By Charlie Schmidlin
The debate over the perfect cup of coffee is an afternoon activity; in the morning, most people will drink anything as long as it’s caffeinated, and certified so.
Groundwork Coffee, just a quick jaunt from the Downtown Independent, certainly takes care of that need, offering high quality coffee blends from around the world, a range of organic teas, and their signature “cold brew” bottles. But the Los Angeles-based chain, founded by Richard Karno in 1990, also retains a philosophy and practice in their coffee focused on two main aspects: organic product and sustainable methods.
The certified-organic company’s resident Q Grader and “Coffee Guy,” Jeff Chean, travels to origin – the location where the coffee bean is picked – and visits farms in countries like Uganda, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.
At the DTLA location, each of these countries are represented by “Single Origin” bean blends, all of which are available bagged or canned: The medium-roast Brazil blend from Nossa Senhora de Fatima, or perhaps the Sumatra dark roast from Tunas Indah.
I try the light roast from Bolivia, and also the Angel City “signature blend,” which serves as the house coffee on the morning I attend (others include Venice Blend and the Miles-influenced dark roast, Bitches Brew). Even with my phone clock reading 8:30am, my eyes bleary, and tastebuds on standby, I still notice a distinct taste in the coffee – a balanced, deep flavor, not too bitter or burnt beyond measure.
Nestled in the Higgins building on West 2nd St., the Groundwork location is a small affair, intimate but by no means cramped. Inside, a barista team greets you first thing, and quickly takes your order with a smile. A few tables sit closer to the street nearby; however, the best and most comfortable aspect of the café is the loft seating: a set of stairs leads up to a nice arrangement of tables and booths – perfect for work or a meeting.
Speaking of gatherings, there is also a basement event space, which Groundwork sets aside for A.A. and N.A. groups to use. They are also in partnership with Downtown Women’s Center, helping to start up a job training program — hopefully by summer — for candidates to work in Groundwork stores as a gateway to becoming self-sufficient once more.
Groundwork currently has seven locations placed across L.A., but the real jewel of the company is located in North Hollywood, at their Roastery on Cleon Ave. The 5,000 sq. ft building features solar panels on the roof, which lets it operate on 80% electric power, and also has capabilities to conserve “chaff” (the nitrogen-heavy, fibrous skin which surrounds the bean) for later use with local farmers and gardeners.
Next to 25 massive silos holding their varieties of “green,” or un-roasted, coffee beans though, the focus immediately turns to “Big Greenie,” a Hulk-sized, 70-kilo roaster that produces 154 lbs. at a time. The beans are then shipped to their cafes across LA, and also stores like Whole Foods and Bristol Farms.
When it comes to roasting coffee, the variables are vast: “The technology of the machine, the airflow, the profile, how it got to that color, why it stopped at that color, if the machine was high or low flame, if smoke sat in the drum at the end.”
They represent all sorts of creative ways to say one thing: how the coffee should taste. And whether struck with a post-film craving or mid-morning stop, Groundwork Coffee is an affordable and tasty choice, as well as one dedicated to community — both in Southern California and globally.
Groundwork Coffee, 108 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA, 90012, (213) 620-9668