By now everyone knows about Intelligentsia's "third-wave coffee" practices: They buy beans direct from small, sustainable growers around the world eliminating the middleman; they do their own roasting for quality control; and they're selective about locations for their coffeehouses, and just as selective about baristas and their coffee-making skills. This is why Food & Wine calls it one of the Best Coffee Bars in the country (as is LA Mill), why the one-year-old Sunset Junction location is always packed, and why you can actually taste the difference between a cappuccino from there (with fancy foam art!) than one you get at Starbucks. We got a little tour of Intelligentsia's
Silver Lake Glassell Park roasting facility a couple weeks ago (gallery above) and learned a few more interesting facts about the company.
1) Intelligentsia's baristas train for up to a year before they can actually make your latte. Employees start off essentially as barbacks---stocking cups and beans, cashier, cleaning counters and dishes---and then move up through the ranks after they learn the art of foaming, temperature, coffee identification. They train at the shop, but also in the headquarters on Riverside. They have to pass an almost 30-page written test before they earn the title. Also: They won't sell to just any restaurant or cafe. You have to serve coffee their way or no way.
2) Professional coffee tasting is similar to wine tasting with a much louder slurp. We were introduced to cupping: In essence, fresh ground coffee is steeped in hot water in individual cups for a certain amount of time; you break the "crust," the grounds that float to the top, and smell and taste the brew to identify aromas and flavor (smoky, caramel, chocolate, ashy...cucumber) or possible flaws; and then you slurp. Loudly. Spit, if you like. We didn't and left with enough caffeine in our system to last for days.
3) While all of that was interesting, the best thing we heard on our visit was that Intelligentsia's next outpost will be in Venice. They were being sooo secretive, but it will be on a "main drag" (Abbot Kinney? Lincoln?) and will possibly open in November. It is not Main Street, that much we know. Consider this a call to all Venetians to keep your eyes, ears and cellphone cameras at the ready.
· Intelligentsia Coffee: Silver Lake First, West Coast Domination Second [~ELA~]
· CaffeineWatch: Intelligentsia Coffee Opens Today [~ELA~]
· Best US Coffe Bars [Food & Wine]