As a coffee drinker in Los Angeles, you've probably heard the phrase "specialty coffee" before. But what does specialty coffee really mean and why do you keep hearing about it? It's on the rise in Los Angeles. Here's why you should care.
Premier quality coffee wasn't always accessible to the public, and it still isn't widely available in many parts of the country. Lucky for you, Southern California, especially LA, has been a hot spring for small roasters who have made it their life's work to perfect the second most widely consumed beverage in the country after water.
To understand specialty coffee, let's take you back to the 1800s, when coffee was still a beverage reserved for the elite class. A handful of bright entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to innovate in packaging and sacrifice the quality of the coffee to bring the beverage to the masses. This mass production of coffee significantly increased consumption and is now referred to as the first wave of coffee.
The second wave of coffee came about in reaction to the poor quality coffee being sold under the first wave. Consumers wanted improved coffee, and brands like Peet's and Starbucks answered the call. Both brands started as smaller, specialty coffee shops and eventually expanded into larger institutions that served a consistent cup of coffee at each of their locations. This wave of coffee also popularized the social experience aspect of drinking coffee.
As the second wave gained popularity, brands like Starbucks grew dramatically. With this increasingly high demand came reduced coffee quality. This fall in quality ultimately gave way to a third wave of coffee. Most artisan, specialty coffee roasters (like those featured monthly in Rokah Coffee Club) are part of this wave of coffee. The third wave prides itself on the pursuit of coffee excellence and the rejection of widespread, over-roasted coffee marketed to the public by the large chains. The third wave of coffee is about letting coffee speak for itself, showcasing the origin bean, ultimate focus on product quality, and direct trade practices.
The best reason to start drinking specialty coffee is that it will introduce you to a whole new world of flavors that you may never have known to be possible. When coffee is roasted to be really dark, as is common at most bigger chains (we're not pointing fingers... or are we?), all coffee starts to taste the same... burnt. No matter how special the coffee bean is, if it is roasted dark it will start to taste nutty and chocolaty. Keep going darker and you'll arrive at a cup that tastes bitter and burnt.
Los Angeles specialty coffee shops focus on showcasing the flavors of the origin beans. They roast each small batch of beans at various levels depending on the flavor notes that arise from the bean. In specialty coffee, you'll start to notice desirable flavors such as tangerine, blueberry, and toffee in your coffee. At a specialty coffee shop, you won't need to dilute your coffee with milk to drown out the bitter, burnt taste of that old coffee your used to; your coffee will stand on its own and be an experience unlike anything you are used to.
Think of specialty coffee as finely aged wine, and bigger chain coffee as 2-buck chuck. Or better yet, specialty coffee can be thought of as a wine above it's grade. Way better tasting than cheap wine, but surprisingly not more expensive when you really take a look. Sometimes, all you need is someone to find the right ones for you, and that's what we're here for!
We've compiled a list of the best coffee roasters in Los Angeles. Each month, we'll add another one of our favorites to this list as we unveil them in our coffee of the month club. Bottom line is if you're looking to elevate your coffee drinking experience, you're in the right place in Los Angeles. There's a strong chance you've got a few top shops within a stone's throw.