CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> Several Los Angeles & Long Beach coffeehouses
Since I recently spent a week in my home town of Long Beach, California, I thought I should pay a visit to a couple of its more popular coffeehouses. The first time I visited The Library, located on Broadway just east of Redondo, was on a Saturday night two or three years ago. I was impressed by the hip young crowd, the luxurious armchairs and couches, the inviting little tables, and the scattered shelves of books for which the coffeehouse was obviously named.
By the time I reached the counter to order my drink, however, I'd noticed that probably a good ninety percent of these black-clad hipsters were slurping on fancy creations topped with towers of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles; I didn't see one soul in the place with a simple shot of espresso. So when the barista -- himself a black-clad hipster -- asked me what I wanted, I said, "I'd like a double short cappuccino, please -- with espresso and milk only."
"Just espresso and...milk?"
The young man stared at me for a moment, and finally said in disbelief, "You mean...you don't want whipped cream and sprinkles?"
I found myself at the Library again a few nights later, this time on a week night when the crowd was sparse. As I sat sipping my cappuccino with friends I got a much better look at the book selections. That's when I discovered they were all best-sellers from which movies had been made. Sort of blows the intellectual image, doesn't it?
On this recent occasion just a couple of weeks ago it was a lazy Tuesday afternoon when my friend Jimmy and I stopped in at the Library. This time we sat outside at one of the sidewalk tables. In two or three years the Library seems to have learned a thing or two: my double short and Jimmy's single short dry cappuccinos were served properly -- i.e. not a trace of whipped cream or chocolate sprinkles even remotely hinted at. The presentation -- cup, strength, quality of foam -- was good. But the coffee itself is somewhat, well...wretched is the first word that comes to mind. (Or do I mean retched? No, it's not exactly nauseating, just bad-tasting.)
Later the same afternoon after our friend Alan joined us we visited the Portfolio Gallery where we all had very good iced chais. Portfolio, on the corner of Fourth and Junipero, is a serious AA hangout with a great atmosphere: high ceilings (stemming, undoubtedly, from the old days when this was a bedspread factory), and on the eastern wall there's a wonderful large black and white painting of nude people, mostly female, having sensual fun. There is also a cool chair in the shape of a woman, a lifesized cutout of Marilyn Monroe, and a nice bar and couches and tables. The place is a bit reminiscent in atmosphere of Bauhaus Books and Coffee in Seattle, only with art instead of books. The most popular seats at Portfolio are the sidewalk tables running along Junipero Avenue and facing the setting sun. Since it was 4:00 PM and I'm photosensitive, we opted for a shady couch and coffee table inside.
Since I didn't have a cappuccino I can't honestly review the present state of Portfolio's coffee. I was here a year and a half ago, however, when I did have what I recall to be a satisfactory cappuccino, followed by a French Roast coffee suggested by my friend Tom who's a frequent Portfolio habitué. I can only assume the cappuccinos are equally as good today.
Elsewhere in my Long Beach/Los Angeles sojourn I ran into espresso disappointment after espresso disappointment. For one thing, it's almost impossible anywhere in the state of California to get a "double short" drink. Even in the Bay Area I find, whenever I ask for a "double short cappuccino", I get two cappuccinos in one cup or glass. On a couple of occasions, when I've asked instead for a "single short cappuccino with an extra shot," the confused barista usually asks "of what?" Suffice it to say it's easier to ask for a double macchiato, although at Good Stuff Burgers in West Los Angeles, the barista had never heard of a macchiato. And at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Long Beach's Marina Pacifica, one more experienced barista had to take over when the neophyte became flustered. At Mother Mudd's on the border of Long Beach and Lakewood, the barista confidently made two "double macchiatos" for Max and me; they turned out to be two large cups filled to the brim with foamy milk, marked with perhaps one shot of espresso each. I believe these were latte macchiatos, not espresso macchiatos -- but they were way too hot to drink anyway, so I didn't press the issue.
