning or between classes.
For a $10 meal of iced coffee and a fresh-baked pizza I would go south on College to Espresso Roma. Further down College Ave. was the great Cole Coffee with its poached eggs, toast, and jam, and way down College, near where College became Broadway, was Hudson Bay Cafe, which with its triangular nook and plate glass windows always seemed to me to be the edge of the world. Of course, there were a number of other cafes not on College (Free Speech Movement Cafe, owned by the same man as Caffe Strada; the International House Cafe; Nefeli; Au Coquelet; the original Peet’s Coffee on Vine Street). It’s something I miss in DC, where the only options for me are Peregrine Espresso, Big Bear (which is inconvenient as heck), SoHo (where I was once caught in the crossfire of a transvestite-lesbian catfight), Bourbon, and, thankfully, the excellent and recently-opened Filter Coffeehouse.
What a week it’s been! I went to the Palace of Wonders and Taylor Gourmet yesterday evening, both awesome in their own right. Needless to say, I had a late night. I’m currently at work here in the Lexis/Westlaw print room. It’s nice and cool in here; the lights are off. It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon outside, on the colder side of cool. I just polished off a Chipotle burrito and McDonald’s french fries with the help of a McDonald’s iced coffee. (Whew!) I’m also listening to the Broken Bells’s new self-titled album.
The Broken Bells are a collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer of the Shins. Their music features electric beats, disaffected vocals, and atmospheric guitar–basically, hipster music. Music hipsters could like.
You know what else hipsters like? Artisanal coffee.
I’ve written previously about my trip to Intelligentsia Coffee and how getting lost on the way prevented my good friend Jonathan from being mugged. I should also state that I recently had my bottom two wisdom teeth out (in three and two large pieces, respectively), which has prevented me from drinking alcohol. For the first two days, I couldn’t even drink coffee, which was a relative purgatory for me.
I had the opportunity recently to tour Intelligentsia’s new LA roasting facility in Glassell Park (near Glendale)–my family might be opening a coffee shop sometime soon, and we wanted to take a look at different coffee wholesalers. Let me tell you: it was awesome! The wine analogy would be like visiting a wine cellar–not the vineyard, where the grapes are grown, but the place where the wine is actually fermented and bottled.
Five thousand square feet of roasting machine, tasting equipment, office space, sacks and sacks of green coffee beans (which are extremely hard, odorless, and tasteless, actually), and bags and bags of freshly-roasted coffee. The air was permeated by a delightful warm coffee smell, as if I were in the middle of a perpetual breakfast. Intelligentsia’s pretty damn serious about their coffee.
I’m beginning to think that I’m drinking too much coffee for my own good. My stomach feels sour, I’m tired, have headaches, and am super-dehydrated. What’s worse, I’m drinking less alcohol. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?
Coffee for me exists on a dichotomy: I love the cheap, quick stuff from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, coffee that serves as a quick pick-me-up in the mornings. Love it or hate it, fast food and donut coffee is all about drinkability. It’s delicious, inoffensive, easy on the body, and cheap. It’s also probably the healthiest item I’ll be having for breakfast.
I also love the artisanal, “third wave” varietals of coffee, beans that hail from single sources in Guatemala, Ethiopia, et al. These are coffees that have body, that have character, and have a “2” after the dollar sign.
Despite their price, I still consider artisanal coffees to be a bargain because I view them from a wine perspective. $17.95 for a pound of India Peaberry from Peet’s? Well, that’s about 30-35 cups of joe. $17.95 will get me a nice wine that will yield maybe four or five glasses.
I am a huge fan of coffee. It shouldn’t be surprising, given that my earliest memories of family life were those of my father driving the Cadillac with one hand on the wheel and the other gripping a precariously full cup of coffee, and my mother daintily sipping from a mocha and eating delicate pirouettes at the Farmer’s Market. Having attended Berkeley and “studied” at its myriad cafes led me further down the coffee trail, and now, years from my first small sips of coffee and milk, I found myself at Groundwork Coffee Co., gawking at a flier that stated in no uncertain terms that I could, for a mere three dollars, have a 16-ounce cup of Panama “La Esmeralda Especial”.
This coffee varietal made waves for being sold at auction last year for $130 a POUND (and you thought Starbucks was expensive!). Groundwork managed to procure some from the same farm and was selling their beans for the slightly more manageable price of around $80 a pound. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many people willing to shell out that much for their morning joe.
After a week at LegalZoom, I need a good day of rest and relaxation. “Rest” for me means driving to two different wine shops, while “relaxation” means drinking wine.
I was joined by my college bud Jonathan Lewis, who seems to split his time evenly between Berkeley and Los Angeles. The plan was to visit Silverlake Wine, where I was to pick up four bottles of the Ampelos Rosé of Syrah for myself and some co-workers. I also wanted to visit Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago institution that had just recently headed west.
I had some time to kill beforehand, so I decided to take a trip down the 134 to Colorado Wine Company in Los Feliz first. Specifically, I wanted to pick up a bottle of “The Third Bottle” red from GustavoThrace. I paid my $9.99 + tax for the bottle and headed up the 2 to Silver Lake for my rendezvous.
This was the first time I ever visited Silverlake Wine. I was very impressed. The store is large and very well-laid out. The workers there are courteous, funny, and very helpful. There seems to be a steady flow of customers, and many of them have questions about wine pairings that the attendants seem to nail right away. They also have wine tastings, including one I just missed featuring Maynard Keenan, lead singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle. Apparently Maynard is a huge wine buff and has his own vineyard, where he makes his own wine!
I was a bit early, so while waiting I had a bottle of the White Rascal Belgian white ale from Avery Brewing Company:
It’s fuller than that other famous Belgian white ale, Hoegaarden, but has the same light, refreshing taste punctuated by orange zest and spice. Also, it was only $1.75 a bottle at Silverlake Wine, which makes for some good drinkin’.