10 December, 2019 | Aftandil Shahbazli

3 Waves that Brought Speciality Coffee Shops to LA

Most people cannot imagine their mornings without coffee. Coffee has become a part of life for people who are always on the move and need that little extra kick to get their mornings moving. You don’t even have to be a fast mover to enjoy coffee. For some, it is just an exquisite pleasure to feast their taste buds with the wonders of coffee beans. For many living in Los Angeles, coffee is a must, and they tend to be picky about their beans, styles, and flavors. Throughout recent history, many waves of coffee offerings at a specialty coffee shop have come and gone from the first wave to the last but not least third wave. So grab a fresh brew and read this article near a cozy fireplace to get an idea of what to expect from a specialty coffee shop.

First wave coffee

First wave coffee products are scolded by coffee professionals and people who know their coffee. They are somewhat mainstream coffee drinks made for the masses. These types of coffees tend to be of low quality and abundant. When you think of first wave coffee, think of supermarket aisle coffee. These coffee companies don’t try to convince their buyers that they are unique. Because up until recently, many consumers didn’t even care too much about the origin of their coffee beans and the style of taste and brew. It isn’t hard to distinguish the first-wave coffee. Artificial flavors, words like “Gourmet/ Premium,” dark and bitter tastes are tall tale signs of a first wave coffee. 

Second wave coffee

Second wave coffee started to become a movement after the rise of major coffee shop chains. These shops specialized in giving consumers different tastes and experiences they would not regularly get anywhere else. Even with this improvement, consumers still were not able to connect with the roots of their beans. The focus of these second wave coffee shops was mixing artificial flavors with the same mainstream coffees of the first wave. But they did lay the grounds for the whole “specialty coffee shop” ideology. 

From the third wave coffee wave to Specialty coffee shops

specialty coffee shop

Starting from the late 80s and 90s, the third wave coffee movement took off. Roaster and coffee specialists began to look into and focus more on the location of their coffee beans. Coffee farmers with high potential quality coffee were left in the shadows of major coffee chains that focused more on mass production and less on quality. Coffee professionals started to see the potential these small coffee farmers that have been long in poverty had. Fresh coffee became the norm for cafes. A specialty coffee shop can be distinguished with its focus on specific flavor offerings, arts made with lattes, lighter roasts, primary focus on the transparency of origin, and, most importantly, a single source for their beans. Specialty cafes focus mainly on the background of their beans, and they make sure to work closely with their farmers and suppliers to reach the most optimum level of quality and freshness. Specialty coffee shops offer not only exquisite coffee beans and flavors, but if you look hard enough you can find specialties in Los Angeles specialty coffee shops like matcha green tea. Some fun and exciting joints Los Angeles even serve different types of bubble teas all in the name of making an exciting experience. 

Bean origin vs. brewing

Most coffee experts have started to debate the topic of how real specialty coffee is different from mainstream coffee cafes. Some will tell you it is the focus on the bean, and others might point out the actual brewing process is what determines the specialty. Before you shake your head in displeasure in regards to the debate, take a minute to consider it. Most major coffee chains consumers are accustomed to, usually focus on standard coffee brewing procedures. In goes the bean to a machine, out comes the coffee. This process defines the staple for mainstream coffee joints. Specialty coffee shops, however, focus on not just their bean origin but also how to brew it once they have come in. Nowadays, more specialty coffee shops in Los Angeles are popping up that focus their attention on slow brewing. A straightforward way to understand this process is to think of fast brewing as a fast-food restaurant. Fast food restaurants pump out food in seconds that may be fast but lack the quality of slow-cooked food at home. Specialty coffee shops have to measure each process carefully to reach the nirvana of coffee flavor. They must focus on factors like coffee to water ratio, determining the right grind size for each brew, and perfecting the time intervals between each pour. 

Visually defining a specialty coffee shop

It could sometimes be hard for an untrained eye to distinguish a specialty coffee shop from a regular coffee shop. After all, both of them do serve coffee. Let’s say you are new to the concept of a specialty coffee shop and want to experience it first hand. Before you google a shop name near you, try to understand the design of these types of coffee shops. Minimalistic design is one of the first things that give away a specialty coffee shop. The interior of these shops regularly represents the transparency of the business, with exposed kitchens that let you see the process every step of the way. Walls that have exposed bricks, black and white letter boards are also design features to look out for. Artistic yet straightforward furniture design gives the impression of sustainability and focuses on product quality rather than flashy looks. 

specialty coffee shop

As the whole movement evolves, more and more third-wave coffee shops also start to focus their attention on their food menus. It would not be a good business model to serve just coffee, because potential customers would easily choose a shop with food options along with their coffee unless the coffee focused shop has a coffee to die for. But enough of the business model, because specialty coffee shops have more to offer than that. 

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A tasty and quality food menu is the cherry on top of any coffee shop. It helps cement the idea that the business has the best quality possible. Simplistic yet highly adored menu items like banana bread, poached eggs, homemade granola, avocado toasts, etc. help give the quality impression the shops deserve. Los Angeles certainly does not lack the selection of such specialty coffee brewing joints. Bontea in Melrose Avenue, along with many other joints, for example, contains all the features mentioned above: Minimalistic design, trendy foods,  best organic tea, and most importantly, good coffee!

The idea of third-wave coffee shops are growing in Los Angeles and around the world. They are starting to become a staple of what quality coffee can be. Starting from the seeds planted to the final cup of fresh brew in front of you, specialty coffee shops deliver. Since the community is growing, along with it raises the bar for what a specialty coffee shop should be. You are sure to never run out of options when looking for a coffee shop, especially considering the size of Los Angeles. Just make sure to know what to look for, from the coffee menus to the food. After knowing your goals, you are sure to locate the specialty coffee shop in Los Angeles; you have always been dreaming about!