Long Beach should be pouring some of the best coffee in Southern California. Los Angeles County's second largest city housed specialty coffee's governing body, the Specialty Coffee Assn. of America, for over 25 years, and hosts the equivalent of the industry's Super Bowl, the 2015 U.S. Coffee Championships, which take place at Long Beach Arena from Feb. 19 to 22 this year. Still, it's really only been in the last three years that consumers have been able to experience specialty coffee in a retail setting. Lord Windsor Roasters, Makai Coffee and Rose Park Roasters are at the leading edge, and another wave of coffee professionals are taking their lead with upcoming projects.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post said the Specialty Coffee Assn. of America is headquartered in Long Beach. It was but it relocated to Santa Ana in 2014.
Gretchen Williams and Michelle Bandach completed a successful Kickstarter in 2014 and hope to open a coffee bar and roaster this year in downtown Long Beach. Kat McIver and Angie Evans pop up with Wide Eyes Open Palms at area farmers markets, serving pourover single-origin coffee from roasters such as Kuma and Ritual. And Black Ring Coffee is another upstart roaster that brews coffee many weekends at MADE in Long Beach, a proving ground for both pop-ups and retail concepts.
While those businesses are working to gain ground, Lord Windsor, Makai and Rose Park are proving to locals that you don't have to drive all the way to L.A. to grab a great cup of joe.
Lord Windsor Roasters
The company that got the city's specialty coffee scene percolating is Lord Windsor Roasters, from Wade Windsor and his wife, Lindsay. The couple moved to Long Beach to surf, fell in love with roasting and opened their doors in 2012 in a space with a dodgy history. "What hasn't it been," said Wade Windsor. "It's been a crack den, a psychologist's office, a soda fountain and a playhouse." Most recently, the building housed a graphic designer's studio that would mysteriously open only in the middle of the night. Now, you'll find an airy café with an L-shaped, textured wood bar, black and white checked floor tiles, and a green Diedrich roaster in back. To brew, they have a three-group La Marzocco espresso machine and fleet of Hario V60 cones at their disposal. Coffees rotate seasonally and appear on a blackboard by the register.
When Lord Windsor first opened, plenty of people ordered frappuccinos — not that they were available. "Now we run out of cappuccino cups faster than latte cups," says Wade Windsor, who sees the shift as a sign of changing tastes. 1101 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 901-2111, lordwindsor.com.
David Loomis was working in DVD sales for Warner Bros. when he decided to make a life change. Good coffee was noticeably missing in his neighborhood, so in 2013, he took over a failed café and started his own business. For the name, which means "toward the ocean" in Hawaiian, he turned to Honolulu, where he was born and raised. For coffee guidance, he looked north to Seattle, where his brother Sean runs Seven Coffee Roasters.
The space now features exposed black rafters, worn concrete flooring, an industrial mix of wood, brick and concrete, and colorful paneling throughout. Makai's coffee program includes a La Marzocco espresso machine, Fetco Luxus drip coffeemakers, and beans from multiple roasters, including nearby Rose Park, Boston's George Howell and Vancouver's 49th Parallel. They press almond milk in-house; soy and hemp milk are also available. And they steep tea from Red Blossom and Kilogram, an Intelligentsia subsidiary.
Loomis is encouraged by what he's seen in Long Beach. "People who work in L.A. and are going up to L.A. and are experiencing some of the bigger names are realizing right here in Long Beach, there are shops of comparable quality." 2771 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 376-1980.
Rose Park Roasters
Longtime coffee pro Andrew Phillips, who worked as a barista for Starbucks and Peet's, teamed with Nathan Tourtellotte on Rose Park Roasters. The name references a historic Long Beach neighborhood where the one-time roommates lived. Initially, the duo delivered coffee by bike, which allowed them to make face-to-face connections with customers. They recently took over Roasted Notz coffeehouse, which was sourcing Rose Park coffee. Now, a tile pillar with sunflower designs guards an airy glass-fronted café with a gray wall that reads, "Welcome to the Process."
According to Tourtellotte, their motto is a reminder. "It doesn't matter how experienced you are in coffee," he said. "Everybody is learning about coffee and experiencing it in new ways, trying to push the boundaries."