Exploring The Best Coffee Shops In L.A.

A TT editor explores L.A.'s booming coffee scene with its biggest fan, her dad

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My parents love selfies. They each text one to the other every morning, right after my dad drops my mom off at work in Downtown L.A. This also extends to Instagram. (They're very social media savvy.) And to L.A.'s top baristas. Let me explain.

Brian Inamine, attorney-at-law and father of this editor, takes one with basically every barista he meets, whether adding to his collection with the crew from San Fernando Valley's House Roots Coffee or the coffee shops his barista buds send him to when he's on the road for work. The first such selfie made its debut almost exactly a year ago, while Steve Hyun was busy making a pour-over at Andante Coffee Roasters, bean origin unknown then, and it's opened a whole new world to my former frozen, coffee-chain-bean-brewing dad—and, weirdly, rising players in L.A.'s growing coffee scene who welcome him right in.

"You know what's fascinating to me? Kyle touched on this," my dad says outside of Grand Central Market. "I remember when G&B opened a few years ago, and that was the first time I heard the term, 'specialty coffee.' When I think of Downtown L.A. and specialty coffee, the first name that we think of is G&B. G&B is sort of the mother."

"That's awesome," Charles Babinski, the B of L.A. coffee powerhouse G&B, says.

"You are the model you follow," Dad continues.

"Terrible model," Babinski jokes. "Do not follow."

"Just the way you set the bar and the way you think, you're kind of this interesting mix in that you're the origin for us in many ways, but yet coffee shops can't follow," my dad adds. "It's an interesting thing."

"I think people take little pieces," Kyle Glanville, the G of G&B, responds.

"They take the wrong pieces," Babinski says, making us all laugh.

This is my dad's first time meeting the two, who introduced him to the idea that coffee could be more than a mindless morning jolt. He loves hearing about how they started G&B as a disruptor to the third-wave system ("What people don't like about it is the same thing that we don't like about it, which is this overall contempt of what people want and what they expect in a coffee shop," Glanville says.) and their drive to be the best coffee shop in L.A. ("We're habitually biting off more than we can chew, because we're about the process," Babinski says. "We're constantly committed to the process, getting better and changing systems."). They talk about industry stuff, like how Yeekai Lim is roasting for Cognoscenti Coffee and how they gave their old waffle maker to House Roots. I have no idea what they're talking about, but I nod and smile.

Ryan Jie Jiang texts my dad, asking when we're coming to Andante, where he runs the Echo Park location. It's time to meet the rest of my dad's friends. There's Jimmy Lee (fun fact: We were in the same art history class in high school), David Shin, Thomas Kong and the team at House Roots, who met my dad during pop-up mode two years ago and are opening their much-anticipated shop later this month; and there's Joe Morimoto and James Choi of Cafe Dulce, a sort of breeding ground in Little Tokyo for serious baristas.

"I started not at Little Tokyo but at the pop-up, which eventually turned into [Dulce] Dos," Lee remembers of his time at Dulce. "We would have different roasters every month, and it was really cool. In L.A., just two huge garage doors, featuring the best roasters in the country."

The Dulce guys have gone on to compete in the U.S. Coffee Championships, along with past winners Babinski and Glanville, and Hyun who's been a judge. There, it's about showmanship and style and storytelling—as opposed to machines like the Poursteady, which makes six pour-overs at a time and bewildered my dad on a recent trip to NYC.

"We noticed the coffee shop was the modern-day barber shop, where people gather and hang out and talk about their day," Lee says of the future House Roots. "That's what we wanted the space to be."

And that's how my dad wants to keep it.

The day after I left L.A. to head back to New York, my dad visited Cognoscenti during its soft-opening mode and, of course, took a selfie with Lim. But after Instagramming it, he ran over to Andante for one more pour-over.