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Flight of ice cream at Salt & Straw
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman Flight of ice cream at Salt & Straw

10 tastings in Los Angeles other than beer and wine

A little bit of this, a little bit of that—try it all with these ten tasting opportunities around the city

By Amanda Montell
As Southern Californians, we’re all familiar with wine tasting (after all, there are so many great places to sip within the LA city limits alone). Ditto for beer, considering our robust craft beer culture and myriad of local breweries. But imagine a world in which you could have the structure of a wine or beer tasting, but for say, chocolate. Or tequila, or cheese or even ice cream. Luckily, you don’t have to imagine, because we’ve combed the city for unique tasting opportunities and found ten food and drink experiences we think you’ll love. From free guided coffee cuppings to flights of rare gins, this is your tasting guide to Los Angeles.

RECOMMENDED: Where to go wine tasting in LA

Olimila Gourmet Emporium
Photograph: Courtesy Olimila Gourmet Emporium

Olive Oil: Olimila Gourmet Emporium

Shopping Studio City

Olimila Gourmet Emporium's Ventura Boulevard boutique (formerly known as Ferrari Olive Oil Company) reads like a hands-on museum on the art of unique, locally crafted olive oils and balsamics. Step inside the rustic hideaway to find glass bottles lining the walls like pourable sculptures. Offerings include everything from espresso- and Meyer lemon-infused balsamic vinegars to olive oils flavored with fresh basil, garlic and blood orange. For no cost at all, guests are invited to mosey from bottle to bottle, serving themselves virtually unlimited splashes, either to sip from a plastic cup or to pair with a bite of bread. Depending on how busy the shop is, one of Olimila's knowledgeable (and babely) employees will happily guide you as you slurp with tasting techniques, run-downs of each flavor profile and suggestions for food pairings. The staffers put next to no pressure on you to buy as you taste, making the experience a relaxed one; however, their creations are all so heavenly, you're bound to walk out with a bottle or two.

When: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm; Sat 11am-7pm; Sun 9am-4pm
Cost: Free
Reservation needed: No

Flight of ice cream at Salt & Straw
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Ice Cream: Salt & Straw

Restaurants Ice cream parlors Larchmont Village

Transplanted from the hipster-foodie capital of the West Coast (Portland, of course), Larchmont's craft creamery Salt & Straw puts an artisanal churn on the standard scoop shop. Their extensive menu boasts flavors both sinful and curious including Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache, Freckled Woodblock Chocolate, Avocado Strawberry Sherbert and Santa Ynez Valley Walnut Oil—many of which feature ingredients exclusive to Southern California, reflecting the company's "farm-to-cone" philosophy. The best part? You don't have to choose just one. For $10, guests can opt for an ice cream flight that includes your choice of four flavors from both classic and seasonal menus. The pristine globules are served in healthy (not that kind of healthy) scoops across four individual glass bowls, presented on an undoubtedly reclaimed wood tray. Can't decide which to pick? Salt & Straw's staffers, who are about as chipper as you'd expect artisanal ice cream scoopers to be, are thrilled to help you assemble the perfectly complementary quartet.

When: Daily 10am-11pm
Cost: $10
Reservation needed: No

Water flight at Ray’s & Stark Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Ray’s & Stark Bar

Water: Stark Bar

Bars Lounges Miracle Mile

Call it bourgie, call it BS, call it the culinary renaissance of the decade—whatever way you slice it (or sip it, as it were), the water menu at Ray's & Stark Bar exists, and the restaurant's resident water sommelier Martin Riese is here to tell you, "of course water has taste." Unlike Americans, Europeans are clued into the individual tastes of different varieties of water; in the U.S., a discerning water palate is not as common. German-born Riese (also the general manager) is trying to change that with a 20-bottle menu of mineral waters from around the globe. For $12 guests can taste a flight of four selections, each served in a stemmed crystalline water glass and accompanied by a description detailing its history and mineral content. Included is Riese's own creation, a mineral-infused water from the Sierra Nevada mountains called 90H20 (which may be the poshest water pun out there), described as "crisp and smooth... the ideal water." Riese claims he can convince even the fiercest non-believers that water connoisseury is a thing. A vital thing. Intrigued? Opt for a flight of your own or splurge on Riese's $50 Water 101 class. You may just give up Dasani for life.

When: Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-11pm; Sat-Sun 10:30am-3pm, 5-11pm
Cost: $12
Reservation needed: No

Coffee: Bar Nine

Restaurants Coffee shops Culver City

Add some education to your caffeine dependency by attending a coffee tasting at Culver City’s spacious and highly aromatic Bar Nine. Termed “cuppings” by the java shop’s resident authorities, the tastings are held Sundays at noon and are both free and open to the public. Throughout the cupping, one of Bar Nine’s stylish personnel will lead you through a comprehensive sampling of the shop’s three current coffees which rotate every few months. The session begins with a guided discussion of each coffee’s dry aroma; then, the coffee is brewed and you taste it as your guide talks you through it. Cuppings are held every week. No reservations (or pretensions) required.

When: Every Sunday at noon
Cost: Free
Reservation needed: No

Mezcal flight at El Carmen
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Tequila: El Carmen

Bars Cocktail bars West Third Street

At El Carmen, tequila is more than just a menu item, it's a way of life. Entering this crimson-colored Mid-Wilshire cantina, guests peel back a velvet curtain to unveil what is the Narnia of tequila bars. El Carmen's moody decor, featuring Mexican wrestling masks and dim sparkling lights, sets an exotic scene, aptly backdropping their menu of 400+ tequilas and mezcals. How might one negotiate such an overwhelming selection, you ask? Begin by filling your stomach with a couple of their pavo con mole flautas (a responsible precaution) and then have yourself a tasting. Guests can sample flights of four house-favorite tequilas and mezcals ($25-$75), each featuring one Anejo, Reposado, Blanco and Mezcal selection.

