Posts Tagged ‘silverlake’

Boutique Coffee Prices Continue to Climb

December 27, 2008

I am not a coffee devotee. Like my alcoholic drinks, I prefer that which does not taste of the main ingredient. I am instead, a mocha junkie. Chocolate successfully covers that bitterness that coffee often contains. Here is actually the entire line of reasoning behind my mocha drinking. 

1) It gives me an excuse to get out of the house. Or out of the car when travelling. Or out of the office when frustrated at work.

2) Caffeine gives me that extra push in my morning since I am definitely not a morning person. Or the extra awakeness I need when driving for longer than 8 hours in a day.

3) By saving all my coffee cups, I then send them on to my friend with a 5 acre farm in Oregon, who recycles them and the cups become the containers in which she sells her heirloom tomato seedlings to her customers.  I love being able to give her and her customers colorful cups from all across the nation.

4) Being able to hold a cup of warm liquid in my hands keeps my fingers warm, able to do their daily functions. Sometimes, I think I buy mocha merely to have something warm to hold. 

5) Being able to drink at least a mocha means I CAN accept a coffee date, the new acceptable non-threatening place to meet in a public place option.

6) I like supporting small businesses, and since I am not much of a nick-nack collector for the sake of collecting, a memorable mocha drink is a strong reminder of a particular town or coffeeshop.

7) I can convince myself I am fiscally viable as long as I can still afford to buy a mocha. (Ain’t living in denial grand?)

So those are the reasons I drink mochas, and pretty much exclusively mochas. Then again, bad mochas also burn themselves into my brain, unfortunately. And finding a tasty mocha at a cafe I enjoy the ambiance of is surprisingly hard to find. At least at Starbucks, the expectation and the actual experience are pretty predictable. It is my default when travelling through parts unknown, if I can find one. 

So I was thrilled when I was in Chicago last year for Lollapalooza to find a wonderful cafe with a marvelous mocha. The name of the place was Intelligentsia, and I visited that place every day of the music festival. It was also right near the train line exit I took, near my bank’s atm, and a mere few blocks from the festival entrance location itself in Grant Park. They even had more than one location, but the one I found was fine with me. Here’s a picture of it: 

Intelligentsia Cafe in Chicago









It was done up in a very Dwell/Modern Design in the Current Century style. Simple, bright, many different textures… You get the idea. The mocha was divine. Lots of caffeine. And very smooth chocolate-y, but good chocolate, not mere milk chocolate made in Pennsylvania. The serving sizes were smaller than Starbucks had conditioned me to, but the prices were okay. I was paying for the whole experience, and the experience was fine. 

I came back to LA all thrilled, only to wander into Silverlake a few months later, and found Intelligentsia was now opening a location there. What! My thrill of knowing something local to somewhere geographically specific was deflated! But of course I had to go and visit, see if it was the same. Yes, the coffee was the same, the mocha the same, but the ambiance was entirely different, catering to the trendy, hip, music/artist/cool people of Silverlake. There is always a line. And yet, I pretty much always can find a space at the counter, where the other single people sit. And the regulars. Here is a picture of the LA location of Intelligentsia:

Intelligentsia in Silverlake (from the counter)

Intelligentsia in Silverlake (from the counter)










So they opened, their hours were late and early, they were always busy, they were a hit. Sitting at the counter, you get to see the entire process of making a drink happen, each and every move. Everytime I went in, something had changed. The lights got replaced, sneeze guards were added, this taken out, that added, the hours changed to reflect reality, etc. And their prices went up. Now, my 12 oz mocha is $4.75. It is a real treat when I take myself out there. I savor it, listen to the conversations around me, join in ocassionally. I may even count as a semi-regular. Not a full regular like the guy who lives upstairs and comes down every morning as his daughter gets ready for school. Or my friend who lives across the street and sometimes brings clients over to sip good coffee, lots less pressure in buying real estate. But semi, because sometimes I notice the baristas smile for me, which they didn’t for the seven customers before me, when I ask them how they are doing and actually listen. $4.75 for a mocha is the upper limit of my mocha treat threshold. 

Or so I thought. 

Until I found another place in Silverlake, just across and down the street from Spaceland, a local music club, playing all the up and coming musical talents.

Many coffee places, they include the price of tax in their prices, especially the smaller, single location, family run places. Intelligentsia is one such place.  So although it is $4.75 for a 12 oz mocha, it is not more. Presumably the quarter I get back is an obvious choice to fall into the tip jar before reaching the space to my wallet. (When they opened, the mocha was only $4. Back in Chicago, the same size that year was selling for $3.75. Why do I remember these things?) 

But at LaMill Coffee, a 12 oz mocha is $5. And then with our 8+% tax, it came to $5.41. Because hot prepared food is taxed, while food prepared that is cold (say a salad bar), is not. (Things you learn while shopping at Whole Foods.)

Most expensive Mocha in LA so far

Most expensive Mocha in LA so far

Since I was at the tail end of my morning walk around the Silverlake Reservoir and still had to get back to my car, I thought a sleeve for the cup might be in order, but when I went to the coffee accoutrements bar, there were none to be seen. Perhaps as an environmental statement, there are no sleeves at this location. Because, as any coffee devotee knows, true espresso drinks do not involve the screaming of milk steaming, but a quiet hissing. It’s known as the third wave of coffee here in the United States, the expensive, refined, local coffee establishments and how religuously, faithfully, espresso is prepared. And this leads to lower coffee drink temperatures, so a sleeve really isn’t necessary. 

Somehow, it only left me miffed. Over five dollars and no sleeve? Sure, the cup is biodegradable, I am happy to note (as will the future heirloom tomato seedling planters in Oregon be happy to note too), the furniture and ambiance more of a fine restaurant than a mere cafe, and the coffee was good, the chocolate a variety I had never heard of, etc., but somehow, for that extra 25 cents (plus 41 cents in tax) I was expecting more. Once you cross another dollar threshold, your expectations just go right on up too. 

Then again, I am still trying to track down the nearly $10 cup of espresso I read about in a local newspaper last year, somewhere in the Downtown Arts District, and all because of the incredible imported Italian espresso maker used. Perhaps exotic bottled water was used too, I don’t remember. I have a feeling, I will be even more disappointed on my cost/assessment ratio. And perhaps it is because I am not a coffee devotee and can’t actually taste the unique difference, but just want something I like that tastes good to me. At nearly two dollars less, Starbucks and its predictability still has a place in my shrinking pocketbook.