LA

Interesting to see an article like this in the Guardian. It wasn’t nearly as ill informed as I expected and though I’m not too chirpy about his conclusion, I liked how much he covered without, I hope, becoming too tricky to assimilate for non coffee folk.  

I hate quick posts so I guess I should say something else while I’m here.  LA was great. I loved catching up with everyone and seeing how Intelligentsia Silverlake is progressing.  We wondered if it was the busiest quality focused cafe in the World, certainly I’ve never visited one as busy, even Ritual in San Francisco. The interior and exterior are just beautiful and I’m not sure if it’d work as well in any other neighborhood. I know they’ve plans to open thirty four more cafes in LA and it will be interesting to see how they adapt their image to each neighborhood, a luxury bigger chains don’t really get to practice.  But back to silverlake,I loved the visibility of the baristas at work and it was a pleasure to watch each of them employ the same solid technique yet each with their own style. 

 

It was nice too to taste Black Cat made by those more familiar with it. We were lucky enough to taste it when Intelligentsia sponsored our Barista Party during this years UKBC, and I remember James and I enjoying its new, cleaner profile. I like how they’ve managed to make it that bit more articulate without losing that soft, deep, chocolate its known so well for. To be completely honest I suppose, the trip had no stand out coffee moments, but rather everything was really good. Does that make sense? Probably the best thing I tasted was Kyle Glanville’s signature drink. I won’t give anything away so close to the WRBC, but all I’ll say is feathers. 

 

I spent my last morning sitting on the back bar of the cafe, possibly for the best part of 4 hours. This time was spent drinking coffee, watching the baristas, and spotting celebrities ( nearly spluttered my zirikana all over my macbook when Sylar from Heroes walked in). The last hour or so consisted of learning about various company takeovers in the industry from a well informed, if a little infected at the time blogger called Tony.  Regarding clover, I’ll keep my opinions to myself, which I know is a little mean, especially considering how amazing they are, but I’m horrible, and you should know that by now.

The only other cafes I got to visit on the trip were Choke- the moterbike/funky espresso bar, and La Mill, the super trendy, super plush, lovely staff, poor in the cup newcomer to Silverlake. Choke was so different to anything I’ve ever seen before, I’m not really sure what to say. There are photos, just take a look.

 

 

La Mill was an odd one, very not silverlake. I drove by it first of all and hated it. I went in wanting to hate it, but kinda liked it. I especially kinda liked the two red clovers they had. The equipment on display in general was stunning; hario vac-pots, eva solos, fb80s, afore mentioned clovers, roburs, chemexes, hario water glass, and so so many staff. The menu is sufficiently wordy for the prices of the coffees, and our waitress was excellent at explaining how the vac pot worked. There was an awkward moment when I inquired how long they’ve been adding jelly to the coffee and donut drink they serve and the waitress asked when I’d last had it,- the last time being when James made it for the 2007 UKBC, and who was never asked if he minded them using it. I just said a friend made it for me.


 

Sadly, none of the drinks I tasted at La Mill were good. They all seemed more or less well brewed, but they just didn’t work in the cup. This was the experience of two trips, so please don’t think I just wanna be a hater, I’m just not street enough. In total, I tasted a Kenya they carried off a vac pot, an espresso, two cappuccinos, and their coffee & donut & jelly. None were great but I have to say, the people there, bar 1 guy, were so friendly, capable, and well informed, I’ll be sure to visit them again when I’m back in town.

OK, this wasn’t meant to be a long post. So just one last thing, I was joking about intelly wanting to open 34 new cafes in LA, but I would imagine more are in the pipeline.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “LA

  1. No disrespect to you or James, but is it really necessary for someone to “ask permission” to “use” a drink?

    Certainly, it is a nice (and wonderful) courtesy to be asked for advice and blessing to use a drink, but is it absolutely necessary?

    Being one who’s made what I hope are interesting drinks in the past and have had people copy it (or use the recipes verbatim), I’m not one who gets terribly offended. I hope that people can use those recipes or ideas as starting points to try something different and create their own.

    As an example, one of the recent drinks “Breakfast in Bed” was inspired by a dish by a local chef who I only recently saw and told her that it was her dish that inspired the drink. Of course, that inspiration was built upon knowledge shared with me by both yourself and James.

    Beyond the drink, suffice it to say that the folks down at Aldo Coffee in Pittsburgh were enthused enough to create their own version of “Breakfast in Bed”, using different ingredients and methodology.

    Whenever people ask me about the drinks we’ve created, I always try to remember to put ego aside and that our cuisine is a synthesis of what we’ve been exposed to and those who have shared their knowledge with us. And in many ways, I’m copying those who have come before me.

    It would seem hypocritical of me to expect others to “ask permission” when I have blatantly ripped off technique and methods from others.

  2. Saying that people shouldn’t ask permission because in the past you haven’t asked permission doesn’t really hold weight for me as an argument.

    In the past I’ve always tried to credit my influences, and the people who inspired or helped me when creating drinks.

    Coffee and a donut was one of my very, very few original ideas and it is probably the tastiest drink I’ve created for competition.

    I suppose I was flattered that they decided to use a variation of it, though if I am to be truly honest – I was pleased to hear their version didn’t go down quite as well as mine. (ahh… my monstrous ego)

    People regularly email me asking if they can use my pictures from flickr in their cafes and I have always said yes, and never asked for anything in return. If LA Mill had e-mailed and said that this is what they wanted to do I would have been delighted and would have shared everything I had in the creation of that recipe with them. If they hadn’t asked it would have been nice if somewhere they had credited the idea to me. Chef’s do it with other chefs recipes quite a lot, so why can’t us baristas?

