The great Pasadena Coffee Hunt

So… I did this in London, when I was trapped there for the Great Ash Crisis (see links below)… and now that we’re having an explosion of fantastic coffee in Pasadena (a long-term explosion, I might add… we’ve had great coffee in Pasadena for quite a while, but it’s now just getting noticed with the expansion of Jones Coffee Roasters, the addition of Intelligensia, and the impending arrival of Urth Cafe) so I thought I’d take some of my non-existent spare time and hunt for the best coffee in Pasadena.

You got suggestions of places you’d like me to try? Let me know! And tell me why it’s your favorite.

Got a coffee spot outside of Pasadena you’d like me to visit? Give me an address, tell me what’s your favorite drink.

From dive to pretentious espresso bar– I’ll put it on the list. I love coffee, and will drink it ’til I’m a shaking wreck.

If you’re following me on twitter — tweet me your suggestions. Facebook — drop it in my comments.

And, full disclosure here– I’m a coffee snob. I’ve got an espresso machine, I grind my own beans and I only know how to make espresso drinks. (Sorry, everyone who comes to visit me. I know it’s a failing. But I’ve never mastered drip.)

And if you’d like to hear a very, very boring discourse about how the U.S. was suckered into believing instant coffee was actually coffee (which includes a history lesson about WWI) just let me know.

So please– give me your best (espresso) shot and tell me what coffee shops you’d like me to visit.

And I promise, I’ll even drink drip — even if I suck at making it.

A few photos from the Great London Coffee Hunt:
Foxcroft and Ginger
Coffee Bars, London
Great London Coffee Hunt, the wrapup

A few photos from The Great Ash Crisis, London:

I Interrupt this blog for a Volcano
Green, green England
Stuck in London, what to do, what to do…
This is what we did…


28 comments on “The great Pasadena Coffee Hunt”

  1. Have you tried Dunkin’ Donuts???

    • If there were a Dunkin’ in Pasadena, I’d try it just for you! But this brings up a good point; I should expand to not just official “coffee places” but to places that brag about their coffee. McDonalds, for instance. Honestly, I’ve always been curious… and how do those new blended coffee drinks stand up to their Starbucks counterparts. I think I’m going to have to add those to my list!

  2. I’m sorry…I just had to ask!!!

    So far, Jones Roaster is the best coffee I’ve had in the area!!!

  3. I can’t wait for Urth Caffe to open (probably by 2012).

    One of these days, maybe I could get a few lessons on what makes coffee “good” or “not.” I consider myself a “tea snob” if there is even a term for that!

    • I love tea too; I actually started off as a tea drinker because I was so turned off by the coffee my parents made that it scared me away from it for years. (I hope my parents don’t check into the blog today! lol!)

      Mom, Dad and Step-Mom drink lots and lots of coffee, all Mr. Coffee-type drip — which is not, in and of itself a bad thing. But what I’ve always found gross (sorry, again, parents!) is that they will drink from that same pot all day, and even after it’s been sitting around cold all night (often a cup is microwaved while they’re making the new pot in the morning.) Now– efficient and cost-effective, sure. But does it taste great? Well… my parents think it tastes fine. That’s as far as I’ll go!

      I don’t drink much drip myself — and I suck at making it (which makes me giving my parents are hard time about this particularly audacious!) but you ask a good question. What officially makes a coffee “good” or “not.”

      I’ll make what I find out about it the subject of a future post. 🙂

  4. Love them or loathe them, Intelligentsia is the only truly excellent coffee in Pasadena at the moment. Jones is okay, though I’ve not visited their new location. I’ve been to the West Hollywood Urth a number of times and their coffee is nothing special (great baked goods, though!) Jameson Brown is a disappointment.

    Is the Pasadena Urth still happening? Since Brigham Young’s article, I’ve seen no activity on that site.

    • Intelligensia always gets a reaction! Great coffee… snobby business. At least that’s always their reputation. Within days of them opening in Old Town, I heard my first “Intelligensia gave me a hard time for how I order my coffee” story. Although, to be fair, the story was secondhand and I’ve never been able to confirm it.

      Full disclosure; I love Intelligensia, and I’ve never been a victim of nasty attitude — although I do believe the stories! But, I also feel that sometimes people accidentally provoke the ‘tude (not judging here!); for some reason, coffee stirs a strange kind of passion in people (maybe the addictive quality of the caffeine?) and coffee-drinkers get very protective about what they like… and aggressive about what they don’t like. There seems to be sometimes a kind of “what I like is right and what you like is wrong” thread to coffee talk. You hear that a lot in the drip vs. espresso debate. The “why Starbucks sucks” debate. The “why pay more than a buck for coffee” debate (this last one, I have my own serious opinion on, by the way!)

