opinion: White-Walling, Mind the Brick Coffee Road



There’s a trope in current coffee culture. I’m not even sure when it started. Maybe a few years ago as the proliferation of monetizing on the third wave of specialty coffee became even more of a startup business idea that some in Silicon Valley could get behind as a micro investment followed by other big holding companies doing the same.

I will not consciously vent about that here and/or what I feel bigger money can or can’t do to an established culture like coffee with a sub-niche. Perhaps, I’m still figuring it out, while it seems that the result of bigger moneys means more spread for the chain of these coffee shops and more product and more product and yes, more product. Because, investors do want an ROI, and what better than product, to get a consumers emotional allegiance?

However, what I like to call the ‘white-walling’ of an interior – white walls everywhere with minimal design detail and maybe a pop of wildlife green – because we love the palms don’t we, can be seen in so many shops.

Usually it goes a little something like this, there’s an established community of consumers, there’s limited coffee shops or, an opportunity to provide a neighborhood with another option of coffee culture consumption. It comes in, upgrades the space, minimalizes the aesthetic, props a green living plant of some kind(s) – installs clear glass windows, like the ones you’d see left undressed in neighborhoods where curtains and shades never close. For a handmade touch, there might be a high brow apron, hand sewn, astutely customized on its baristas, for measure too.

Yes, this kind of coffee shop can feel devoid of soul, of character, of story because the space is so blank, so ‘white-walled’ that it’s hard to extract the heart of what was here before or even what’s here in the now. I am not against a white wall by any means or multiple ones for that matter. However, coffee was birthed in Ethiopia, a birthplace of complex story, diversity and ritual. And coffee comes from origins all around, micro touches of that richness brings story to space.

When Blue Bottle Coffee popped up in Echo Park, it took me a while to figure how I actually felt about it. The cultural landmark – Jensen Recreation Center – was built in 1924 and sold in 2014 for $15 million to Vista Investment Group. The Echo Park I know wasn’t just changing, its changed.

According to Wikipedia, in the 2000 Census, Echo Park was considered moderately diverse ethnically. The breakdown was Latinos, 64%; Asians, 18.8%; whites, 12.9%; blacks, 2%, and others, 2.3%. Mexico (41.3%) and El Salvador (15.2%) were the most common places of birth for the 53% of the residents who were born abroad, a figure that was considered high compared to the city as a whole. 

By the 2010 Census, “while Latinos remained the majority, their share of the population fell from nearly 70% to below 60%.  The white population, meanwhile, grew from about 13% in 2000 to about 23% last year.  Asians’ share of the population remained about the same at about 13%.”  EastSiderLA

The coffee shops that have opened and remained within this timeframe by order of year along, Sunset boulevard include.

Intelligentsia [Aug, 17 2007]

Stories Book Store and Cafe [ November, 2008]

Caffe Vita [ February 2013 ]

Blue Bottle Coffee [August 15, 2015]

Woodcat Coffee Bar, at, September, 2014

Dinette, November, 2014

Dinosaur Coffee, December, 2014

Alfred Coffee, August, 2015

Eightfold Coffee, January 2016

August seems to be a pretty good month to open a coffee shop. And, on one day in August, along came this brick; the one at the opening of this opinion piece. If you can take the time to establish yourself with a community in a small way, then that goes a long way, a long way back to how coffee established communities in Ethiopia. Long stretch? Perhaps, but its how I see it.

And, its why, I’ll also visit Blue Bottle Coffee when in Silver Lake on Sunset Boulevard among the other near dozen specialty coffee shops.  Then, I’ll also go right next door to Stories Book Store and Cafe, sit in the courtyard, read a book I bought from within the store and hear some live music, if its that given night. If not, I’ll walk to WoodCat and hear an entire album play while sipping on a chai latte. If the hunger hits, I’ll keep moving down Sunset  to Alfred’s for Yeastie Boys Bagels, the truck that moonlights out of doors for a cup and one of those nutella and banana bagel beauties. Lastly, if its a Friday, I’ll walk to the other end of the block where Jensens’ sign stands near the farmers market. Yes, some of the culture still remains, a lot of it actually, even though investment – big and not so big, has laid a claim  when the West’s sun sets. Just let me still be able to follow the brick road, ok? Ok, cool.

What are you seeing in coffee culture? What moves you, what doesn’t? Weigh in.