It’s official, Los Angeles is the worst – for traffic! An ignominious crown, LA had the most congested roads in the United States during 2012. No shock there! *
I always find LA driving unpleasant. Speed is embraced aggressively, making narrow lanes narrower. Hit peak hour, and hearts race like waking from a vindictive, cold-sweat, dry-throat nightmare only to discover it’s real. So why engage these roads simply for coffee? The answer – Handsome Coffee Roasters.
To get there from San Diego, unless you have access to a helicopter, necessitates an aggravated journey on said infrastructure – good luck if road works are part of this equation. The freeways are the arteries of this expansive city, cars the fatty deposits inhibiting an unencumbered flow. Here, road health is poor. Each day suffering minor heart attacks, omnipresent road workers (surgeons) carry out bypass surgery in an attempt to avoid massive coronaries. Blood pressure is high, coffee a necessity!
Today, with nerves shredded, that coffee is located in the Arts District to the east of downtown. On the surface unappealing, a district the art community adopted in the 1970s is now a popular residential neighborhood amongst restored warehouses and railroad buildings. While these streets wear an unattractive face, you quickly realize the artists of Handsome Coffee Roasters have chosen a wholly appropriate area to display their craft.
Inside, the café indulges in light and warmth that stream in via large windows that wrap the building’s façade and reverberates off white tiles and concrete. An industrial interior; copper pipes runs from floor to ceiling drawing you to exposed wooden beams, steel, concrete and those sterile white tiles complete the look. I wonder what went on here in days past – a morgue? perhaps a butchery? I prefer the second image reminding me of childhood visits to a local butcher with my mother. Today, butchers have been replaced by baristas, bloodied aprons by coffee stains and curdled milk. Where once I got free cocktail sausages (we called them polonies) for being a good boy, and usually I wasn’t, today’s surprise is a free raisin bun that would not be sold.
Cafes like this can be intimidating. It is one of those cafes that want you to have what THEY want you to have, often accompanied by pretention from behind the counter. Like being ignored by that pompous art gallery curator who knows you JUST see a painting. At Handsome, this is not the experience at all.
It is true they want you have their product in a certain way, I ordered a macchiato and was informed that I would get a macchiato AND an espresso so you can really taste the peaches and apple cobbler with a gingery, lemony ﬁnish . No Soup Nazi here – engaging, smiling, and a this is the best way to taste the coffee if that’s ok with you approach. OK a hint of passive aggressive but hey I got two, albeit small coffees, for the price of one.
Handsome exudes class, something you would expect from a company where the owners boast experience at some of the biggest names in the American coffee industries, read Intelligentsia and Counter Culture, plus victories at US and World Barista Championships. While class is evident and tangible, barista awards resembling chess pieces sit just behind the counter, humility and friendly service are not absent. It is disappointing that on this particular day the pretension emerged on the customer side of the espresso machine.
A rotund fellow in his 1980s converse T-shirt, faded almost beyond recognition by a thousand wash and wear cycles, has appeared at the counter. Lacking civility and manners, he demands Coffee! from the barista who happily employs the drip only to be castigated with NO! and a finger pointed towards the espresso machine. Apologizing, the barista smiles oh you want a latte not a coffee and happily tamps and steams away to satisfy the surly, irritable (I am always damn well right) customer.
Then the French family of trois, what is it about the French? Placing my cups down at an apparently free space by the window, Monsieur and Madame scowl at my impudence for trying to take their spot. Could I not see their stroller parked in the middle of the room? Removing myself from their royal presence with apologetic acquiescence, I watch them order their drinks then sit somewhere completely different.
Ignoring the disagreeable elements of human nature, I enjoy my espresso and macchiato, then follow that up with a flat white. As my taste buds search for dark chocolate and plums, I browse Handsome’s website and a certain comment stands out in the About section. We’re going to make great coffee and be nice to you – they did, they were, and I should pass my tablet over to the French family to read.
Handsome Coffee, yes it is!
*In 2011 the most congested roads in the US were in Honolulu – who would have thought!