Last week I had the pleasure of walking through the doors of Handsome Coffee Roasters to finally congratulate two of the three Handsome boys in person. Almost ten months to the day since first announcing Handsome Coffee, Tyler, Chris and Michael opened their doors to an eager public who have been teased non-stop for the past year.
The attention they’ve received is unprecedented, heavily driven by Twitter and blogs (guilty), and the endless media coverage has set the bar very high. Every step of their journey has been watched with excitement, curiosity, and envy. They’ve used several creative tactics to keep the conversation about them alive as they built their shop—making it seem like the chance to visit were always just around the corner.
One of these strategies was the “First Forty” club, which offered a social media savvy audience to be among the first to sample test roasts each month before they began selling their coffee to the public. This made sure there was a continuous buzz regarding a product that no one else could even buy. It garnered interest and bought time while everything else was being put into place—not only in LA, but also New York.
The Handsome coffee bar and roastery sits on the corner of Mateo and Willow Street, surrounded by warehouses in the Arts District of Los Angeles. It’s only about a mile from Union Station, but I doubt I could have found it without a GPS. When I arrived, there was a line out the door and several people enjoying the sunshine out front.
I showed up with a van of Coffee Common baristas, and we were greeted at the door by Tyler and Chris with welcoming hugs, coffee and a tour of their new home.
I ordered an espresso and a cup of their new Rwanda (Abakundakawa)—which to my surprise was only available as a batch brew, which Tyler proudly defended as a great, consistent way to serve it. To be honest, if no one had told me, I wouldn’t have have been able to tell. It was a damn good cup of coffee. The espresso was bright, but balanced with a creamy finish, pulled on a La Marzocco Linea.
As my filter coffee cooled, I wandered around the space and talked with Chris and Anne about his new roasting “theater” which had a fair number of people passing through and watching him work through the windows.
As I walked around, the details of the shop are really quite remarkable. From the floor to (high) ceiling subway tiles, to the copper drop awning that mirrors the copper wrapped bar, and the hallway of etched wooden tiles with a texture so smooth you just want to run your hand across them all the way to the restrooms (where you hopefully wash them).
There are several types of seating to accomodate various types of customers—around the bar, at the window, outside, communally in the back, or perched against the glass wall watching the roaster in action. But where ever you are in the space, the baristas and the bar remain front and center of the experience.
Even though the location seems a bit out of the way (everything in LA seems that way to me) the shop remained busy throughout my visit—if business stays that way, there should be no problem keeping on the lights. As the coffee scene in Los Angeles continues to grow, Handsome has placed itself high on the list of must visit shops from the day they opened their doors, no matter where it’s located.
As the company grows along with the owners, I look forward to seeing and tasting their progress. I’d also love to eventually see Handsome/farmer relationships and more unique coffees coming from them, rather than green importers. There’s a lot of light shining on them and I would love to see some of it illuminate issues regarding coffee buying and quality—but so far none of that seems to be a part of their story.
While some may tire of hearing about Handsome, I can only think of the new people in LA their media circus will help introduce to better coffee, which ultimately helps everyone trying to do the same.
I’m glad I was able to stop by Handsome with good friends in tow. Thanks to Tyler and Chris for showing us around and I wish Mike could have been there as well. Hopefully he heals up quick and gets back behind that lovely bar soon enough.
Handsome Coffee Roasters
582 Mateo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Oliver Strand published a great new article on Ristretto, his column for the New York Times, about his recent travels to Japan. Strand shares a bit about the history of Japanese coffee shops, called kissaten, and reveals where you can experience the next generation of coffee on your next trip to Tokyo—map included.
When I tell people that I went to Tokyo to check out the coffee, I get two reactions. One is bewilderment — as if I went to Denver for the surfing. The other is fascination: those who pay attention to coffee know that Japan is the world’s third-largest importer (after the United States and Germany), with obsessive buyers who regularly land the winning bids at Cup of Excellence auctions, and that it produces the coffee gear everybody wants. –Oliver Strand
Full article and interactive map at New York Times.