This is what bugs me universally about many of the espresso cafes and counters of Los Angeles and Long Beach: they make their shots way too hot. What does it matter how robust the espresso is if it gives your mouth third-degree burns? Any coffee, no matter how delicious, is going to taste like shit if you boil it to death. And I've never found any espresso worth waiting for if it's served hot enough to destroy Pompeii; by the time it cools off all the flavor has been trashed in the process of heating it to 500 degrees F. I ran into this problem at Mother Mudd's, at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Good Stuff, and at It's A Grind (located in suburban Long Beach next to Pavilions.
To be fair, I have to admit the regular cup of coffee I got at the coffeehouse at Bergamot Station, an artist's colony in Santa Monica, was decent.
I guess there are a few oases in the overcooked, milk-flooded desert of Southern California. Believe me, I love Los Angeles and Long Beach, I really do! They're just a bit stupid about a lot of things, that's all.
Speaking of stupid, following is a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend stemming from this particular trip:
When I was in Long Beach last week I paid a visit with my friend Bill to the local megabookstore. As we were passing by the COMPUTERS section I caught sight of all the yellow Dummies books, i.e. Windows for Dummies, HTML 4.0 for Dummies, C++ for Dummies, AOL for Dummies, etc. Bill suddenly suggested I should write a book called Beer for Dummies. I told him one probably already exists.
So we went to the FOOD/COOKING section, and guess what we found? Not only was there already a Beer for Dummies, but there was also Beer Tasting for Dummies and Home Brewing for Dummies, not to mention Red Wine for Dummies, White Wine for Dummies, and Bartending for Dummies. And then we noticed there was even a competitor; stuck in with the Dummies books there was The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beer, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Brewing, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mixing Drinks, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cigars, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine.
We looked around further and found Cocktail Parties for Dummies, Gourmet Cooking for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking, Entertaining for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Entertaining, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baking, Nutrition for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Smart , Dieting for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Losing Weight, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vitamins and Minerals.
We moved on to the HOME AND GARDENING section and found Container Gardening for Dummies, Roses for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gardening, Lawn Care for Dummies, House Plants for Dummies, Vegetable Gardening for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Repair, Home Remodeling for Dummies, Home Decorating for Dummies, Decks and Patios for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Decorating Your Home, and Carpentry for Dummies.
Passing by the BUSINESS section we saw a wide variety of Dummies books on Law, Marketing, Management, Negotiating, Consulting, Customer Service, Cover Letters, Resumes, Job Hunting, Personal Finance, Mutual Funds, Taxes, and Time Management, as well as Complete Idiot's Guides to Law, Wills and Estates, Retirement, Getting Rich, Organizing Your Life, Starting Your Own Business, Office Politics, Managing People, Managing Stress, Managing Your Time, Dynamic Selling, Leadership, Making Money on Wall Street, Doing Your Income Taxes, Buying Insurance and Annuities, 401K Plans, Finance and Accounting, Business Writing, Writing Cover Letters, Changing Careers, and Making Money in Freelancing. We also saw Home Buying for Dummies, Home Selling for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying and Selling a Home, Sales Closing for Dummies, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car. Nearby in the College aisle were College Financial Aid for Dummies, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting into College, College Planning for Dummies, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to MBAs.
We worked our way around the entire store. In the SPORTS/GAMES section we saw both Dummies and Complete Idiot's Guides for Bridge, Sailing, Chess, Running, Golf, Baseball, and Fly Fishing; Dummies books for Basketball, Figure Skating, Fitness, Weight Training, Crossword Puzzles, Card Games, and Tennis; and Complete Idiot's Guides for Healthy Stretching, Hiking and Camping, Skiing, Football, Pro Wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, Gambling, and Betting like a Pro. In the ANIMALS section there was a Dummies book on Bird Watching; Complete Idiot's Guides on Dog Tricks, Freshwater Aquariums, Turtles and Tortoises, Reptiles and Amphibians, and Dinosaurs; and both on Dogs and Cats. In the MUSIC and ART sections were Dummies guides to Opera, Jazz, Guitar, Piano, and Art; a Complete Idiot's Guide to the Beatles; and both on Classical Music and Photography.
