The wonderful Gleb Denisov and Ashley Brown took me to the newly-opened Intellgentsia Coffee Bar in Venice Beach on my last visit to Los Angeles. As a fan of Blue Bottle and Ritual Coffee, both in San Francisco, my idea of a funky, fun, excellent coffee house involves highly-trained baristas serving me connoisseur-quality coffee-based drinks magically prepared along with a row of other drinks for those who are ordering with me. I will then take this little cup of heaven, find a place to sit or stand, and rave about the quality of the coffee and the hip-ness of the atmosphere. After finishing the delightful drink (possibly over some textbook or code), I leave with a happy caffeine high and none the wiser of where all this magic came from.
Intelligentsia does things a little different. As you walk into their glass enclosure of a shop, a barista offers to help you at their own espresso and coffee station, on one of the four corners of what looks like a big lunch cart that fills most of the store. As you follow him to his espresso machine, you pass by delicate pastries with shocking price tags (absolutely worth it, might I add) to the tune of, in my case, the great RJD2, one of my favorite electronic musicians. The decor and architecture makes you want to hang around this place, and the large assortment of coffee-related merchandise (from $1800 espresso machines to $10 milk frother jugs) pleases any coffee fanatic looking for that missing piece for their home setup.
But then comes the best part of Intelligentsia. Once you and the barista gets comfortable at his espresso machine, he makes you what you want, to order, right in front of you. You get to look at the whole process, and see how your cup is made. This is your espresso, made as you want it, while you’re chatting away with your obviously skilled and very down to earth barista. After sitting down with my espresso and finding an absurd amount of enjoyment from sipping the dark drink, I found myself more attached to this espresso than I usually am at coffee bars. In fact, it felt just a little bit like my own espresso’s I brew at home. Better in quality, yes, but also more personal. This is not your starbucks/peets/insert-other-coffeehouse experience of being handed a drink from behind some mysterious silver machine. No no, you were involved! By golly, you might not have turned any knobs or pushed any buttons, but you where there for every step of the way. And that makes a difference. Because if espresso is art, visiting Intelligentsia is like commissioning the artist. And I loved it.