As much as it might nowadays sound like a mild case of child abuse, I started consuming coffee at the age of eight, with my mother’s blessing. Not exactly an espresso but, believe it or not, I would lace my bedtime cup of milk with some coffee from the mocha – I then graduated to sabayon with coffee as an afternoon snack and finally, by the age of 11 or 12, cappuccino for breakfast was a staple. Maybe there is something to be said for the counter intuitive theory of starting early – despite wine and coffee being available to me since a young age, I grew up to be nearly a teetotaler and I never drink more than one coffee a day. Sometimes I go through months without coffee but when I drink it, please, it needs to be good.
Despite a palate used to the rich, slightly acidic and powerful espresso, I would rather have a large cup of coffee with my eggs. “You have Americanized” my Italian friends protest but they do not know the pleasure of lingering over breakfast with a cup of joe and some hot food – an espresso or a cappuccino are better suited to the hurried croissant washed down with a shot standing at a counter that Italians pass for breakfast.
Over a year ago, while in the process of choosing a new coffee vendor at work, we did a blind tasting of about half a dozen brands. With no milk or sugar, in order to better grasp the complexities of each blend, Intelligentsia coffee was the outstanding winner – shame it turned out to be expensive for us to consider it. We settled on Equator, from S. Francisco, also served by Thomas Keller’s restaurants: a wonderful, warm and complex coffee that kept on finding its way back to my pantry. Until last Monday, when Intelligentsia re-entered my life.
After a wonderful lunch at the always reliable Djelina on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice (one of the nicest pizzas in LA and the best, freshest and most inventive vegetables around), my friend E and I strolled for a couple of blocks to where I knew Intelligentsia had opened their second LA location. The cavernous interior had nothing of the touchy feely coffee shops originally started by Starbucks (talk about hideous coffee) but it looks like an industrial space that could sell anything, from clothes to laptops. There is no proper counter – rather someone greets you, asks what you want and gently moves you to where your order will be filled. In our case, it was a mythical 1972 La Marzocco espresso machine that delivered two macchiatos, with a perfect heart appearing in the frothy milk, the way Italian baristas do it. We dragged our cups and glasses of sparkling water (they do need to justify the highway robbery prices) to the back of the store where some stools and a low seating area are to be found. The coffee was just perfect: not too bitter, creamy, aromatic with just a hint of acidity. I am embarrassed to confess I forked over nearly 20 bucks for a pound of seasonal Bolivian coffee to take home.
Intelligentsia is a pretentious name with pretentious and pricey outlets but if their business model is to be believed, there are reasons: they really do practice fair trade by continually visiting the farms around the world where they source their coffee from, creating bonds directly with the farmers and cutting down on the middle men. Their roasting facilities are state of the art and close to their actual coffee shops. Each cup is individually brewed and their quest for a perfect espresso led them to use one of the most revered machines around. Their premise is that coffee contains more than 800 organic compounds, more than wine or beer, making it the most complex beverage in the world and they treat it as such.
It’s still a pretentious name and there is little chance I can afford to buy their coffee, seasonal or otherwise, on a regular basis. But what a luxurious treat to have it now and then, paired with those perfect eggs I will now have to find.
1331 Abbot Kinney Boulevard – Venice CA 90291
3822 W.Sunset Boulevard – LA 90029