More than Just a Cuppa Joe
10 great Pasadena places for artisan coffee spiced with repartee
By Noela Hueso 11/01/2013
It’s easy to be overcaffeinated in Pasadena. The September arrival of Urth Caffe, the trendy Westside fixture exalted for its piquant organic coffees and teas, is just the latest in what can only be described as a vibrant and growing coffee scene that goes well beyond such stalwart chains as Peet’s and Starbucks (though there are plenty of those, too). These days, there’s a multitude of independent shops and coffeehouses catering to all coffee tastes, from casual to connoisseur.
One thing remains constant, however, whether you’re zipping through the drive-through at the tiny Gotta Java kiosk on Arroyo Parkway (where owner Theresa Chambers has regular customers’ orders ready when they drive up to her window) or sipping an authentic Italian cappuccino outdoors at the elegant Massetti’s on Lake (where barista-owner Steve Felice engages clients in lively conversation): The savory exchange between barista and patron — as much as the coffee itself — is what keeps satisfied customers coming back.
So here’s Arroyo’s guide to top-notch artisan coffeehouses in town that have mastered both the arts of coffee and conversation:
Amara Chocolate & Coffeeee
Amara Barroeta is a former Miss Venezuela contestant with a degree in chemical engineering and a background as a TV host and voice-over artist — but what she really loves to do is cook. A year-and-a-half ago, she opened Amara Chocolate & Coffee, where delicate handmade pastries, desserts, truffles, fondues and sipping chocolates abound (all made with imported Venezuelan chocolate). They share the stage with signature espresso lattes made with beans from Pasadena’s Jones Coffee Roasters, such as Cacao (dark chocolate and espresso), Amara (dulce de leche), Caracas (condensed milk) and Aztec (chile pasilla and cinnamon). Check out Venezuela’s native flavors in Amara’s homemade arepas (sandwiches filled with shredded beef, plantain and black beans) and tequeños (cheese stick appetizers) and stay for the live music on Friday and Saturday nights — or just for some good conversation. “In Venezuela, people take the time to enjoy a coffee, to talk to one another,” Barroeta says. “We want to encourage that here.”
55 S. Raymond Ave. • (626) 710-8831
Tuesday–Thursday, 9 a.m.–7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m
After more than a dozen years in the wholesale food-manufacturing business, Steve Chang decided to open an artisan coffeehouse. He spent a year traveling from Costa Rica to Seattle to learn everything he could about coffee. Then, in a mere four months, Chang, along with two business partners, opened the sophisticated Copa Vida, which debuted in August. There are three elements in the Copa Vida concept: Go is the Honor Bar, where folks on the run can grab their own coffee during rush hours; Enjoy is a traditional coffee bar where a latte, espresso, iced freddo or shakerato can be found alongside tea brewed in Copa Vida’s state-of-the-art Alpha Dominche Automatic Syphon System; Experience refers to the slow bar, home to regular coffee- and tea-tasting events with expert baristas (also available for private soirees). In an homage to the restaurant Copa Vida replaced — redwhite+bluezz — there’s live jazz Friday and Saturday nights.
70 S. Raymond Ave • copa-vida.com. • (626) 213-3952
Monday–Thursday, 7 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.–9 p.m.; free wi-fi
Back in 1999, when Teddy Bedjakian took over the Equator Café in Old Pasadena, he says he could count the number of local coffeehouses on one hand. Over the years, Equator, which was a favorite for poets and other artists, changed with the times, and today its Asian-inspired décor mirrors the fusion cuisine now served there. But Equator is still a coffeehouse, maintains Bedjakian, and the flavorful drinks on the menu — such as Black Forest, Cocomo, Banana Royale, Cinnabar and Irish Mint — reflect the restaurant’s expertise in that area. There are good deals to be had, too: Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until noon, Equator offers coffee for $1, espresso for $1.50 and lattes for $2.
22 Mills Pl. • equatorcafe.com • (626) 564-8656
Sunday–Thursday, 8 a.m.–midnight; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.–1:45 a.m.
Espress Yourself Coffee Bar
Twenty years ago, Richard Hawthorne left behind a career as a personnel director and found his true calling as the owner of Espress Yourself, located for the past 13 years in the atmospheric courtyard of the Pasadena Public Library’s main branch. Regulars flock to Espress Yourself (another Jones Coffee Roasters emissary) for cappuccinos and macchiatos but also for such signature lattes as Butternut (a blend of butterscotch and hazelnut topped with homemade whipped cream) and Pot of Gold (Irish cream with a touch of praline). Hawthorne chalks up the success of his business not only to what he serves but to relationships that have grown over years. “People come here because they enjoy the ambiance and the friendship and the connection.”
285 E. Walnut St. • (626) 744-7575
Monday–Thursday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Tucked in the far end of the quaint, British-inspired Shoppers Lane on South Lake Avenue sits Float, a tiny coffeehouse that focuses on coffee (from L.A.’s Handsome Coffee Roasters), ice cream and soda (more than 40 varieties) in equal measure. In business for little over a year, owner Iris Lee has created a menu with such fun signature items as Dirty Pop (soda and coffee) and affogato (espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream). Guests can sip while dining on sandwiches such as the Good Fella (Italian meats and cheese) and the Hungry Vegetarian. And come they do, despite Float’s out-of-the-way location. “When people discover us,” says Lee, “it’s almost like they’ve come across a treasure that’s their own — and then they get to tell their friends.”
