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What makes a good coffee shop?

Written by
Erin Kuschner

I didn't become a coffee shop groupie until I moved to LA.

Before hoofing my stuff from San Francisco to Los Angeles three years ago, I frequented Starbucks and Coffee Bean and, occasionally, one of Blue Bottle's first iterations in SF's Mint Plaza across from my office on Market Street. Then I moved here and, like many living a temporarily unemployed existence, coffee shops became my office. They were where I wrote, where I applied to jobs, where I became acquainted with the oh-so-LA phenomenon that is listening to writing partners discuss their next script. To me, a good coffee shop meant that it was comfortable and had unlimited Wi-Fi—sure, the coffee had to be good, and bonus points if there were pastries, but above all I wanted a place where I could be creative and chill for an afternoon without dropping $5 on an espresso (I am, after all, a fan of $1.50 Dunkin' Donuts coffee).

I assumed this is what a good coffee shop meant for most people—until we started working on our Best Coffee Shops in LA package.

Holy shit, you guys, the debates we had. Some of us deemed a coffee shop as any place—restaurants included—that served a good cup of java. Others thought that cold brew needed to be a mandatory menu item. We had spirited discussions about "cafes" versus "coffee shops." And, throughout all this, we drank a lot of coffee.

I learned a couple things in my caffeine stupor. One, there has never been a better time to be drinking coffee in LA. Head Downtown and you'll find an influx of espresso bars that are brewing with the best of them, or witness Culver City's burgeoning coffee scene that includes a shop born from an art installation. Two, some of my new favorite shops that I visited for this story were nowhere near work-friendly (shout-out to Blacktop Coffee, which has zero couches and also zero bad coffee). Suddenly, my definition of a good coffee shop no longer demanded Wi-Fi.

But also, coffee shops are incredibly personal. While we've amassed a thoroughly comprehensive guide on where to find fantastic coffee in LA—by neighborhood, for working, if you want the best of the best—your favorite shop might not be mentioned, because maybe what you love about your hangout is the community you've developed (at my coffee shop, other regulars include a local cartoonist who draws sketches that I have on my fridge, and an animator who I trade magazines with). Maybe your barista knows not only your name and regular order, but all the projects you're working on and your dating situation. And there's no way we're going to know all that. Still, there's a lot to explore and, after all that godforsaken coffee we drank, we kind of know what we're talking about. So take a look, add your comments below to tell us what we missed, and continue to check back as we expand our coffee guide with latte art, barista crushes and a lot more LA java love.

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