by Frank Turrisi
(Cont'd from Part I)
So, you're back for the final four (not the Final Four) as this semester continues to deliver the promise of a little March madness (not March Madness) of its own. You won't even have to wait for April as this final four will exhaust the eight best options to get all of you creatives caffeinated in the greater PCC community. If you missed the first four of this exhaustive eight (not Elite Eight), click here.
5. The Coffee Gallery, 2025 Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001
If you don’t know how cool Altadena is, then all you need to do is stop by the Coffee Gallery. You will love its diversity of character and "characters" combined with the small town pace and feel. However, unlike most small towns, you won’t feel the sacrifice of leaving all that's good in the big city behind. This place has the feeling of an enormous downtown loft, fully equipped with soaring ceilings, smooth-finished concrete floors, and an eclectic furniture selection where farmhouse chic meets industrial. See what I mean? Altadena is cool! There is a small room with a community table and the dopest wallpaper (that I need) all the way to the back - so your group efforts are welcomed here. When you order the filthy dirty chai (organic chocolate, chai, espresso), the barista engages you with this sly wit that you wish you had, but need a helluva lot more time to work on. He is operating the coolest looking espresso machine on this list, a canary yellow La Marzucco with the personality of a vintage Ferrari. You have to have personality just to be worthy of the operation of that sexy machine! As you settle in, you notice this place attracts a crowd of all ages, but the elderly here seem to know all the words to contemporary songs, while the "youngins" sing along on classics that are seamlessly intertwined between Soul and Punk Rock, and work to keep you grooving while you're settling on your small bites. Along with the good musical taste of the operators, the fact that live music is featured here on certain nights probably keeps the tunes aficionados of the community coming back. This gallery's food menu also rivals Habitat, but is more inclined towards comfort, with a great selection of rotating soups, hash brown casserole, and mac & cheese. Belgian waffles, floats, milkshakes, and sundaes are made better with Fossilman’s Ice Cream, and if that’s not enough for a sugar boost, take a look at the selection of homemade pies and Duverger macarons. The tea steamers are a house specialty, but that can be argued with an array of offerings as tempting as the ones this menu presents. Also, there seems to be an element in this establishment that reflects a community keen on hanging onto the best parts of the past, while they lead their progressive lives. Sit down here all day and enjoy, this is the place to let your ideas come as they may….and they will wind up being your best ones! Oh, and make sure to peruse the art on consignment, it’s as cool, well curated, and reasonably priced as everything else is in this place.
6. Kaldi Coffee and Tea (no website), 1019 El Centro, South Pasadena, CA 91030
This warm, historic, former bank space captures all the charm of South Pasadena within its intimate brick walls. Sit inside at the well-worn hardwood tables and peer through oversized, Roman-style arched windows onto some of the most quaint, picturesque streets in L.A. County. Sip a Sparkling Americano made with Frontier Coffee, and choose from a menu of solid (not standout) sandwiches (also pressed panini style), pastries, or salads. Enjoy the free-flowing, intelligent conversations between seniors, pig-tailed teens, and any kind of eclectic, brainy type that you can think of before you pleasantly notice that these are the very people changing our world for the better. Or perhaps, admire the wall decor for sale - a collection of super cool, reasonably priced, hand-carved wood printing blocks with a variety of silhouette patterns bound to appeal to your artistic sensibilities. You can also do what I do….take your beverage right across the street, sit down on the benches of the Oxley Library grounds, and enjoy streets so well shaded by rows of noble Oaktrees that you could easily mistake the rare, lush green public plot for some other charming locale, in say....New England. That is, until you soak up more of the scenery and begin to admire the collection of Craftsman bungalows along the surrounding block, so storybook precious that the self-satisfied ghost of Gustav Stickley himself may haunt the grounds to marvel in the tastefully manicured maintenance of this architectural style that no place pimps better than South Pasadena. You really could find the deepest meaning of existence by sitting in this place and digesting a slice of life that seems simpler and so removed from the rest of Los Angeles (but not). You might even daydream of moving here for the rest of your days. Then, you get really carried away and look at comps on Zillow.com, only to find out that cute little house across the street is worth $1.5 million, and you're not cracking this 'hood for less than that! You might, more easily, instead wish to saunter into the South Pasadena Public Library, check out an inspiring book for free, and then get back to work. Yeah, you’d better do that. It’ll take more than one best-selling novel to make this dreamy world your own realty reality. But hey, if you can’t dream, you definitely can’t be creative…and if you can’t conjure a caffeinated dream within the proximity of Kaldi and the nearby community, then....check your pulse!