In the FAMILY AND HEALTH section we found Dummies books on Parenting, Family Health, Herbal Remedies, and Beauty Basics; Complete Idiot's Guides to Managed Health Care, Beautiful Skin, Yoga, Adoption, Bringing Up Baby, Dealing with In-Laws, Grandparenting, Parenting a Preschooler, Parenting a Teenager, The Perfect Marriage, Single Parenting, and Stepparenting; and both on Genealogy, Weddings, and Divorce. In the SELF IMPROVEMENT SECTION both publishers had books on Dating; there was Success for Dummies; and there were Complete Idiot's Guides for A Healthy Relationship, Assertiveness, Breaking Bad Habits, Getting Along with Difficult People, Getting a Good Night's Sleep, Beating the Blues, and Etiquette.
Elsewhere we found Complete Idiot's Guides on such varied subjects as Philosophy, the Civil War, the Titanic, New York, Walt Disney World, Europe, various foreign languages, Sign Language, Elvis, First Aid, Grammar and style, British Royalty, Motorcycles, Classical Mythology, Astronomy, Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Quilting, Getting Published, Car Care, and the Perfect Vacation. And we spotted Dummies titles on Everyday Math, Auto Repair, Satellite TV, Politics, Sex, and Life.
I guess the stupid market is just about covered...
Oh my god! I knew there were a lot of Dummies and Idiots guides on computer, technical, and mechanical subjects. And I had heard about Sex for Dummies. But I never imagined there could be that many titles. (Do two individual publishers command the market -- Dummy Publishing and Complete Idiots, Ltd. -- or are "for Dummies" and "Complete Idiots" in the public domain?
I was sure that at some point you had run amuck into free association on these titles, but I guess not. If so, you would have raised the titles to another plane, like "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Iditarod," "Dan Quayle for Dummies," "Bowling for Dummies," "The Bible for Dummies," "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire for Dummies", "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Restaurants at the End of the Universe," "A Brief History of Time for Complete Idiots", "Waiting for Dummies," "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mental Retardation," "Zen Koans for Dummies," "Careers for Dummies," "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Random, Senseless Acts."
Is there another niche for "Stupid" titles?
If these publishers are successful enough to have so many titles, there must be an awful lot of dummies out there -- book-buying dummies, at that. You'd think that someone who buys a lot of those titles would have a lower and lower opinion of him/herself. Maybe we could take advantage of the trend to practice a little eugenics. In your list from the self-help section, I did not notice "Suicide for Dummies." If we had a success with that title, we could make a tidy sum and improve the world as well.
I can't help thinking of all the books we could start seeing on the shelves soon. (Yes, there actually is a publishing company called Dummies Press!) How about a Flaming Assholes series? We could have The Flaming Asshole's Guide to Parenting, The Flaming Asshole's Guide to Etiquette, The Flaming Asshole's Guide to Foreign Diplomacy, and The Flaming Asshole's Guide to Organ Donation. How about a Dorky Dweeb series, with Dating for Dorky Dweebs, Weenie Roasts for Dorky Dweebs, Interior Design for Dorky Dweebs, and Fashion for Dorky Dweebs? What about a series from Psychotic Publishers, with Extraterrestrial Encounters for Paranoid Schizophrenics, Estate Planning for Sociopaths, Time Management for Obsessive Compulsives, Holiday Crafts for Manic Depressives, Child Psychology for Pedophiles, and Isometrics for Catatonics? And finally we could have The Stupid Fuck's Guide to Eastern Philosophy, The Stupid Fuck's Guide to Quantum Physics, The Stupid Fuck's Guide to Cognitive Behavior, The Stupid Fuck's Guide to Comparative Literature, and perhaps The Stupid Fuck's Guide to Chaotic Dynamics.
...I think I'm ready to start writing another book!