After heading out of Intelligentsia’s Venice Coffee Bar I couldn’t help but take a peek at the Equator Cafe inside Equator Books, which hosts an impressive coffee setup serving coffee from non-other than the Bay Area’s own, Blue Bottle coffee. I had consumed plenty of caffeine at that moment, however, and had other coffee on the brain so my wife and I made our way north to Santa Monica with a few detours along the way. Once there, we ended up at Caffe Luxxe which serves coffee from…well…as it turns out, Blue Bottle (it looks like Grub Street missed this long-time wholesale account). I had read about Luxxe using Blue Bottle a while back but hadn’t found a recent reference to it. Consider it confirmed. I can’t get too self-rightous about the prevalence of Bay Area coffee in LA, however. Luxxe’s espresso hails from a roaster up in Seattle. Which one, I was unable to verify. The barista simply told me that it was roasted by friends of the owner.
I have to say that Luxxe and I didn’t start off exactly on the right foot. This kind of secrecy about roasters is a huge pet peeve of mine. Luxxe repackages its beans with no mention of who roasts them. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that Luxxe did it themselves. There is no mention of the roasters on the website, menu or elsewhere in the store. It strikes me as odd that a place like Blue Bottle or any reputable roaster would let this happen, but I see it not that infrequently. If a cafe does a good job with the coffee, then the roaster should get some credit. If a cafe does a bad job, a roaster shouldn’t really want them serving their coffee. Either way, using a reputable roaster should bring some cache to a cafe. Any which way, I’m not sure where subterfuge figures in.
Gripes aside, Caffe Luxxe does a nice job with their product and there’s little wonder why it’s been a long-standing marker on the LA region of the espressomap. Luxxe pulls shots from a three group Synesso Cyncra (they also have a second machine – a spare, I’m assuming?) and offers a standard house drip or you choice of three, single-origin pour over coffees using ceramic cones and paper filters. The baristas were able to speak knowledgeably about the coffee despite serving a healthy crowd and the cafe itself is quite nice.
The interior at Luxxe falls outside my personal aesthetic, but is nevertheless a pleasant place to have a cup of coffee. It’s a bright, skylit space with gray, painted wood shelves, white walls and a tiled floor. One wall housed some nice coffee equipment such as Frieling French Presses and various food items like olive oils and jams. The seating was ample and the crowd wasn’t dominated by people sitting in study hall. I don’t know if this same aesthetic is present at Luxxe’s newest branch, which just opened in Brentwood.
For a drip coffee, I opted for the Ethiopia Yergacheffe, which was a pleasant cup of coffee. I noted some fruity (blueberry?) and floral notes, which were very much present but not as distinctive as I’m used to getting in a Yirgacheffe. It was a hearty medium bodied cup with lots of depth and not a lot of acidity. It’s been a long while since I had this coffee from Blue Bottle and I was happy that I still liked the way it tasted, but I did note a bit of mustiness in the aftertaste (3).
My espresso was one of the most restricted I’ve had yielding a super short shot. The reddish brown head of crema boded well and the espresso was sweet and chocolately. The major note I picked up on was banana and it had a very buttery finish, marred a little by some musty and ashy notes (3). Overall, I was pleased with Caffe Luxxe and can see why it’s done quite well over the years. I may have my roaster branding quibbles with them, but they do a good job and clearly put coffee at the core of what they do.