Architect Yeekai Lim’s passion for coffee initially led him to former U.S. Barista Champion Heather Perry, who provided instruction, and to New York City, where he attended Intelligentsia’s workshop. In March 2010, equipped with a base of knowledge, he launched a pop-up coffeehouse called Cognoscenti Coffee at Urban Eats, a restaurant he designed in Burbank. He transitioned to Blue Dot yogurt shop in Eagle Rock before accepting a permanent residency in the marble-countered confines of Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery, where he brews Four Barrel Coffee. I recently sat down to discuss Lim’s continuing relationship with coffee.
What inspires you about coffee?
It’s that one small bean that is constantly frustrating you to coalesce all the interesting inherent flavors of the terroir from its origin, and the constant challenge to the craft of brewing a single cup at a time.
Was there a moment of epiphany when you decided to switch from architecture to coffee?
It happened quickly, but really coincided with the architecture practice being affected by the economy, in turn, giving me more time to focus on what I really enjoy. A lot of my architecture practice, and the fact that some projects can take up to five years to complete, pointed to the fact that coffee takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes to be able to express a final product. That was a natural reaction to my enjoyment for coffee as well.
What lessons from architecture can you apply to coffee?
That there are many components involved with producing one cup, from the variations in grind, to your water temperature, to technique, and what position you take, and coordinating the different components and putting them together. At least from a work flow and retail perspective, being able to multitask. Also, the retail environment serves for an almost theatrical aspect, rather an opportunity to present coffee, so aesthetics and special layout are very important in extending the coffee experience to the customer.
Why did you decide on your brew methods?
Right now the paper filter, the V60, seems to work well with the work flow environment to produce a very clean cup. That’s the method of choice at the moment, but we also have other equipment to experiment with, like the cone filter and the Clever dripper.
Since you’re in a bakery, instead of more stand alone coffeehouse, how does that change your approach?
I’m not sure if it so much changes my approach. If it does in any way, it’s forced me to work in a more compact situation, sharing presence of coffee and pastry, so maybe the intent there is more about how coffee engages with something sweet or savory, the different textures and temperatrues and how I choose how to brew, but also the limited real estate is in a way directing me to be more efficient about my workspace and work flow given that it’s a shared environment
Why did you settle on Four Barrel coffee?
I really like the vibe at Four Barrel. Their espresso is probably one of my favorite out of many I tasted, plus they’re a small shop, so there’s potential for growth. I wanted to be a part of that, share that growth. Also, there’s nobody pulling Four Barrel in Southern California.
If it isn’t already, what will it take to make Los Angeles a great coffee scene?