As an occasional business traveler, I’m used to visiting places like Chicago, Boston and DC, where Dunkin’ Donuts or the airport Starbucks are the only coffee options around. But I expected more – much more, really – from a recent spring break jaunt to Los Angeles. After all, they’re part of the same coast where some of the best independent roasters are located, and the home to LA-based coffee-maker Intelligentsia, which you can try out at our own Barista PDX.

Alas, the search for coffee was as long and tedious as driving through traffic on Santa Monica or Sepulveda Boulevards. In fact, on our way from a gorgeous Sunday afternoon hike in Griffith Park to the Burbank Airport on the other side of the mountain, plans for a pre-flight coffee went completely awry. There was simply none to be had of the independent coffee variety, even in the up-and-coming NoHo district or the 1960s-era Burbank main street. We couldn’t even find the Coffee Bean chain that seems to have a claim on LA boulevards.

What we did find during our stay near the beach enclave of Venice was both curious and vaguely Portland-esque. My impressions follow:

  • Groundwork Coffee Company – Billed as “LA’s largest organic coffee roaster,” Groundwork was the first independent-looking coffee roaster we saw during our stay, so we were excited to give it a try at the Rose Avenue and 7th location. Housed inside what was possibly an old feed store by the look of the white-washed beams up high and concrete flooring, the organically grown coffee was good, but the service was slow and some, though not all, of the clientele hanging about appeared to be surfers who have seen better days (or decades).
  • Abbot’s Habit – On a busy corner along the hip Abbot-Kinney street, Abbot’s Habit served one of the best Macchiatos (espresso shot with foamed milk) I’ve ever had. Not one bit bitter or strong, it was smooth and velvety with a hint of chocolate. What was mind-boggling was the barista didn’t immediately know who the roaster was when I asked. At first he told me it was an Ethiopian roast, but when I inquired further about who cooked up this delightful bean, he had to think and then said, Volcano. If anyone knows of a Volcano coffee roaster from California, let me know. The only one I’ve found online is from New Zealand and Africa.
  • Intelligentsia – we had just discovered Abbot’s Habit when we stumbled upon Intelligentsia down the street, whose brand I actually recognized from Barista in Portland, but the long line was enough to say: these people know good coffee when they taste it, and they’ll stand in line for a half hour to get it. After four days of searching for good, independent coffee, we understood why Intelligentsia on Abbot-Kinney was so crowded.
  • Venice Grind – on our last morning in the City of Angels, I could have sworn we were in Portland. It was dumping rain and black outside, and we hurried into the first coffeehouse whose beacon caught our eye through the rain-swept windshield. How apropos that the Venice Grind is a Stumptown shop. Without the skate boards hanging on the wall and the skate/surf art style, we could have sworn we were back home. Friendly folks and well-brewed Stumptown Hairbender prepared us for our return to the City of Roses.


Rain, Stumptown Coffee…in Los Angeles?