    It is certainly a drink that has featured in a lot of their PR materials and write ups so I suppose it is in their interests to present it as their own idea, just as they have done with their variation of your drink. (Though that one seems to also share a lot in common with my WBC drink this year).

    If we really want to be a coffee community that moves forward together (I’m not talking 3W stuff I don’t really understand) then I would think that more interaction and being as polite and friendly as possible would be a good idea.

  3. I just think they missed an opportunity.

    I love the idea of a menu carrying some of the best sig drinks designed each year. Its a nice knod to the community and I think it would have been applauded in general.

    To not credit the baristas makes little sense to me.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to give credit where credit is due. To me, that’s where credibility is established and maintained. For myself, I rely on a community of people and their ideas to build upon and while I freely share my technique, I also freely express thanks to those who have shared with me.

    Whether it’s a blog entry identifying the source of the knowledge or a simple POS card detailing the drink and who created it, sharing the origins of the drink are of utmost importance to me and our approach.

  5. I find it quite telling that it would be you, Jay, to spark debate on the subject of sig drink appropriation. By taking issue with Stephen’s post, you’ve opened up the discussion to a wider range of issues around originality. In the case of La Mill, we have a business who seems to have made an art of pillaging the creations of world champion baristas. Their intent is likely manifold; to offer the very best concoctions, as designed by the best practitioners; to align themselves with the craft and culture of specialty coffee the world over; and (perhaps my most cynical impression), to bank off of the efforts of the best in the business.

    By throwing in your own 2 cents, Jay, you have introduced the related, but unique, case of baristas copying past signature drinks in their own routines. This is a separate matter, and rests more within the narrow scope of competition and honour amongst peers. And it is in this context that you yourself have veered awfully close to ethically unsound territory in your recent competition drink. Whether intentionally or otherwise, you produced a drink that reads almost note for note as a rendition of Sam James’ Canadian Barista competition drink. To be clear, I am not accusing you of plagiarism. But I feel it is incumbent on you, having sat as judge at the very competition this drink was debuted at, to acknowledge your association to that drink. Unlike the case of La Mill, you were in a privileged position not only to have been one of a few exposed to the drink (as anyone present at the CBCs can attest, the event was dead empty!), but you were in a position of authority. As such, you should have played it safe and acknowledged Sam’s creation.

    I agree with James that in order to move forward as a community and a culture, we need to acknowledge each others’ input. It’s damn near impossible to come up with anything properly original (I don’t subscribe to concrete definitions of originality), but for the sake of respect alone it’s important to acknowledge those around us– especially when some of us are responsible for judging others.

  6. It’s true, I was a judge at the 2007 Canadian National Barista Championship in Toronto and I was one of the Finalist judges.

    However, I do not recall all of the drinks that I tasted during that competition and can state very clearly and honestly that cannot consciously recall the drink that Sam James’ prepared for that competition.

    What I can tell you is the genesis of “Breakfast in Bed” as it came into fruition this past January while eating dinner at Abacrombie Fine Foods in Baltimore, Maryland. Chef Jesse Sandlin’s dessert: “Breakfast for Dessert” was an assortment of brioche french toast, berries, maple star anise chantilly and bacon toffee. It was this dish that was the direct inspiration for “Breakfast In Bed” and it’s even included in my blog:

    http://onocoffee.blogspot.com/2008/01/blog-post_12.html

    From there it was direct conversations with both James Hoffmann and The Flying Thud while in London regarding James’ approach to his donut drink that led me towards an approach for “Breakfast In Bed”.

    As far as Sam James’ creation goes, I just don’t remember it. My most vivid tasting memory of the 2007 CBC was the clover-brewed Hacienda La Esmeralda that Colter Jones presented as an amuse bouche.

    While presenting oneself as a judge does indeed lend one into a “position of authority”, I’ve found the experience to be taxing on both a mental and sensory level. In order to attempt to provide helpful feedback for the competitor, I tried to cram in as many notes and thoughts as possible, which resulted in my long-term taste memory of the drinks to be nil. Outside of that amuse, I don’t remember any of the drinks we tasted.

    As for “pillaging the creations” of baristas, I think that’s a bit far-fetched because, from my experiences in both coffee and food (and especially food), I’ve found that nothing is truly “original” and that all “creations” are built upon a collected knowledge from a variety of sources. And in the cases of chefs whom I respect, a significant part of that knowledge and vocabulary is built upon tasting foods from as many sources as possible.

    As a corollary, long-term readers of my blog will note a long procession of tasting and eating a variety of foods from many different sources – all of which add to my vocabulary and understanding of food and flavors.

    All of that considered, I mean no disrespect to Sam James or his efforts. In the case of “Breakfast In Bed”, his drink was not a direct influence on its’ creation.

  7. Well put. I too put little stock in notions of originality, but I am rather sensitive to what a small community we comprise (my recent trip to London felt like home)– hence the necessity to acknowledge the contributions of others whenever possible. As I stated in my previous post, it wasn’t my contention that you were deliberately attempting to copy Sam’s drink, but that the circumstances seemed a tad suspicious. Sam’s sig drink seemed to be on everyone’s minds at the afterparty (partly because it was half delicious/half disastrous!), and it seemed to be the only drink discussed on the message boards in the days following- I believe it was posted on coffeed by the good folks at Aldo. If, as you claim, you have no memory of the drink than I take you at your word. I can say in earnest that I am constantly amazed at how ideas can circulate without the awareness of individuals whose efforts seem to overlap left and right. I guess in the end all we can be responsible for are our conscious influences, which we should all try to be vigilant in acknowledging. Listen up, La Mill!

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