I visited Kean Coffee’s original Newport Beach location over a year ago. While I liked what they had to offer and was even astounded by their coffee in the store, I had some lingering doubts about their espresso and their coffees that I tried at home. Both were good, but not as good as I wanted them to be. Then again, I had my doubts about my doubts. Had I overrated this café or had I simply been the recipient of a poorly made macchiato and made couple of poor coffee picks?
Making it back to Kean to get a second opinion was proving difficult, however. On our few trips down south, there always seemed to be too many new places to try and too little time free to squeeze in that extra trip to Newport Beach. But then fortune shined and a new Kean coffee opened up in Tustin, just a short hop from my parent’s place. Even if my original assessment was off, and Kean turned out to be worse that I remembered, it would still be a much welcome addition to the area.
Kean’s new Tustin café, like the Newport Bean original (and most everything else in Orange County) is strip mall situated. Once again, though, they’ve picked a premium strip mall spot. Tustin Kean is located at the end of the strip, giving it two full walls of windows for lots of natural lighting and a small patio out back. The fact that this new store is located on Newport Avenue is either a beautiful case of synchronicity or a little bit creepy – I haven’t decided which. But what options does this leave for their third store? Is there a Tustin Beach road around?
The interior of this store is actually an improvement on the original, with the designer adopting a kind of Taj Mahal/1920’s India theme with its ornate central light and swooping ceilings with many painted on details. A Diedrich roaster stands in one corner which the human roaster fires up a couple of times a week to restock this particular café’s supply – coffee is rarely less than 4-5 days old. The roaster in the Newport Beach store apparently remains where it’s used to provide coffee for that store. There is reportedly even a third roaster in a mysterious warehouse location used exclusively for wholesale clients. I guess it pays to have a brother with a roaster company (for more details on the Diedrich family, see my original Kean Coffee review).
Kean’s brewed coffee selection includes a rotating regular and a decaf coffee, brewed in a commercial brewer into thermal carafes. They also offer a special order of your choice of beans brewed as a French Press. On both days I visited, the menu included a Burundi regular and a Nicaraguan decaf. The Burundi was a solid medium roast, hearty in body with a nice, balanced acidity. It was nothing spectacular, but still quite good and probably warrants a 3. The decaf wasn’t a better coffee, but was better given that it was a decaf, especially since a successfully lighter roasted, single origin decaf is hard enough to find. The Nicaraguan definitely exhibited some solidly chocolate notes and a slightly grassy brightness.
The baristas pull their espresso from a four group La Marzocco Linea while a two group Linea sits close on standby. The baristas take care in their work, re-pulling shots if necessary and definitely grind to order. I was nervous at first sip as I stared into my shot with its lovely light brown crema. What if it wasn’t good? The first sip, however, quickly set those fears aside. The crema wasn’t thick but endured and help give this shot a slight buttery, very delicate texture fully of pine, meyer lemon, and peaty, loamy soil. I was reminded a bit of smooth Islay whiskey, only far more delicate. On a second visit I had a decaf cappuccino, which exhibited a shockingly bitter bite, as though cocoa were sprinkled right on top. The milk was well steamed and while potent, it was intense without being overwhelming. The regular espresso was good enough I grabbed some to take home (along with their Kona).
The bottom line is that Kean continues to impress and Tustin Kean marks a welcome addition to Orange County’s otherwise limited coffee options. With this second store, they are securing their stronghold against the inroads that some other LA area roasters will likely try to make. It does seem like your coffee experience could end up slightly subpar if you hit the wrong barista or pick the wrong coffee, but most of the time Kean gets it right or even superb. This is a location you might not think to hit if visiting the LA area, but let me say that you should.