Essential West Coast Coffee Institutions

Slate
Courtesy of Slate Coffee Roasters

It seems almost ridiculous to describe a beverage that’s been consumed since at least the 16th century as “booming,” but coffee, for lack of a better word, is booming. Even in tea strongholds like the UK, coffee has made major inroads. People are willing to spend more and more for a regular cup of joe, and “cold brew,” once a niche submarket, is now readily available at everyman mainstays like Dunkin’ Donuts. The world of espresso has expanded far beyond lattes and cappuccinos, to include dizzyingly caffeinated beverages like the red eye (a shot of espresso added to drip coffee). Americans have always consumed lots of coffee, and the ways we consume coffee is constantly evolving. At each step of the way, the West Coast has played an instrumental role.

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Courtesy of Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Coffee nerds like to talk about “third wave” coffee, which refers to the current crop of independent roasters who focus as much on the chain of production as they do on the final brew (the term was coined by an industry insider). The first and second waves are generally defined as mass market roasters and specialty chains, respectively. Companies from Seattle down to Portland and Los Angeles played a crucial role in developing each of these phases. Budget mainstay Folgers, considered part of the first wave, had its roots in San Francisco. The Folger Coffee Company Building near the Bay Bridge, while no longer the headquarters of the company, is registered as a historic place. In the 60’s and 70’s, now-ubiquitous chains like Peet’s (Bay Area), Coffee Bean (Los Angeles) and Starbucks (Seattle) got their start. These companies comprised the second wave. Now, some third wave roasters have grown to almost household name status.

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Courtesy of Blue Bottle Coffee

Two of the most well known third-wave companies are Stumptown and Blue Bottle, the former based in Portland and the latter in Oakland. These companies, both founded around the turn of the 21st century, rose to prominence by promoting unique brewing methods and focusing on so-called “single-origin” beans. Stumptown helped popularize cold brew coffee, which is a method by which ground beans are steeped in cold water and left to sit for an extended period of time. This makes for a smoother, more unique beverage compared to the watered down iced coffees that were more or less old hot coffee poured over ice.

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The Boy & The Bear, in Redondo Beach, with a new location opening in Culver City

These roasters by no means invented cold brewing; cold brew’s lengthy history includes the Netherlands, the Americas, Japan, and France. Nonetheless, Stumptown and Blue Bottle helped popularize it. The success of these companies naturally caught the eye of larger conglomerates, leading Nestle to buy Blue Bottle and Peet’s to buy Stumptown. For purists, however, there are still many independent cafes and roasters making specialized bags and bottles, and many of these companies are based in places like Seattle and Portland. As the methods by which coffee is consumed continues to expand and diversify, the West Coast will undoubtedly play a part in whatever the future holds. Here are a few unique, independent companies to know.


Coava, Portland

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Photo by Jade Sheldon-Burnsed/Trotter

Coava is a popular roaster and cafe based in Portland, Oregon. Their cafe is a large, industrialist space, and they also offer a unique direct-to-consumer coffee subscription service

The Conservatory, Los Angeles

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The Conservatory, Photo by Sarah Fay for Time Out

The Conservatory has been a mini-institution for Culver City, California, since 1995. Formally known as the Conservatory for Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa, the small, family-owned shop focuses on single-origin beans, and offers an impressive variety of coffees and teas.

Groundwork, Los Angeles

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Groundwork in Venice, courtesy of Groundwork

Groundwork was born in Venice, California, 25 years ago, and focuses on certified-organic production in Los Angeles and Portland. Groundwork has numerous cafes throughout Los Angeles, 3 in Portland, and bottled cold brew can be found in grocery stores.

Slate Coffee Roasters, Seattle

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Courtesy of Slate Coffee Roasters

Slate Coffee Roasters has several locations in Seattle and a direct-to-consumer and wholesale web store. They set themselves apart by focusing on lighter roasts and pour-over, rather than the espresso and darker roasts that Seattle is better known for.

Verve Coffee, Santa Cruz

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Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, photo by Sean Culligan/The Chronicle

Verve Coffee Roasters has somehow managed to squeeze several locations into its tiny hometown of Santa Cruz, a college town on the southern outskirts of the Bay Area. It also has three cafes in Los Angeles, one in San Francisco, and one in Tokyo, Japan.