DTLA hosted Coffee Con LA on February 25-26. The convention was extensive yet intimate, which made it really easy to get connected to roasters and shops on a more personal level. We got to taste some of the best coffee So Cal has to offer for the price of one uber. The whole show lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., so each of us took 2 hour shifts. Lauren and Casey started the day, Sydney went around lunch, and Kate finished off the afternoon.
9AM: We were going to a coffee convention, so Casey and I skipped our morning brew and went to the convention raring for a good cup. We made a beeline for the first samples we saw, and that happened to be Klatch Coffee. The baristas gave us each a shot of their highest rated espresso, and explained that this caramel-y and chocolatey blend was their top selling bean! If you like your coffee strong and rich, this Belle bean is one to check out.
10 AM: At this point, Casey and I had each downed at least three shots of espresso and were looking for something else to try. This is why when we saw a man advertising samples of caviar limes, we didn't hesitate. The man from Good Land Organics explained that these strange fruits originated in Australia and taste just like limes, but are tiny little balls hidden inside a tough husk. When we broke them open in our mouths, they looked like fish eggs but tasted just like the citrus we know. At the same time I remarked that they'd go great in a margarita, he told me that they work wonderfully in ceviche... To each their own, right?
11 AM: Because the only things in our stomachs by this point was black coffee and caviar limes, we decided we need a break from the acidity and went for the donuts.
It was only once we were three bites into the soft, fluffy donuts that the representative shocked us by telling us they were vegan! The key is using sustainably and ethically sourced palm oil which empowers farmers, doesn't hurt animals or the environment, and gives the donuts that cakey, indulgent texture. Score one for the vegans.
12 PM: All the coffee I sampled minus one was served black, without cream or sugar. This allows you to taste subtle notes and finishes that could be masked by adding in other flavors.
I chatted with a barista at James Coffee Company, while sampling their Honduran blend. She kindly answered my questions on how the origin of the bean determines the real flavor in the brew. It's up to the roasters to find the optimum roast to bring out those subtleties. You can even take classes if you're interested in getting the most out of coffee at home. And look how cute their cups are!
The Groundwork table caught my eye because I realized they supply the Urban Espresso truck near USC with beans. Groundwork has locations all over the greater LA area, so scope them out for unique drinks like the Almond Blood Orange Espresso Soda I tried. The sweet almond extract, tart blood orange, strong espresso, and fizzy soda were a surprisingly refreshing combo.
The Kona Bar stand off was off to the side, but it was sure not to be missed. They sampled chocolate bars made with Kona Coffee beans picked from 100-year-old heirloom trees. Of the six flavors, my favorite bar was the milk chocolate macadamia nut. It was so good I had to come back for seconds.
1 PM: The convention offered classes on exploring flavors, origins, brew method, and latte art. I took one on espresso making. I never knew making the perfect espresso shot was so technical. My whole experience at Coffee Con inspired me to become a sommelier of coffee.
2 PM: I started my shift eager to sample as many different coffees as I could. This would later turn out to be a mistake, but I'll get to that. With close to 40 exhibitors and coffee beans sourced from all around the world, I had a wide variety of flavor profiles at my disposal. Alana's Coffee Roaster's, for instance, had beans sourced from Ethiopia and El Salvador. I tried the latter, and the flavor was smooth and sweet, with a hint of acidity to give it a nice brightness.
Blue Bottle Coffee was another cup that really stood out. I tried their Giant Steps blend, which was bold, chocolatey, and thick.
Bona Fide Craft Draft attracted my attention with their nitro coffee on tap. Of their selections, my favorite was the nitro latte. Much to my amazement, an impeccably balanced latte came straight out of the keg. It was the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, and rich - it was so good, I helped myself to seconds. And thirds.
3 PM: At this point, I had probably consumed the equivalent of 8-10 cups of coffee. Since I was clammy, shaking, anxious, and had all of the other tell-tale signs of a mild caffeine overdose, I decided to take a short break from coffee. This is when I discovered Organic Pastures raw milk. Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized. "But wait", I asked the man at the booth, "Is it safe to drink?" I'm sure if he had a dollar for every time he's answered that question he wouldn't need to sell raw milk. He explained to me that a sample of each batch of milk is sent to the lab where it undergoes three different tests to ensure it is safe to drink. Well, that was enough convincing for me. As a person who detests whole milk and never drinks anything heavier than skim, I was a little skeptical of the raw milk. But after my first sip, I realized my reluctance was misplaced. The milk was sweet, creamy, rich but still light and clean. I am convinced, raw milk is the future - and not just for hippies.
Takeaways: Our Favorites
Lauren: I thought that an entire convention dedicated to coffee may change my previously-held opinions on LA coffee, but I stayed true to my brand: Blue Bottle Coffee was my favorite of the day. I like my coffee naturally sweet, so the Beta Blend that they served-flavored with candied oranges, milk chocolate, and white peach- solidified my loyalty. Stop by the café and try out their drip for yourself in the Arts District.
Sydney: Bar 9 had the cleanest cup of coffee of all the samples I tasted. They dry the beans in the sun while still in the cherry, which contributes to a super smooth and barely acidic sipping experience. Check out their shop in Culver City!
Kate: Being from Texas, one thing I understand better than anything else is a good barbecue, so when I heard that Coffee Alchemist roasted their beans over mesquite, I was definitely intrigued. Their coffee did not disappoint, the smokey flavor was bold, and memorable - both unique and nostalgic.
If you're a coffee or tea lover like us, get to know your local cafés! You're supporting local business, while finding a new favorite.