When: Daily 5pm-2am
Cost: $25-$75
Reservation needed: No

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills
Photograph: Courtesy The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Cheese: The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Shopping Cheesemongers Beverly Hills

To experience one of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills' (CSBH) twice-monthly cheese tastings is to witness firsthand proof that epicurean culture exists in Los Angeles—you simply have to know where to find it. Tucked behind Sharky's Mexican Grill next door to the CSBH sits a secret room, fit with French windows and a retractable roof. Decades ago the space was home to a fine dining establishment, but now it serves as a charming locale for the gourmet cheese shop's luxe events. Each CSBH tasting is themed regionally (Southern Italy, Bordeaux, Spain—essentially any place you'd want to vacation), and features two flights of seven wines and ten cheeses. Throughout the tasting, a cheese pundit and a sommelier will briefly describe each selection as it's presented, before allowing attendees to chat, eat and drink like 19th Century European nobility. After two hours or so, properly wined and stuffed with Comtés, Gruyeres and Asiagos, guests are invited next door to the cheese shop for an after party, discounted prices on cheese (there are upwards of 400 available) and another popped bottle or two. Most tastings cost $60—check the CSBH's website for upcoming events and details.

When: Twice monthly, 7-9pm
Cost: $60 for the evening
Reservation needed: Yes


Gin: The Flintridge Proper

Bars Gastropubs La Cañada

The four gin flights available at The Flintridge Proper make your average wine tasting look like child's play. There's something elegant and elusive about sipping neat gin and, even more so, actually knowing what's in your glass. Home to the largest gin selection in the world, The Proper spoils gin aficionados and aspirants with a selection of more than 200 bottles in the restaurant’s wood and leather-trimmed cocktail lounge. Sample from The Proper’s carefully curated quartet of flights—"The History of Gin" ($16), "Styles of Gin" ($17), "Bartender's Favorites" ($15) and "Rare Gins" ($36)—each of which offers three 3/4-ounce selections.

When: Mon-Thu 5pm-Midnight; Fri-Sat 5pm-1am; Sun 5-10pm
Cost: $15-$36
Reservation needed: No

Flight of chocolates at Chocovivo
Photograph: Courtesy Chocovivo

Chocolate: ChocoVivo

Shopping Bakeries Culver City

Sure, when it comes to candy, you could buy a heart-shaped box of assorted confections, take a bite out of each one and call that a tasting—or, you could make your mass chocolate consumption a dignified experience at Culver City’s resident bean-to-bar chocolate factory and boutique. ChocoVivo keeps their chocolate selection pure, offering exclusively dark varieties, which guests can compare and contrast on their tasting menu. Take a seat at the shop’s tasting table and choose a flight of three, six or all thirteen chocolates, including classics like 100 percent cacao and almonds & sea salt, in addition to specialty flavors like blueberry lavender and orange ginger. What’s more? The decadence continues with ChocoVivo’s milk-and-cookie flights (for the love of all things holy), which feature shamefully delicious edibles like coffee & vanilla cookies with hazelnut milk.

When: Daily 11am–9pm
Cost: Chocolate $3-$10; Milk and three cookies ($7 for one flight, $10 for two)
Reservation needed: No

Seven Grand
Photograph: Courtesy Seven Grand

Whiskey: Seven Grand

Bars Lounges Downtown Financial District

Whiskey has taken a turn for the fashionable in recent years thanks to a renewed public interest in handcrafted, American-made specialties, but Seven Grand's role in the whiskey world has nothing to do with trends. Entering this Downtown mecca, complete with leather upholstery and taxidermy, is like finding yourself in an old school private social club. The impressive decor backdrops a whiskey menu as long as a novel—a litany of American, Irish, Blended Scotch and Single Malt varieties that would have even the most fledgling of whiskey fans foaming at the mouth. Get to know whiskey at Seven Grand’s monthly (sometimes twice-monthly) tastings of rare whiskeys, hosted by resident spirit guide Pedro Shanahan. Become a VIP member of their Whiskey Society (annual fee $120) to enjoy priority admittance to as many tastings as you can handle at no extra charge. Non-members can also attend individual tastings for $15 each. RSVP and dress code required.

When: Monthly (or twice monthly) at 7pm
Cost: $15 per event
Reservation needed: Yes

Chado Tea Room
Photograph: Courtesy Chado Tea Room

Tea: Chado Tea Room

Restaurants Tea rooms Little Tokyo

Chado Tea Room's daily tastings deepen your average tea drinking experience (which, if you're anything like us, involves a cup of microwaved Lipton and a Netflix marathon). Guests can reserve tasting appointments between 11:30am and 5pm at any of Chado’s three locations (Hollywood, Downtown and Pasadena). Opt for a basic "tea only" sampler ($13) or spring for a spread of tiered desserts, finger sandwiches and other accompaniments ($20-$29). No matter how pinky-out you go, the focus of each tasting is on the Camellia Sinensis evergreen bush, which is not only history's oldest manmade beverage, but also one of its most complex. As you sip, one of Chado's connoisseurs will expound upon the history, production and health benefits of the six main categories of tea: white, yellow, green, blue, black and dark. We guarantee, you'll leave your hour-long session with a much greater appreciation for the brew (and a bladder to match).

When: Daily 11:30am-5pm
Cost: $13-$29
Reservation needed: Yes


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