      But, although I love coffee, coffee beans, the process of making espresso, I really don’t feel that anyone is more particularly right than anyone else, nor is anyone particularly wrong. People like it how they like it. Like my parents and their love for day-old drip! If I forced them to make a new pot every hour, so they could drink fresh coffee all day, they’d probably hate it. Not because they don’t like fresh coffee (they do!) but because the level of waste and coffee usage involved would bother them and siphon away the enjoyment of their drink. So… who am I to say what’s right!

      As far as Jones coffee being just all right… I’m a big Jones fan. I’ve been going there for years (through two different moves) and I’ve seen the improvements they’ve made over time to their technique and their consistency and their taste. And I stand them up next to Intelligensia in quality. It’s different, sure, but I think every bit as good. And, come on, the atmosphere is clearly much better! Case in point: Live music, and fresh Tamale Friday! Intelligensia can’t compete with that! lol!

      But, (see above) that’s just my opinion! 🙂

      • I haven’t been to the new Jones, but the previous location was a problem during warm weather. There was an interior office that had a window air conditioning unit that blew hot air directly into the seating area. It was pretty miserable!

        The funny thing is I’ve been the recipient of more ‘tude at Jones than I’ve ever been in many visits to Intelligentsia — even in the early days at the Silver Lake when the employees were particularly sullen. Namely, I once asked for a iced cappuccino. When I was informed they didn’t do that, I asked whether it would be possible to get a hot espresso and a glass with ice. I forget the particulars, but the staff member was particularly unpleasant about the request.

        I have to admit I base my preference for Intelligentsia on their espresso-base drinks rather than their brewed coffee. Intelligentsia’s staff undergo rigorous barista training and work in an environment that challenges them to maintain high standards. The baristas at Jones may be an improvement on Starbucks, but little more. That said, I’ve had a few sub-par espressos at the Pasadena location, which has never happened to me at the Silver Lake or Venice locations. Hopefully that will improve.

        Finally, I should mention that the best cappuccino I’ve ever had in the area was at Bulgarini Gelato. None of the staff knew how to use the machine at the time (this was about a year ago), so Leo had to step in. He pulled an outstanding shot! Unfortunately he doesn’t do it on a regular basis; otherwise I’d be there every day.

      • Two things: I forgot to post earlier that I emailed with Brigham Yen, and he confirms thar Urth is still planning on opening up in Pasadena in 2012. I think he’s goi g to try to get more of an update, and he’ll post whatever he find out on his website.

        And 2) Geoff, if you had any choice of coffee spot in or out of Pasadena, what would it be? And what makes it your favorite?

  5. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think you are a big fan of the coffee, in fact, you like it a lot. You may have even had a cup or two while writing this installment. Well I like coffee, too and wish I could be out there to have a cup with you guys!! Maybe over the holidays or something…..

  6. I’m very fussy about coffee too, and even used to sell it in a high-class British grocer’s where they roasted their own. I’ve given up on drip filtering – just give me 100% Kona, a jug and a fine sieve. I had a very disappointing $6 Kenyan filter coffee in Intelligentsia, and wanted to pour it away. Jameson Brown is my favorite – their latte is excellent, and it’s less noisy than Jones, with enough comfy seating and free on-road parking. Jones is a lovely place, but very busy.

    My husband’s looking for a new Espresso machone as we can’t find a Gaggia repairman. What’s yours?

    • I’m going to have to try Jameson Brown– I’ve never been there and I’ve heard great things. As for Espresso Machines… I’ve got a Pasquini Livia that I’ve had for about 11 years. It’s a pricey machine, but my husband and I bought it with gift money from our wedding. The best part is, Guy Pasquini, the man who makes the machine (or rather, designed the machine and then has them built in Europe since, as he says, no one buys a machine built in the U.S.), has a shop in downtown LA where he tunes-up and repairs the equipment, sells tools and coffee beans. He also sells refurbished machines. There’s a model that’s smaller than the Livia (can’t remember what it’s called) that also makes great espresso, and might be worth looking into.

      • I had no idea Pasquini was based in LA! I’ve been considering getting a Livietta for a while.

  7. Well…I’m married to a cop…need I say more? He drinks coffee at 7/11, Dunkin’ Donuts, leaves coffee in the pot all day and drinks it all, and if not all, reheats it when he wants it, drinks coffee singles when all he wants is one cup…I think he’d get along with your mom and dad!!!
    Never the less, I got him a conical burr coffee grinderfor Christmas last year, and when he’s home for the day on the weekend…he grinds it up and savors it all day!!!

    Went to Williams Sonoma one day to get a special seasoning I like…they were serving coffee from one of their espresso station machines…best Latte I’d had in a long time…the machine ground the beans (a conical burr), brewed the cup, heated the cups, etc, etc, etc…I thought it was pretty cool and thought..hmmm, nice Christmas present…how much? Only $2500!!!