7. Kindness & Mischief Coffee, 5537 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
Highland Park dominates this list with yet another location, and from the moment you step up to the counter and the energetic Mo calls you (a stranger) “friend”, you will be served up some hospitality strapped with progressiveness and an array of craft coffee that would make any hipster proud. With beans from Brandywine, Take Flight, and Rose Park, and teas from L.A. local Art of Tea on tap, it seems like there are architectural plans behind the enjoyment of your beverage. Namesake beverages like “The Kindness” (sweetened coconut condensed milk, cinnamon, espresso, steamed milk) and “The Mischief” (house-made chocolate ganache, cayenne, espresso, steamed milk) have enough creativity behind them to get your ingenious juices flowing too. The menu is pastry heavy (by Creme Caramel L.A.), but with choices like a Calamansi Mascarpone Hand Pie, an Ube Coconut Biscuit, and a Salted Caramel Polenta Coffee Cake, you will be able to indulge in delicacies so unique they may be destined to inspire your own best ideas. There are several vegan options to boot. And speaking of inclusion, ownership makes a point to label the sole restroom "non-gender", to extend that extra wink to the LGBTQ set, and though certainly no place on this list would discriminate based on gender or sexuality, it's nice to have that extra touch of warmth to make these “friends” feel more at home here. Come early, as there is easily room to fit more tables in the space, but since their “kindness” also comes in the form of oversized tabletops designed for your comfort (and mischief), the workspace dries up quick. The shop also closes up at 5p.m., so you’ll want to maximize your daytime here. Get down to business in the industrial fun interior, with huge support girders painted in a shade of mod-blue, and exposed brick walls that add a splash of warmth to a space already flush with Figueroa St. sunlight. Absorb the sound waves of mellow (but hip) tunes wired down from the lofted ceilings. Or, take a book or leave one in their community bookshare, browse Joy Lim’s pointillist stroked paintings reminiscent of Van Gogh (the current affordable art collection on display with 50% of proceeds going toward suicide prevention). Also, their chic, branded espresso sets are my favorite drinking apparatus on this list, but the longer I sit in this place, I notice many more details which bespeak a certain personal touch. This is the touch of an ownership bent on embracing the community with such positivity, you can actually feel a desire to spread it far beyond just the reaches of a Highland Park coffee shop. Regardless of the current state of the planet, you'll leave this cafe with a deeper impression of hope for what the world at large could become, and ownership seems to have done their part by creating their "own world" of positive movement from within these walls!
8. Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters, 260 Allen Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
This couldn’t be a PCC blogpost without the inclusion of at least one establishment within walking distance to campus. I know everyone in this town drives, but you absolutely can and should allocate your break times more wisely to walk your butts over to this neighborhood (and PCC) staple…rather than subjecting yourselves to the below average joe (sorry hardworking PCC employees) and hordes of your maniacal peers on campus. Every place on this list has top notch coffee from craft roasters, sourced with palpable precision a la "The Princess and the Pea", and a passion for achieving imbibing perfection, BUT....Jameson Brown cuts out the middle man. That's right...they are selling you their freshly roasted beans, from within their very walls, on the spot! They’ve also been around longer than all of the shops on this list, and are downright pioneers in the craft roasting craze that has burgeoned since then. Established in 2006 the year of our Lord, they’ve been at this for 12 years already (truly the forefront of the smallroasters trend), and are ancient in this field compared to many other brands. That being said, I’m willing to forego my taste in furniture (really, plaid sofas?) in exchange for the industrial experience of sipping utter deliciousness from beans that were freshly roasted, ground, and brewed in the same room. In this room, where there are barrels and stacks of burlap bags of house-roasted beans abound that come in more varieties than practically all of the other shop options on this list combined, you can even grab a scooper and your own sac, weigh your favorite roast of the day (or ten), and take it home to grind yourself. Or, have the well-trained staff grind it for you in house, then navigate the raw, concrete floors, take a seat in front of the cozy, brick hearth, and listen to the rattling roaster chutes fire away like silos. This is the experience where warehouse/factory meets den/cafe. The Jameson & Brown clientele is by far the most academic crowd of all the locales on the list, and this spans a student demographic from teeny-bopping-wannabe-transfers to hobby-seeking-retirees still exploring their intellectual capacity, right on down to PCC faculty too...so you're sure to be comfortable amongst your peers here. And if you want to talk creativity, then talk to owners David and Ryan about how their passion for coffee brought this place to life. The Breve (a creamier latte) is the name of the game on this menu, and the lavender flavored variety started all the rage. Ask about the seasonal offerings, as this crew is always doing something different to suit the menu to the mood, but by no means do you even have to stick to the menu….as these baristas are ready to make almost anything your heart desires (with on-hand ingredients, of course). There’s not much in way of bites here, but there are pastry options to accompany your beverage of choice. All in all, just think of this coffee concept as the place where business and creativity meet (ehrrr-hem, entrepreneurial-minded students), and take the opportunity to let this location inspire you as you engineer your own future small business plans.
Geez! Now that we have exhausted the best cafe options to boost your creativity...I'm exhausted! I might have to navigate a caffeine excursion of my own right now, and with the workload of the semester bearing down now, you should get to exploring these locales too. Your creative inspiration awaits you! And there are certainly many more fine establishments across our quality and creativity consumed town, but I challenge you to find better ones for creatives within the greater PCC community. Let this be an exercise for you, educational trial and error if you will, but I hope this list becomes as useful to you as it is Bible to me.
Well, I have to draw boundaries and stop somewhere, and since I’m a 70’s baby and an old TV buff, I’ll say if “eight is enough to fill our lives with love,” it can definitely be enough to fill it with coffee and creativity too. If you don’t get the reference, and you probably didn’t (almost certainly didn’t unless you're old like me...who is Dick Van Patten anyway?), just hit up this group of eight cafes, if you're creative, these are the ones tailor made for you!
I'd love to hear your caffeine contributions and comments for this list below or for your other favorite cafes in a blog post of your own (Guest Bloggers are invited to submit blog posts of up to 1000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org). Since I'm always up for (from?) coffee, I will take the most persuasive recommendation and publish it on the blog as a follow up to this! Hope to hear from you soon!
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.