Peanut Butter Wolf was spinning and the music was pumping. Over 1000 people ripped through seven kegs of Stone and a U-Haul’s worth of wine. Wurstkuche staffers were grilling hundreds of sausages out front. Baristas pulled shots of espresso and fired up vac pots. And then, after 2 AM…silence. May 22’s grand opening party for Intelligentsia Venice may have been the biggest coffee-related party in U.S. history. Doug Zell’s Chicago-based company wasn’t able to capitalize on that momentum, but that all changed on June 5, when the Health Department cleared the way for Intelligentsia Venice to open at noon on June 8.
Intelligentsia Venice designer Ana Henton added a dropdown corrugated plexiglass ceiling to meet the city’s requirements.
The transparent shield minimally altered the look of the space and might even add to the contemporary look.
During my initial visit, the goal was to have a coffee experience that isn’t currently possible in Silver Lake. As soon as the doors opened, I made a beeline for the back bar, where Chris and M’lissa Owens oversee single-origin espresso drinks, manual coffee extractions and cuppings.
Chris Owens (pictured) was manning the back bar and presiding over the vintage La Marzocco that fueled the first Starbucks at Pike Place Market in 1972. Not that those original employees would recognize the machine. Terry Z. from Espresso Parts tricked it out with chrome, temperature and pressure controls.
Each day, the Owenses select two different seasonal coffees, “depending on what’s exciting and different.” Today, that meant Thunguri from Kenya and the Los Inmortales from El Salvador. Thunguri was available as a cappuccino, on siphon and Chemex. Los Inmortales was available as an Americano and through Café Solo and V60 Pourover. I ordered them both as part of a side-by-side cupping ($2 per glass). If you have the time and the interest, this is a good way to go, since customers are able to get a sense for how baristas, coffee buyers and roasters evaluate coffee, minus the score sheets.
Owens began the interactive cupping by grinding 12 grams of each bean. He had me take a smell of each cup, for fragrance’s sake. He then added 206-degree water and steeped the coffee for four minutes.
Gases from the coffee helped to form a crust near the rim. He had me smell each glass to get the aroma, making sure not to disturb the crust. After steeping, Owens had me break each crust with a spoon to release the gases, then wait until the coffee cooled so the flavors wouldn’t be muted. He lifted the residual crust with spoons, clearing the way for aspirated slurps. Chris said to look for brightness, body, viscosity and aftertaste.
It was great to be able to taste these coffees side by side. Los Inmortales had a lemony citrus kick and a longer finish, but in a good way. Owens said Kenyans are known for their black currant and tomato notes, but that the Thunguri is more reminiscent of tropical fruit.
The Owens’ weekend class schedule includes home espresso classes – beginner and graduated level. Every day, they’re available to provide brewing fundamental instruction depending on which brewers you purchase in-house.
The pastries are clearly better at Intelligentsia Venice than in the company’s Sunset Junction coffeehouse. They carry Cake Monkey Bakery pastries like the coffee crackle cookie – a chewy dark chocolate macaron/brownie hybrid with crunchy bits from baker Elizabeth Belkind, filled with Intelligentsia coffee butter cream. You’ll find two different muffins: lemon raspberry streusel and sour cream coffee cake laced with cinnamon pecan streusel. Currant scones are flavored with pistachios and orange zest. They also might stock chocolate almond brioche filled with chocolate and almond, topped with silvered almonds and brandied syrup.
For dessert and further pastries, Intelligentsia Director of Innovation Kyle Glanville enlisted Comme Ça Bakery, a new operation from David Myers (Comme Ça, Sona, Pizzeria Ortica) that rose from the ashes of Boule. Baker Hidefumi Kubota and Sona pastry chef Ramon Perez are teaming to deliver chilled desserts like guava cheesecake, pineapple tart tatin and chocolate tarts. Comme Ça’s croissant was tightly coiled, crisp and crackly outside, lightly buttered inside and not greasy. Unfortunately, it was too early in the day to find the bakery’s mousse, made with Intelligentsia’s Black Cat espresso blend.
Glanville said the tarts and cheesecakes will change seasonally. They’re even considering coffee and dessert pairings on the back bar.
Wi-Fi is still a work in progress. A code card will eventually entitle you to two free hours, but don’t expect to find any outlets.
After the cupping and pastries, I grabbed a cushion and relaxed on the stadium style concrete steps, soaking up the scene. Considering all the buzz and options, Day One will likely be the only time that Intelligentsia Venice isn’t crowded.
For more information about Intelligentsia Venice, check out my recent LA Times article.