As a self confessed coffee snob I’ve been known to bin a bad brew after only one sip and immediately fork out another $4.50 elsewhere for a new one. A little OTT I’ll admit, but I REALLY hate bad coffee. And why shouldn’t I be picky? A girl’s got to have standards, and in New Zealand and Australia we are more than spoilt for choice when it comes to the good stuff. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say our Antipodean coffee is the best in the world. The Italian’s aint got nothing on us! Just don’t tell them that.
Flat white obsessed, I’m very specific when it comes to how I like it. Regular size, double shot, not too much foam, full cream milk (trust me – it just tastes better), hot but not burnt. I actually prefer to drink it in a small takeaway cup too or my Keep Cup (yes I’m a weirdo, but I’ll take that). The thing is, I don’t even have to ask for anything but a flat white at any of my favourite spots in Auckland*, not because they know me so well but because the aforementioned particulars are already a given. I don’t even have to be that customer.
Anyway, you get the picture. I’m fastidious when it comes to coffee. I like it how I like it, it’s as simple as that. So you can only imagine my distress upon moving to Los Angeles last year and being thrown headfirst in the deep end of a caffeine culture that praises filtered coffee and celebrates with creamer. Where on earth does one get a flat white in this crazy place where people think Starbucks is the Nobu of coffee and a normal sized cup is big enough to swim in? God save me!
And by that I mean Google save me! After trawling the internet for “the best coffee shops in LA” and asking every person I got talking to, I set out on a mission to hunt down the closest thing to a flat white I could find. Trust me, it wasn’t easy, but if you find as much pleasure in coffee as I do, I can assure you the relentless pursuit of happiness is totally worth it.
Here is my list of venture-worthy coffee spots for the Antipodean traveller in LA (Part 2: Miami following soon), all of which deserve a mention for their kick-ass coffee as much as their vibe and surroundings. If you’re after a flat white you’re in luck, I’ve narrowed this list down to those which either a. offer a flat white b. will quite happily make one or c. it’s hiding under the small latte pseudonym. All of them also offering our standard 8oz (227mL) as a takeaway size, and as well know size does matter. Believe it or not, the coffee at these places is actually so good it almost tastes like home, even when the flat whites are disguised as lattes. Enjoy!
5630 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004, United States
When the menu actually reads Flat White you know you’ve come to the right place. Co-owned and run by an Aussie, this café in Larchmont is like a little slice of home. The coffee is spot on – as it should be when the custom blend of beans is imported from Down Under – plus the menu is full of all those ‘Straya classics like banana bread, fruit toast with ricotta, and even a good old-fashioned meat pie for good measure. Trust me, you’ll be thanking our mates across the ditch for this one, and you’ll love them even more when you notice the tin of Milo sitting on the top shelf (and there’s Vegemite lurking around somewhere too).
It may seem a little bit out of the way but I can assure you it’s not far from Hollywood and worth checking out if you have a car, which is absolutely essential anyway. It’s just round the corner from Larchmont Boulevard and unless you’ve spent much time in LA chances are this pocket’s not on your must-visit list, though it definitely should be. Café Gratitude is only a short stroll away too; an organic vegan eatery and destination in its own right.
8428 Melrose Place, Los Angeles, CA 90069, United States
Probably my favourite on the list, Alfred Coffee & Kitchen is everything a coffee shop should be. The coffee itself is delicious; they use the wonderfully smooth Stumptown Coffee, a 10/10 already but looks even better dressed in one of their arty sleeves as pictured. The setting is charming; it’s a two-level shop with the main floor is hidden underground and the rest of the seating upstairs flowing out unobtrusively onto the quiet, tree-lined footpath – a vibe that is much more NY than LA (which is definitely a good thing). And the location; smack bang in the best part of West Hollywood, on the real Melrose Place. Enough said.
Alfred manages to draw a cool LA crowd – think the fashion/music/writer types. It’s hipster (but not in a cringe way) enough to deter the plastic, fake-tan sorts you’ll spy at other local spots like Urth Caffe, which is by the way probably the most overrated cult LA café in my opinion. Alfred’s is the kind of place you’d be just as happy meeting a friend for a catch-up as you would settling in to work. Plus it’s right in the middle of all the good shops; think Bookmarc, Isabel Marant and Helmut Lang, and only a short stroll from Opening Ceremony; so you can satisfy two of your addictions in one go. Win!
