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.
Tonight is the Grand Opening Party for three fellows in LA who couldn’t stay out of the news if they tried. Handsome Coffee will be opening to the public very soon and they’ve released this stunning video that shows all the work that’s gone into building out their flagship coffee bar and roastery. Good luck to Handsome as they open their doors to the world and I look forward to walking through them in a couple weeks.
When I was last in the US, Handsome Coffee had yet to release their new packaging—so until now, I had only seen it via twitpics and Instagrams posted by all the lucky ones drinking it. But it was immediately obvious they made a fantastic choice working with Sissy Emmons, at PTARMAK in Austin, to capture the Handsome brand.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of browsing the aisles of the SCAA tradeshow with Tyler and we talked a bit about the importance of a brand and how great packaging can make a huge impact on a company. I knew then that Handsome was working with PTARMAK and I’m really pleased to see the the outcome of their relationship so far.
Yesterday, Handsome’s new bags were featured on The Dieline—the internet’s top package design website. The featured photos give a much better look at some details I hadn’t previously seen. The new packaging combines the right amount of handcrafted illustration and wit with enough modern typography to give the handsome ruggedness a refined feeling of quality. Great work to everyone invloved.
We employed color, shape and a little figure ground to differentiate between the lines and categories. The color system was developed loosely around a 1940′s craftsman—workshirt blue, denim, utility orange, metallic copper, crisp white, no-nonsense black and a rich black-brown… in honor of the coffee.
Illustrations line the sides and are what we like to call the manly-man items—objects that share the Handsome dedication to a by-gone era where handmade craft and a dedication to quality were a labor of love as well as a way of life. A dip of copper at the bottom of the bags is a continuation of the copper counters in the Handsome shop and on the Handsome Traveler. It adds just a touch of elegance to the otherwise practical bags. The system is intended to be humble and utilitarian with every detail lovingly applied. -PTARMAK
Read more about the design and see all the images at The Dieline
Michael Phillips, the 2010 World Barista Champion and 1/3 of Handsome Roasters, recently gave a Super Talk about coffee at a TED-like event in Korea called Super Series.
The talk, named “Cultural Coffee & Artistic Barista” begins with a brief definition of Specialty Coffee before Mike goes on to share his passions for coffee and being a barista. As the talk progresses, he discusses important changes taking place in the world of coffee guided by cultural interest in the process and origin of the things we consume and a desire for authenticity in our every-day experiences.
After briefly explaining barista competitions, Mike elaborates on why they are good for baristas and the positive innovations they have led to in the industry, which results in better coffee for the consumer and inspired new ways to look at coffee.
Things like this have caused coffee to be reborn, re-examined, and challenged in entirely new ways.
This video is an approachable explanation of the changes people have begun seeing in their local coffee shops, read about online and heard about from their friends. There’s a lot of great information delivered without pretension and a handsome face.
For the last week, the coffee industry has been held in suspense following the announcement that Michael Phillips—current World Barista Champion—and two other world-class baristas, Tyler Wells and Chris Owens, all resigned from Intelligentsia Coffee. Last night I got a note from Tyler announcing the future efforts of the these three fine men—Handsome Coffee Roasters had launched.
While I secretly hoped the three of them would travel the country in a rebuilt 1962 Ford Falcon, entertaining children with a puppet show about coffee production and the evil carbon gremlins who escape from their parents French roast—I’m totally stoked on this as well. Congratulations guys and good luck with the endeavor.
We will make amazing coffee the way we think it should be made. Full stop. Our way may not be for everyone, and thats okay, we’re not making coffee for everyone, we’re making coffee for you — for those that value craftsmanship and quality over convenience and cost — we’re your Huckleberry.