Coffee Spots: Dinosaur Coffee

One of my favorite coffee spots in 2015 has to be Dinosaur Coffee. Sadly, there are no actual dinosaurs, and actually not a lot of dinosaur decor in the shop. There is a giant T-Rex mural in the restroom, so that makes up for the lack of dinosaurs roaming around the shop. It is co-owned by one of the co-creators of Cards Against Humanity, and it has a minimalistic vibe, but still packs a lot of attitude. Whenever I go to a shop, I always order my go to, a cortado.

image
Their cortados start with some raw sugar in the gibraltar, and the espresso is pulled into the glass. The first time I ordered a cortado from Dinosaur all I could think about was, “wow! they dialed in their espresso to be super sweet.” Then I realized that they add sugar, but it didn’t really bother me even though I am sort of a purist when it comes to coffee. Their baristas are on point when it comes to milk steaming. They have their textures down.

image
Their brewed coffees are done with a french press, and put into an air pot dispenser. They also have their cold brew in air pots for easy service. I think their efficiency is amazing and well thought out, and it is fortified by the layout of their bar, and clean lines all around the shop. Their coffee selections come from a variety of roasters. The first time I visited, I was served a cortado featuring De La Paz, and during another visit it was Four Barrel. I enjoy this aspect of having multi-roasters, because it allows patrons to try new coffees, and be exposed to the diversity in flavors, and roasting profiles.

image
I love the ample seating inside, and outside, which allows me to bring my puppies with me as we can just enjoy the LA sunshine, and the people in Silverlake are typically dog lovers. GIve this spot a visit, and let me know if it met your expectations.

4334 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029

Advertisements

How it all Started for Me

Starbucks. Isn’t that where it almost always starts? While I was in grad school, I would frequent the local Starbucks, trying to kill two birds with one stone. I needed a place to study, but I also wanted to earn my coveted Starbucks Gold Card. Not wanting to have third degree burns in my mouth on a daily basis, I would always order an iced coffee. This is when my palate started to change.

image
That smokey, roasty, charcoal, and medicinal flavor would stain my mouth whenever I would drink my iced coffee, and with free refills, I would knock back at least 8 a week. This evolved my pallet as years before I would gag drinking whiskey, then all of a sudden I had a craving for those smokey, tannin filled flavors. I thought that Starbucks was the epitome of coffee, because of its properties to change my taste. Then a good friend of mine took me to my first specialty coffee shop: Handsome Coffee.

image
Handsome Coffee was located in the Arts District of Los Angeles, which is now housing Blue Bottle LA. It was beautifully simple, and it still had the magnitude to change my life. Since all I knew was iced coffee, I ordered just that, but the baristas called it cold brew. I didn’t know any different. Through my palate training at Starbucks, I was expecting the flavor of liquid smoke, but what I tasted was completely different. I had that same euphoric experience that the rat in “Ratatouille” went through when he had his first taste of amazing food. My world was changed. The cold brew was mildly acidic, with chocolatey, and nutty notes. It was refreshing, and lacked that horrible bitter aftertaste. Handsome became the Mecca of coffee for me. Handsome was my rabbit-hole experience that I am still falling, and tumbling through.

image.jpeg

R.I.P Handsome Coffee Roasters.

A Little Science: Temperature

Coffee is one of those amazing beverages that can exhibit different characteristics and flavors at different temperatures. I am just going to be focusing on hot coffee for now. There aren’t many things that are as satisfying and invigorating as a cup of hot coffee. Hot coffee is comforting, aromatic, complex, and damn delicious. But how else does temperature play a role in coffee? Can it be too hot? What happens when it becomes lukewarm?

image
Heat has some interesting effects on coffee. I want to focus on how it breaks down, and extracts acidic and basic flavor compounds. When hot water is introduced to coffee grounds, acidic flavor compounds are extracted first. This is where we experience fruity notes in our cups of coffee. As time goes on, and hot water is still being introduced to the coffee grounds, more bitter flavor compounds are extracted. I don’t want to focus too much on brewing, and brew methods, because that will be a different, extensive post. Just understand that in the context of flavor compounds, hot water increases the rate in which acidic and bitter flavor compounds are extracted. The longer the hot water stays in contact with the coffee grounds, the more bitter the end product will be.

