Tuesday, April 9, 2013

3rd Times a Charm: Handsome Coffee Roasters



It was only 1:30pm, and the wife was still at her baby shower until 3pm. Caffe Luxxe was great, but we had to do it. We had no choice but to go to another coffee shop.

Handsome Coffee Roasters:
This was not my first time at Handsome and, once again in total honesty, I had mixed feelings about this place from previous visits. Each time I had come I was "greeted" by less than friendly individuals, however I wanted my buddy to experience the snobbery as well, just for kicks. Thankfully, today was a  completely different experience.

Ambiance:
After crossing over the 6th Street bridge, into LA's Skid Row and past the abandoned warehouses, you'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Once you think you're lost, look to your right on Mateo and there you'll find Handsome Coffee Roaster. This shop is in the middle of nowhere. The only reason for you to be in this area is for coffee from Handsome. Once you get over the exterior ambiance (or lack thereof) you walk into a very well furnished used-to-be-abondoned-warehouse-turned-coffee-shop. It's actually quite nice inside. Very modern, very clean. There is ample seating to the right, seats at the bar towards the wall, and seats up at the counter as well. Their large roaster is showcased in the back behind the glass, in all its glory. It's a pretty darn good looking shop inside.

The Coffee:
As you approach the often busy counter, you'll notice the menu. It's short and sweet (unlike my blog posts). It's espresso, espresso with milk, and coffee. That's it (well, you might be able to swing an iced coffee or iced latte, but that's a bit off the menu). I warn you before hand that this is indeed a coffee shop. Not a tea shop. Not a hot chocolate shop. Strictly coffee, and that's okay as long as you know before hand, unlike my beautiful wife who assumed they would have something for the non coffee drinker like herself. That was a different visit with a different experience. Needless to say, their coffee is great. I've had their espresso with milk before (by the way, that's just a simple way of saying macchiato, cappuccino, and latte) and was happy with it. Today I had their Rwanda drip coffee, which was very nice.

But let's back up real quick.

The coffee snob may grimace at the thought of speciality coffee being served in a drip percolator. In fact, this was my rationale for sticking to their espresso menu in past visits. I couldn't figure out why the heck artissan coffee was served in such a non-artissan brew method. So today I asked why they do what they do for their drip coffee as opposed to manual brewed coffee? The answer given to me by the barista was pretty simple; it tastes good. A more detailed answer followed as he explained how meticulous they are with their Fetco Luxus, as it's on a 20 minute timer and that once the buzzer goes off, they start brewing a new batch of coffee to consistently serve fresh coffee. Also, he explained the shower head inside the brewer pulses, which allows the coffee time to bloom (see step 5 in this post if you don't know what that means). Just for good measure, Handsome even measures the TDS (total dissolved solids) in their brewed coffees to ensure each brew is up to their preferred standards (in brief, TDS can give you an indicator how "strong" your coffee is). These guys even have a refractometer on hand to measure TDS and everything, which is pretty rad. In the end, the coffee they served from their drip machine was good. I can't complain. My Rwanda was bright and floral while my buddy's Columbia was complex and flavorful. Handsome has their bases covered when it comes to their brewed coffee.

The Verdict:
Handsome Coffee Roasters is becoming one of LA's best known spots for specialty coffee. Their simplicity in coffee offerings show that they really want to identify themselves as a coffee shop; not a cafe that sells chai tea and vanilla lattes. If you check out their feedback on Yelp you'll see they tend to take flack from those who want them to be an internet cafe a la Starbucks and they never will be like that. Their fair warning is often times exemplified in their location. They aren't easily accessible. They aren't in an area where people can come and just casually stroll by and assume this is just another coffee shop. You have to seek this place out and know that this place sells good coffee. Once you get there, you have only a few options of types of brewed coffee with only whole milk as your option for your espresso based drinks. Some may see this as being snobbish by not catering to other people's likes, but nobody every complains that In N Out doesn't serve hot dogs or that their menu only consists of 3 items either. That's just what they do, and I respect them for that. Keep it simple.

Now as as I mentioned right in the beginning I have not always had such a fond perspective on this shop. In fact the first two times that I stopped by this shop were less than pleasant. For some reason, I don't know if it was just because they were busy or something, I felt that the Yelp reviews were accurate as they described some of the staff as being rude and impersonal. I definitely agreed. In fact, as I mentioned in the beginning, I wanted to take my buddy here to show him how rude coffee snobs can be.

But

I'm so thankful that this time was a new day and a new experience. I had a great discussion with various staff members about nerdy coffee science, asked them about themselves and their involvement in the coffee world, asked where they were from, and talked coffee with them. It was great and each of the baristas were personable. I kid you not, I don't think I've had a more interesting coffee dialogue with baristas at a shop as I have at Handsome.

I think that this experience reminded me of 2nd chances...and even 3rd chances. I think I've told people before that I feel more likely to give people seconds chances simply because I've been given 2nd chances (and 3rd, and 4th, and 5th...). I feel that I don't really have a right to hold issues against people because of the grace I've been given in various situations and times. Yes, we're still talking about coffee here so I'll bring it back by asking you to give the specialty coffee industry another chance if you've had a bad experience. Engage the barista. Talk to them and ask them how their day is going. They love coffee, so ask them about their coffee. Obviously keep in mind the lines and such, but I can almost guarantee you that they'd like to talk more coffee with you after the lines has died down. And I may not be in the right position to say this (shoot, it's my blog I'm doing it), but I do feel a bit compelled to advise you to give people in general a second try. I'm sure you've received second tries and third and maybe even fourth. I think sometimes we all need another try. Right? Okay, I'll stop now. Go drink some good coffee now.

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