At the Palihotel, 7950 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046, United States
I stumbled across this little café in the Palihotel on Melrose whilst hunting down Reformation. Hidden at the back of the boutique Palihotel, this peculiar little café is the perfect incarnation of its name. The long wooden table, the blue and white tiles, the artwork; it’s fittingly quirky and undeniably inviting. Maybe it’s the whole Southern comfort thing they’ve got going on.
Serving Handsome Coffee Roasters as their choice of beans, their rendition of a flat white (it’s actually mentioned on the menu!) tastes close to home and comes in our familiar small sized cup if you’re on the run. The Hart and the Hunter is the perfect pit stop while strolling along all those tempting Melrose boutiques, and it just so happens to be conveniently located across the road from Agent Provocateur.
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291, United States
Ask anyone in LA who knows coffee where to get a good one and chances are they’ll tell you Intelligentsia. It’s a bit of a coffee cult spanning the East Coast to the West. Their Abbot Kinney location in Venice is my favourite; it’s an institution for the locals just as much as a destination for clued-up visitors. The industrial interior and the open walkway entrance with outdoor seating just makes you want to hang out. I actually don’t love the coffee as much as Alfred’s (it’s a little less smooth in my opinion), but that easy West Coast vibe is just so bang on. Who knows though, perhaps you’ll be like every other customer in the never-ending line sprawling onto the street who vehemently professes this to be the very best there is. Grab a spot in the sun and enjoy the best of Venice in one hit. Then when you’re done, stick hang around Abbot Kinney and check out the shops. It’s actually my favourite daytime spot in the whole city. Like Intelligentsia, it epitomises laidback LA cool. The best!
Note: There’s two other LA locations; Silverlake and Pasadena.
7080 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States
Special mention: This one goes out to all the Roosevelt stayers and to hopefully make up for the disappointment of everyone else headed to Hollywood with stars in their eyes.
No matter how many people tell you not to go to Hollywood Boulevard when you visit LA, if you’re doing the tourist thing or you’re with a first-timer you’ll probably end up there at some stage, just to tick that box. Well my friends, if there’s anything good about the Walk of Fame it’s not the stars, it’s a little cafe and coffee shop called Tiago on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea. I know it may not look much from the street – I too reluctantly went inside after spotting the flashing open sign in the window – but the interior feels worlds away from the dirty, tourist-infested Boulevard outside. Sure it may not be as cool as the others and maybe not worthy of a specific mission, but trust me it’s literally one of a kind in this neighbourhood and a must-visit if you’re around and in need of a caffeine fix. Not to mention it’s a haven for anyone staying at the Roosevelt too which is located only about 200m deeper into the chaos.
If you’re after a flat white, just ask. It may not be on the menu but the baristas know what it is. “Oh, like a short latte,” they’ll tell you, and it’s delicious. No wonder because they use Intelligentsia coffee, so you know you’re in good hands. Being LA, chances are it’s hot outside so if you want something refreshing with a caffeine hit to boot I highly recommend their slow drip ice coffee. It’s really, REALLY good. If you’re peckish, the food is yummy too and beats any of the fast food outlets littering the street nearby. Their vegetarian wrap gets a big thumbs up!
Side note: People often rave about Groundwork coffee, but in my opinion it falls far behind any of these. Their coffee is a bit too bitter and over roasted for my liking, and I did try on three separate occasions. Plus their cafés definitely have less of a hangout-worthy vibe. Mind you, it beats Starbucks.
LA is undoubtedly a big place – the good coffee spots are few and far between and a single mission can be a half-day operation. But if you’re coffee snob like me then I can assure you it’s time well spent. The good ones are more than worth the trouble. Even in those moments of extreme caffeine desperation don’t settle for the all-American coffee corporations, I can assure you they’ll do nothing but abuse your taste buds as much as your eyes. Keep your eyes pealed for anywhere serving Stumptown, Intelligentsia or Handsome coffee and chances are you’ll get something pretty good. And if you’ve got a car and you’ve got the time, numbers 1-4 are definitely worth the pursuit. A slice of heaven in the City of Angels.
After 6 months in LA I moved to Miami. My coffee life quickly fell to pieces… Stay tuned for part two.
Editor’s note: I wrote this while drinking a perfect flat white, which I made myself using organic milk and organic fairtrade Kokako beans. To feel inspired. Obviously.