image
I think most people are familiar with the lawsuit regarding the extremely hot coffee that burned a McDonald’s customer. Coffee can be too hot for reasons other than giving us third degree burns. Our brains process heat at different levels. Warmth makes us feel comfortable, and happy. As heat increases, our brains start to send warning signals telling our body that danger is a sip away. These signals are intense, and take top priority. This hinders our brain’s ability to process the complex flavors a coffee may offer when consuming a cup that is 200-212 F. This plays no role in brewing coffee. We will discuss temperature and brewing a different day.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that lukewarm coffee will exhibit the complex flavors of the coffee. Oxidation plays a large role in the flavor of coffee, and oxidation occurs a lot faster in hot coffee. To avoid getting “sciencey,” oxidation causes coffee to taste stale, bitter, and for lack of better term, like “coffee.” As the temperature of a finished brewed coffee decreases, a chemical change begins to happen, and acidic compounds become basic. If I were to recommend how fast a cup of coffee should be consumed, I would say avoid letting it sit for more than 15 minutes.

image
Delicious coffee is fleeting. Have it too hot, and you will only experience pain. Let it cool too much, and you will miss the beauty in the cup. Good people won’t let good, hot coffee get cold.

Latte Art Pt. 1

image

I love latte art. You probably love seeing latte art too. I believe that we eat with our eyes before anything is consumed, and that goes for coffee as well. When I see a beautiful design poured into my cup, it makes me appreciate the drink more, and I feel like it tastes better. As my love for coffee grows, and my understanding of what is happening through extraction, and steaming milk deepens, I have been able to develop some opinions about latte art.

image
I think it’s important to know what is going on with the milk that forms your latte art. This information is very basic, and the chemistry of milk is way more complex than what I will be sharing. A good steam wand from an espresso machine should produce a dry steam that doesn’t release a lot of water. The steam will heat up the milk, making the natural sugars, specifically lactose, dissolve in the milk, making it sweeter. I also believe that when sugars are heated, they caramelize, and the sweetness is more pronounced. Air is also being introduced into the milk with a lot of force, and this is called “stretching.” This produces bubbles, hopefully micro-bubbles, that will make the milk texture velvety, and taste richer. Once a milk texture that is similar to wet paint (yummy!) is achieved, the milk and coffee is emulsified, and when poured, the milk will lay on top, and a beautifully defined pattern will form. I like to say that this is the ideal situation. But what can go wrong?

 

image
A massively under stretched cappuccino.

If the milk is under-stretched, and not enough air is introduced into the milk, the texture will be too thin, and a rich, delicious mouthfeel is absent from the drink. A pattern will not form, or a loose, out of control pattern will be displayed in your cup.

image
An over-stretched latte is a sad latte. 

I have some opinions about over-stretched milk that I have not researched, and hopefully someone can verify if I am correct or if my assumptions are inaccurate. I believe that when you add an overabundance of heat, this causes the proteins in milk to denature, and the milk splits. Also adding too much air will create large bubbles instead of small, beautiful, delicious micro-foam. What I have seen and experienced is that a heavy layer of protein rich foam will rest on top in the milk pitcher, while the sugary, fatty (fat is good) milk is left at the bottom. Typically, this will cause your latte art to look “blobby”, absent of those incredibly defined lines. This leads to the important question: does good latte art make a good cup of coffee?

image
Yes, and No. The basic rule is: if good coffee is not used, then no amount of latte art will save that drink. That being said, if a beautiful coffee is being used, whether a blend or single origin, then I believe latte art can be a signal that the cortado, cappuccino, or latte will be delicious. It signifies that the texture will be rich, and that the emulsification of delicious sugary, fatty milk, and coffee was done well. We will return to this topic in the future.