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Spring For This Coffee

Name: Spring For Coffee
Location: 548 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA
Roaster: rotating menu, including: Equator, Four Barrel, Intelligentsia and Ritual
Rating: 3+

Spring for Coffee is a 300 square foot coffee bar kiosk is located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, which if you haven’t heard, is no longer the desolate wasteland it once was. People actually live there and even visit outside normal business hours. They also seem to have a propensity for drinking quality coffee as evidenced by the nearby operation of two other establishments – Lot 44 and an outpost of Groundwork Coffee – with quality coffee potential (I have confirmed the quality of either as I visited on a holiday weekend and neither shop was open.)

Spring For Coffee opened its doors back in March of 2009, and seems to have settled into the neighborhood nicely. The design is attractive but somewhat dependent on the charm of the previous space. It sports a gorgeous chandelier, white walls a wooden bar and some touches of marble. It houses little space for actually drinking your coffee, but this is LA. A few tables and chairs reside outside. What drives Spring for Coffee, however, is not high design but the fact that it’s a coffee bar in the truest sense, serving coffees from multiple roasters with multiple brew methods. The typical menu includes a couple of coffees from each of three roasters which you chose to have brewed via French Press, Chemex or pour over (in a ceramic cone with a gold filter). Spring For Coffee’s roaster menu typically include coffees from both Ritual and Equator Estates and often features Intelligentsia. On my visit, however the third roaster was Four Barrel.

The good news is that the standards are high. The roasters, of course, are well known and the coffees on the menu all had a reputation for being high quality. As this Food GPS piece points out, the owners have put in some long hours testing out the coffees they wish to serve and in assembling a diverse menu. The coffee was also fresh. Spring For Coffee wouldn’t sell any of their remaining decaf to my Father because it was too old (delays due to the holidays) and I was warned prior to ordering the Kenya Kanyoni from Ritual, that it was fast approaching two weeks old – still good enough to serve, but not the pinnacle of freshness they would have liked (delays in shipping due to the holidays). Finally, the barista’s pour over technique certainly put my impatient water spiraling practices to shame.

My cup of Ritual’s Kenya Kanyoni, which I had as a pour over, was a slightly tangy, currant-centric Kenyan. It was sweet but surprisingly earthy with a bit of a bitter edge. I imagine the age may have been a factor leading to this coffees more muted quality, especially given the kudos this coffee received in a blind tasting of Bay Area coffees. Overall, I liked it but didn’t love it and found myself slightly grappling with the $3 price.

I also ordered a Chemex-brewed cup of Four Barrel’s Costa Rica Cafetin, which was a nice, mild coffee with thick, viscous mouthfeel. It was sweet with caramel, exhibited notes of almond and had a mild orange acidity and a bit of spice. I found it subtle and very pleasant. My father liked it so much he drank most of it when I wasn’t looking.

Espresso equipment and technique at Spring for Coffee are also solid. Shots are pulled on a 2 group La Marzocco GB/5 and my Jaguar blend espresso from Equator had a nice looking reddish head of crema with some flecking along with a good body and mouthfeel. It was a not too bright shot with brown sugar sweetness and some cocoa notes, but less than I wanted it to be. I found it a little musty and ashy, but due more more likely to the blend than the pull. Having a second espresso option (either a single origin or second blend) from a roaster besides Equator would have been a nice touch and more completely fulfilled the coffee bar approach.

Spring for Coffee is a nicely implemented experiment for where LA coffee could be going, offering a kiosk-sized, multi-roaster version of what’s being done over at LAMILL and part of the plans at Intelligentsia Venice’s brew bar. The drawbacks of this shop are mostly the challenges inherent in running such a complicated coffee bar. One is that the coffee isn’t cheap, costing anywhere from just under $3 to upwards of $5. Prices aren’t unreasonable, though given the intensity of the craft and quality of the coffees, and Spring for Coffee offers a more standard-priced drip coffee if you’re there before 10 AM. I also imagine that this complicated menu could create some customer confusion. People aren’t used to picking a coffee, let alone a brew method, especially at a less than flagship roaster shop. I would hope this would lead to some good conversation between barista and patron, but I wonder if a recommended brew method would work better so as to let the conversation focus on the coffee.

Overall, the ability to experiment and explore roasters as well as coffees is very much appreciated.  Too few cafes offer such a range of coffee exploration and are unwilling to take this chance due to the costs and attention this model takes.  That said, Spring For Coffee, while good, may be more valuable to folks not visiting from the Bay Area since the coffees and the milk – from Strauss – all hail from here.  But if you’re not from the Bay Area and are type of person who is in the know about your coffee or simply want to explore, then Spring For Coffee will be a welcome sight.

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