    I’ll stick to the Looney Bean or Stella Brew or Java Joint up here in the snow country!!!

  8. Enjoying the discussion.

    I may be less picky than some, and Kat I love your attitude. After 6 months of deprivation, I’m thrilled to drink coffee again. Jones, Jameson, Bean Town–they’re all fabulous. People have tried to make a caffeine-free drink that tastes like coffee, but nothing comes close. There’s no substitute for the real thing.

    • I agree! I’ve tried a lot of faux coffee drinks and nothing has the particular bite (or kick) I look for.

      Beantown is a place I’m going to have to put on my list to visit. Have you, or anyone else gone to Zona Rosa in the Playhouse district?

      I’m still formulating my approach to all of this, but I do know I want to compare comparable drinks (okay, that sounds redundant, but you know what I mean.) latte to latte, cappuccino to cappuccino, drip to drip. And sweet Starbucks drinks to the closest version of the MacDonald’s drinks. I’ve got more research to do clearly, but if you (or any other commenters) have a coffee spot suggestion, or a particular drink, suggest away!

    • I always think that atmosphere is important in a coffee bar; I’m not that interested in fancy food (La Mille in Silver Lake has excellent coffee and amazing food… but isn’t a super comfortable hang out spot, IMHO, Intelligensia suffers from some of the same problems for me.) When I make the Zona Rosa move– you’re on! I’m also intrigued my commenter Geoff’s story of the amazing espresso at Bulgarini Gelato IF the owner makes it. I wonder how I can arrange that?

  9. Thanks. If you need a pal to accompany you on your quest, I’m in.

    Zona Rosa is a great little place, with indoor seating upstairs.

    I was doing a coffee shop quest on my blog (before my caffeine consumption was so rudely interrupted). The thrust of my quest was to find a quiet coffee shop where I could work on my laptop in peace. This included all sorts of trouble with table height, noise, etc. I still haven’t found the perfect place but Zona Rosa’s good, depending on who else is there. The upstairs room offers little privacy.

  10. Hi klik,

    Had to post down here as there was no ‘reply’ button after your comment.

    ‘I forgot to post earlier that I emailed with Brigham Yen, and he confirms that Urth is still planning on opening up in Pasadena in 2012. I think he’s going to try to get more of an update, and he’ll post whatever he find out on his website.’

    That’s good news! While I’m not a huge fan of Urth’s coffee, I’ve always enjoyed going there for the food and the upbeat ambiance. I’m with Brigham that the location will really benefit Pasadena and help make Colorado a pedestrian-friendly conduit between Old Town and the South Lake. I know it won’t happen soon, but I hope that Colorado eventually becomes 100% pedestrianised between Pasadena Ave and Lake Ave (or even Hill Ave). Done correctly, it could make Pasadena an amazing urban oasis. Those Rick Caruso confabulations would look stagy, cynical and two dimensional by comparison.

    “And 2) Geoff, if you had any choice of coffee spot in or out of Pasadena, what would it be?”

    All time favourites:
    1. Sant’ Eustachio (
    2. Stumptown (original location)
    3. Blue Bottle (Mint Plaza location)

    “And what makes it your favorite?”

    Unfortunately, words fail me when I attempt to describe the espresso and cappuccino at Sant’ Eustachio. For many years it ruined me for coffee until I moved back to the States and the whole “third-wave” (I know, I hate that expression) movement took off. But for me, having Intelligentsia in Pasadena has elevated it to a level of livability it didn’t previously have!

    • lol! I’ve had espresso at Sant’ Eustachio! Only once. I’ve only visited Rome, not lived there. When we visit, we usually frequent a little place we like, deep in an alley, near the Spanish steps, but locals, not tourists. Not as well-known (clearly!) as Sant’ Eustachio, but good.

      And, although that name is annoying, thank god for the third wave… finally good coffee in the U.S.!

      Curious: have you ever gone to La Mille? I visit there occassionally.

  11. I have probably consumed more gallons of coffee then the lot of you. It’s my Ritalin substitute. I buy mine in a 5 lb sized silver bag (think Andy Warhol’s Silver Studio). Helps me sleep. It’s called Jose’s Institutional Coffee. Really. Costco

    • Okay..throw down~! Whole bean or ground? 🙂 and how long does it take you to go through that bag? I’m probably at about 3/4 to 1 lb a week… not including coffee I drink that I don’t make at home.

      (My guess is you still beat me!)

  12. […] fervent discussion over at Pasadena, 91105 and Beyond tells me coffee is of enough importance to–well, to spur a fervent […]

  13. with Institutional in the title it’s got to be pre-ground. I’ll have to get back to you on the numbers. I feel somewhat guilty for the copious amounts I consume so I try to live within a certain level of denial

  14. So, what have you found if anything in your great coffee hunt??

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