October 08, 2018

Farm to Fork? Bean to Bar? This Is Bean to Brew.

Think you have to go to New York City to get a good cuppa cawfee? Or that Seattle is the caffeine capital of the United States?

In Southern California, coffee is grown, roasted, ground, and served up for those who’ll wait in line an inordinate amount of time just to do the java jive.

In fact, coffee is as much a part of southern California culture as wine, craft beer, and farm-to-fork dining.

That's why I decided to cover SoCal coffee culture for my KCET SoCal Wanderer column. Here follows are some additional photos not published by KCET and a selection of the text.

Coffee? Grown in California? It’s true – and Good Land Organics in Goleta holds the distinction as the first coffee farm in the continental United States. It’s nestled in a sufficiently tropical locale in the foothills of the mountains above Santa Barbara – and at 650 feet elevation and only two miles from the beach, it benefits from foggy mornings and generally frost-free winters.

The coffee plant itself (mostly varietals of Coffea arabica) produces a fruit called a “cherry” that contains the familiar bean (or “seed”) that’s dried, roasted, and ground before it winds up in your cup.

Good Land Organics is part of Frinj Coffee, which is single-handedly establishing coastal southern California as its own coffee-growing region, having planted two-dozen additional coffee farms between Santa Barbara and San Diego. It’s also carving out a niche in making coffee out of the rare yellow cherries as well as the traditional red ones.

Once you've seen where coffee is grown and harvested, the natural next step is to witness the roasting process – which you can do in an intimate setting at Blue Bottle Coffee’s roastery in the Arts District of Downtown L.A.

Founded in northern California 15 years ago, Blue Bottle has been at the forefront of the so-called “third wave” of coffee culture, which approaches the bean business as an artisanal process and handmade craft.

That’s quite a turnaround from the worldview of coffee, which has until recently been considered simply a raw agricultural material. (In fact, it’s the world’s number-two traded commodity, just behind crude oil.)

Literally steps away from the L.A. River, at Blue Bottle's you can learn about the different techniques and equipment and experience variations in the final result – from the lighter side to extra roasty.

It’s a visual, aromatic, and tasty journey behind the caffeine curtain, where quality control requires expertly tasting coffee beans and grounds at various intervals after roasting to determine the timing of its peak freshness. (Take that, Folgers.)

I consider myself a “taster” – someone who enjoys a flight of wine, beer, or whiskey. So, I headed to Stumptown’s L.A. Training Lab in the Arts District of downtown L.A. to experience the industry standard method of tasting coffee: cupping.

Every week, the group tastes a different blend or single-origin coffee – usually, the newest and freshest out of the bag, perhaps from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, or even Indonesia – led by an experienced and knowledgeable coffee educator.

During the “cupping” process, we inhaled the dry fragrance of freshly ground beans (as it sells no pre-ground coffee, only whole beans)...

...the wet aroma of the grounds once hot water has been added...

...and the volatile compounds that escape when the “crust” is "broken" with a cupping spoon (from which you'll then slurp the coffee).

And if the cupping doesn't provide enough of a taste of the Portland-based coffee purveyor's offerings, you can always get a full-sized one to go.

For a more advanced coffee educational experience (and to develop my palate more fully), I popped over to the Los Angeles Training Center of Counter Culture Coffee, a roaster out of North Carolina that’s set up shop in Silver Lake.

Counter Culture has even created its own unique version of the coffee tasters’ flavor wheel so you can figure out whether your brew evokes notes of raisin, leather, soil, dark chocolate, wood, lychee, or any number of other fruits and vegetables. You’ll even learn how to articulate the coffee’s mouth feel and pick up an entirely new vocabulary of descriptors for your morning joe (including “dirty,” “rounded,” and “wild”).

At the very least, I learned that I'm right not to drink coffee that’s burning hot, as something closer to body temperature is preferred). And a really good coffee doesn't need lots of sugar, cream, or foam (not that there's anything wrong with those).

Screenshot from

To read the full article "Where to Find the Best Bean-to-Brew Coffee Experiences in SoCal" on, click here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Hike Through California Coffee & Exotic Fruit
Photo Essay: From Bean to Bar at a Chocolate Factory

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