Coffee. Talk.

No. 9: Kean Coffee keeps it real in this mixed-up, crazy corporate world

It's all come full circle for Martin Diedrich. Obviously best known as the founder of Diedrich Coffee Company in 1983 (it was later absorbed into the Taco Bell empire, and last month was sold out to Starbucks), he recently opened a single new shop in hopes of recapturing his dream of providing an intimate yet sophisticated community-based caf. Born on his family's coffee farm in Antigua, Guatemala, Martin has since become a wealthy man. His autographed photo still hangs on the wall of every Diedrich outlet in the OC—still, he says, he will be glad to see the original family business close for good. (He was forced out of a meaningful role in the company by corporate executives years ago.) And the new place, Kan Coffee? The one Martin named for his seven-year-old son? It is located right next door to the strip mall where Martin's father Carl began roasting beans in 1972. Not only that, Martin personally roasts all the beans at Kan Coffee in a machine invented by his brother and based on a hand-cranked roaster created by his father. Unlike the generic dark roast offered by, saaaaay, Starbucks, Martin seeks a lighter roast that perfectly suits the natural flavor of his beans. Kan Coffee's baristas (including Martin himself: he spends most afternoons behind the counter) are trained to draw thick, multi-hued crema from each shot of espresso and are schooled in latt art, so each cup is not only a gustatory delight but also a visual one. For all the care and attention that goes into each superior cup of Kan coffee, their prices are on par with the bigger coffee chains, and you don't have to feel guilty about the pleasures of imbibing because the Kan beans are packaged in bags made from recycled paper, not plastic. (The lack of airtight packaging doesn't matter since the beans are freshly roasted each week.) Plastic cups used for cold drinks are constructed from biodegradable cornstarch, and 75 percent of the coffee—100 percent of the espresso—originates in small organic farms from all around the world where workers earn a decent wage. "Whereas most other coffee stores just do it as a token, for me it's fundamental to my philosophy and world view," says Martin. "Whenever I hear somebody say they are giving back to the community, I always think they were probably taking more than they should have been in the first place." Maybe so. Mostly, we like the coffee. 2043 Westcliff Dr., Ste. 100, Newport Beach, (949) 642-KEAN; www.keancoffee.com.

I beg to differ! The word 'coffee' comes from the Ethiopian town of Kaffa, and the best coffee in Orange County comes from Kaffa!—yes with an exclamation point, in the non-Ethiopian town of Orange across the street from Children's Hospital of Orange County, to be precise. Each cup is a work of art; they do something with the foam on a cappuccino to make a heart shape. All together now: Awwwww . . .But it's the flavor that'll knock you out (while the caffeine flips on the off switches of your mind). Fuller, earthier and dare we say fruitier than what's found in cups elsewhere (We dare! We dare!), the fresh coffee here is enough to warrant inclusion in any local "Best of" compilation. But there is even more to this strip-center joint. The salads are great and the grilled panini are greater. The ambiance is relaxing whether it's a quick $7 lunch and then back to work or you want to hang around to bug the friendly staff for a while. Owner Justin Wong even offers free wireless Internet access. But we do advise you call ahead if you're planning on swinging by during the lunch rush. You can't hurry up quality food and beverages, and the secret is obviously out about this little gem. 424 S. Main St., Ste. K, Orange, (714) 978-1992; www.kaffainc.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Sun. (Matt Coker)

I beg to differ! It may be a coffee chain and Whitney Houston may reside in the city now, but It's a Grind in Laguna Hills still has the perkiest group of employees who aren't stuck in emo-mode. Plus they actually make a good mocha. 24801 Alicia Pkwy., #C, Laguna Hills, (949) 837-8300. (Jon Mann)

Diedrich: Best. Just best. Photo by Jennie Warren
Diedrich: Best. Just best. Photo by Jennie Warren

I beg to differ! Not about It's a Grind—I've never even been to Laguna Hills. But something about a guy who uses "perkiest" to describe the employees of a coffee house . . . well, it just rubs me the wrong way. (Theo Douglas)

I beg to differ! The best crack coffee in OC is at Lee's Sandwiches. Seriously, this stuff will get you soaring in seconds; you'll stay awake for 48 hours; and it tastes good, too. The only downside is you crash very hard. But since it's only $2 you can re-up for next to nothing. The place sells sandwiches, too, including veggie ones for less than $3. Locations throughout Orange County; www.leessandwiches.com.(Sami Ith)

 
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