[ Photo: Oliver Strand]
I’ve talked about my visit to The Coffee Collective’s original shop at Jægersborggade in the past, and I recently used one of their coffees to compete in the World AeroPress Championship in Milan. So it’s fair to say I’m a big fan of what they’re doing.
While I was in Copenhagen picking up my competition coffee, I also stopped by their newest location at Torvhallerne, a public market near the city center. Oliver Strand was one of the first to write about visiting the new space, and I was excited to see it myself.
This location consists of a really long bar in the back corner of a modern glass pavilion. It’s surrounded by other vendors selling chocolates, baked goods and spices that will more than inspire your appetite.
A steady line begins at one end of the bar, where orders are placed, that makes its way down the line passed the lovely (world exclusive) Spirit espresso machine. If filter coffee were ordered, you continue on to the V60 bar where there’s an unobscured view of each coffee brewed by the cup.
A large, full-color map of the world illuminates the back wall and serves as a colorful backdrop for the baristas working methodically to serve the 700 to 1000 cups that can be ordered on a given day. The map is punctuated with photos from the farms where coffees have been sourced, adding a visual sense of scale to the process.
The new shop has a completely different feel than the original, but the coffee is just as good. So depending on your mood and the kind of atmosphere you’re looking for—you now have a choice.
The Coffee Collective
Vendersgade 6D, Copenhagen
Almost a year ago, to the day, I visited Tim Wendelboe in Oslo for the first time. The Kenya, Mugaga I had on that trip is still one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. While there was no Mugaga this time, there were two other kenyalicious coffees, Tekangu and Ndumberi, and lots of good company.
I finally met “the Tim” briefly as he was leaving for the Nordic Barista Cup and spent the following morning with “the other Tim” while he was roasting some fresh coffee. Chris Owens from Handsome Coffee was also in town, who I hadn’t seen since the USBC in Houston, so I caught up on Handsome progress while sampling the menu with him.
If you find yourself in Oslo, Tim Wendelboe should be number one on your list of coffee shops to visit. Until then, brew another cup and enjoy some more photos.
I may have missed the Nordic Barista Cup last week due to a pre-scheduled vacation, but my week long road trip through Norway wasn’t without some coffee fun. After a day spent in Oslo visiting coffee bars (which I’ll be posting about later), I left for the Norwegian Food Festival in Ålesund, where I attended a coffee and chocolate pairing at a great little coffee bar called Brenneriet.
I’d never actually tasted chocolate and coffee together aside from what’s stuffed in the occasional croissant and it was a unique test of my palette in attempting to discern how well certain chocolates paired with certain coffees.
The 90-minute event began with an introduction to specialty coffee that briefly covered where its grown, how its harvested, proper roasting, grinding and brewing, and the importance of coffee freshness. One of the most interesting points made in regards to preparing coffee (translated from Norwegian), was how 4-6 months of hard work from the farmer can be ruined in 4-6 minutes of improper brewing.
During the coffee intro, glasses where passed around containing green beans, roasted beans, and ground coffee to illustrate the transition and to add a sensory experience to the mini-lecture, which was then followed by an introduction to cocoa and chocolate that set up the experience of tasting the two together.
Gunnar brewed up two coffees on a Hario V60—a Colombia, Omar Viveros and a Kenya, Tegu roasted by Kaffa in Oslo. We were asked to draw a matrix that included the two coffees and the three different chocolates—Bailey’s Truffle, Crème Brûlée, and Raspberry Dream. After taking a nibble of a chocolate and a sip of a coffee, we would determine if the pairing highlighted the coffee, the chocolate, or if they combined perfectly. I was surprised to find that the sweetness of some chocolates made one coffee bitter, but not the other—while the Raspberry Dream made the fruit notes in the Kenya extraordinary.
I usually drink my coffee by itself, and while I’ve heard of coffee pairing being done in some restaurants similar to wine, this was my first foray into the deliberate pairing of food and coffee myself. It’s a great way to test your senses and explore the effects that outside elements can have on a coffee. Some for the better and others for the worse. If you get the chance to try something similar, I highly suggest it.