380 S. Lake Ave. • floatpasadena.com • (626) 844-3488
Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters
They used to roast beans in a popcorn popper and share their handiwork with friends, but coffee aficionados David Ross and Ryan Hamlin decided to open Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters seven years ago so they could reach a wider audience. Their Allen Avenue location not only perfects beans in small batches and sells them on the premises (and to local restaurants), but the place also serves as a rustic-style coffeehouse where people can watch their beans being roasted. Signature drinks include a spicy Mayan Mocha chock full of chipotle chiles, cinnamon and chocolate; a rich and creamy lavender-vanilla breve, made with steamed half-and-half and espresso; and their pumpkin spice latte, a seasonal favorite made with real pumpkin and various spices, which is steamed with milk before being blended into espresso. “It’s like liquid pumpkin pie,” says Chrysti Chaney, Jameson Brown manager.
260 N. Allen Ave. • jamesonbrown.com • (626) 395-7585
Monday–Friday, 7 a.m.–7 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m.
Jones Coffee Roasters
It could be said that Chuck Jones has coffee in his blood. His family has been in the coffee business for five generations, going back to Jones’ maternal great-great-grandparents in Guatemala, who became owners of a coffee plantation in the 1850s. Jones officially entered the family business in 1994, when he and his brother took their first 20-ton container of coffee beans from the family’s Finca Dos Marias farm and sold its contents in the U.S. The business continued to grow and, these days, the master roaster and importer supplies coffee for a dozen high-end local restaurants plus institutions such as Caltech and USC. His roasting headquarters on South Raymond is also home to a charming and bohemian coffeehouse, a warehouse setting with live music, saleable artwork and, on Friday mornings, savory tamales sold alongside lattes and fresh pastries brought in each day from Europane. “The community was thirsty for a place to convene and mix. They built us into what we are,” Jones says. Be sure to ask for his Aztec Mocha, a beguiling but elusive drink that’s available only when a special blend of Mexican cocoa is hand-delivered to Jones by the great-grandson of the Ibarra chocolate empire in Guadalajara.
693 S. Raymond Ave. • thebestcoffee.com • (626) 564-9291
Monday–Friday, 6:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Massetti Caffé Mobilé Espresso Italiano
Retired real estate attorney Steve Felice is so passionate about espresso that his inability to find the authentic taste he enjoyed in Italy (“smooth, silky and syrupy with a chocolatey aftertaste”) led him last year to open the Massetti Caffé Mobilé, a sleek marble, mahogany and stainless-steel outdoor espresso bar positioned strategically at the Pasadena Corporate Center, facing South Lake Avenue. Massetti offers traditional Italian drinks, replete with its macchiato, Americanos, cappuccinos and lattes, all made with the Massetti Custom Blend, a special coffee Felice created with master roaster Chuck Jones. What Felice calls “the Massetti experience” is not just about the coffee, however. It’s about the interaction of customers at the al fresco bar as they enjoy a drink and a freshly baked pastry or handcrafted panini. “We’re the kind of place where people… stop and have a chat before they go about their busy day,” Felice says.
Corporate Center Plaza• 251 S. Lake Ave. • massettiespresso.com • (626) 319-4550
Monday–Friday, 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sidewalk Café HTS
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Old Pasadena and the Playhouse District, Sidewalk Café HTS, opened in 2010, sits at the top of Los Robles Avenue in historic Hen’s Teeth Square, which has the distinction of being the first strip mall in L.A. County, built circa 1930. Owners Kip Rolfe, Ayo Henderson and Bernard Peralta have made HTS equal parts coffeehouse, art gallery, performance space and community meeting space. A year-and-a-half ago, Rolfe started roasting coffee; he joined the Roasters Guild and now supplies Sidewalk Café exclusively through his Coast 2 Coast Roasters, based in Arcadia. Be sure to try Sidewalk’s mochas: regular, white chocolate or their bestselling Mexican Mocha. The extensive menu also includes smoothies, sandwiches and pastries.
2057 N. Los Robles Ave. • sidewalkcafehts.com • (626) 797-9255
Monday–Friday, 7 a.m.–7 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.–2 p.m.; free wi-fi
Zona Rosa Caffe
In 1994, Michael Moreno opened Zona Rosa, touted as the first Latin-inspired coffeehouse in Southern California. Located next door to the Pasadena Playhouse in a cozy two-story space filled with art that reflects its ethnic roots, Zona Rosa has cemented its reputation as one of the city’s pioneers in the coffeehouse and coffee-roasting scene. (The Zona Rosa Coffee label is organic- and fair-trade–certified.) Signature drinks amid an extensive menu include the Zona Red Eye and Zocalo con Platano (Mexican chocolate with blended banana). After years as a cash-only business, Zona Rosa now accepts credit cards.
15 S. El Molino Ave. • zonarosaaffe.com • (626) 793-2334
Monday, 7:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Tuesday–Thursday, 7:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30 a.m.–midnight; Sunday, 9 a.m.–11 p.m.