The next day I went back to cup some Tim Wendelboe coffee I brought from Oslo and introduce Gunnar to the AeroPress disk. It was a great time with friendly people who are passionate about great coffee. If you’re ever in Ålesund, Norway and looking for a good cup, be sure to stop by Brenneriet.
I love to travel and thankfully get to do so quite often. However, my method for exploring new cities has changed over the years. Before leaving on trips, I use to bury myself in travel guides at the bookstore to map out what to do and see. But my strategy has shifted to combine my love of coffee with my love of travel to create much more fulfilling experiences. Coffee shops have become my bookstore and baristas my travel guides.
Coffee touring has many benefits, aside from tasting the best coffee a city has to offer. Here are some of the reasons why its become my preferred way to travel.
Many independent and progressive coffee shops can’t afford, or choose not to pay, rent near the city centers and tourist attractions. They tend to open shops in neighborhoods, art districts, and future up-and-coming parts of town. By visiting these shops, you find yourself in new parts of the city that a guide book may never lead you to. It also creates a trip unlike those who only visit the typical landmarks—most of which look the same as they do in pictures anyway, only with the mobs of people surrounding them. By allowing yourself to wander, you’ll gain a more unique and personal perspective of a place.
Baristas Know More Than Coffee
Any good barista will love talking about coffee, but there’s a pretty good chance they have other interests as well. If they aren’t too busy, engage them in a genuine conversation. They’re residents of the city you’re visiting after all, which make them wonderful people to talk with for recommendations on the best burrito joint, parks to relax in, art galleries to visit and even other coffee shops that aren’t on your list. I’ve learned about upcoming concerts, closing art exhibits and even parties to attend from talking with baristas. Just consider putting some of that money saved on travel guides in your barista’s tip jar!
A seasoned coffee drinker can easily consume three beverages a day. And if you get them all at three different shops, you can cover a lot of ground in between. When I travel I try to walk everywhere I can. Even in cities with great transportation, you will see much more while walking than if you’re underground or even on a bus. Walking also allows you to take detours down alleys and try on that cute dress you passed in the thrift store window. You’ll have plenty of time to sit and recover at the next coffee shop.
Most coffee shops have some kind of food. Whether its pastries or paninis, you should be able to find something to hold you over until following that burrito recommendation.
While it’s generally frowned upon to make a coffee shop your personal office, there’s always the chance that you can plug in long enough to recharge your phone or camera. If they have wifi, don’t forget to check a map of the area and tweet Instagram photos of you planking on the La Marzocco Strada. Just be considerate, obviously.
Locals In The wild
One of the best ways to gain authentic insight to a place and its people is to view residents in their natural habitat. It’s in those instances when I often realize we’re all human with many of the same habits and vices, no matter what country or culture you’re from. Since locals tend to avoid the overcrowded tourist hubs, you won’t see many of them at cafés in Time Square and Covent Garden. So its the coffee shops in unexpected places, where you’ll find and meet the people who live there.
Planning a Coffee Tour
So how should one begin planning a coffee tour? Being here is a great place to start. There is a category on the right sidebar that lists all of the coffee tours I’ve published so far, and will give you suggestions for coffee shops worth adding to your list. You can follow DCILY on twitter and ask me for recommendations and I’ll do my best to help you find great coffee wherever you’re traveling.
Once you have a few coffee shops on your list, you can begin plotting which ones to visit that allow you to see the most. Be strategic. Sometimes you’ll find a couple great shops within a block or two of each other. If you plan to visit all of those on the same day, you may not make it out of that neighborhood. Once you get to your locations, talk with baristas, talk with locals and let those conversations help shape your trip.
These tours are by no means complete and are to be seen as inspirational suggestions for your own travels. If you know of any shops in the places I’ve been that I haven’t checked out, please leave a comment and let me know about them. Enjoy!
Past DCILY Tours
New York, New York
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 1
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 2