Tustin's Lost Bean Coffeehouse Is How Starbucks Should've Been

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Tustin’s Lost Bean coffeehouse is how Starbucks should have been

Before Starbucks turned up in gas stations, airports, Targets and next to other Starbuckses, I imagine it started out like the Lost Bean in Tustin. Located in a shopping plaza cribbed from Disney’s Fantasyland and the city of Solvang, the Lost Bean is a charming, one-of-a-kind neighborhood coffeehouse that feels like it sprouted up from the ground, not from a Howard Schultz business plan.

The door creaks as you enter. There’s a comfy sitting area with a couch fit for the sitcom banter of Phoebe, Chandler and their Friends. There are high tables and low tables and chairs with cushions that have been lovingly patched up. If you want privacy when you tuck into a cup, there’s a coveted spot behind a hidden corner near the back. But you have to be quick to claim it, or else the usual assortment of coffeehouse squatters will get to it first. And when they do, they’ll mark their territory with sprawled-out papers, glowing laptops and mugs of perennially half-drunk coffee.

Despite them—and during these times of recession when paying $4 for a cup of coffee seems, well, stupid—the Lost Bean is doing just fine. Even more encouraging is that the economy hasn’t swayed the Lost Bean’s do-good, green philosophy, which you can’t miss—their message is everywhere, from artfully framed placards to handwritten signs. Some of the notes preach standard Al Gore-isms. Others remind you to not take a coffee sleeve if you don’t really need one.

This could be for naught if they didn’t put their principles where their mouth is, or rather, where their drinks are poured: Their “plastic” cups are made from biodegradable, corn-based material, as are their spoons. The coffee is ground from certified-organic beans, the tea is steeped from certified-organic leaves, and even the water dispenser is labeled “organic water.” Yes, you read that right.

I shouldn’t need to mention that they tout their milk as hormone-free, but it seems more appropriate to request soy milk to cream your hot green tea, anyway. You don’t have to ask for it when you order “The Panda Bear,” a mixture of soy milk, pear syrup and green tea that drinks clean—a fleeting, faintly sweet brew that doesn’t leave behind a milky film around your mouth or the dreaded dairy breath.

If you opt for something with the word “monkey” in it, the drink will involve some sort of banana flavoring. And in the case of the blended monkey mocha, an actual banana is whirred up into the icy flurry. It’s delicious.

During the holidays, a list of their Christmas-y drinks is scribbled on a chalkboard easel. There’s an ice-blended eggnog with vanilla that sips like a frothed-up milkshake. And though I don’t drink much coffee, their gingerbread latte is exactly the type that could turn me into a caffeine junkie. The hook is that aroma, which snaked into my nostrils in the steamy updraft and smelled like oven-fresh cookies. In the drinking, the gingerbread flavor is subtler, as if a gingerbread man took a skinny dip in the java-dark depths.

The best non-coffee-based drink is their hot caramel-apple cider. The elixir is smooth, with apple’s harsh acidic edges filed down to a soothing, reassuring silken gulp.

“Munchies” are what the Lost Bean calls its preprepared food. The sandwiches and wraps, although exorbitantly priced at $7.25 a pop, are a lot better than they should be. The turkey is moist, layered between slices of good bread with havarti cheese and sliced avocado. Their signature wrap is a flavor-packed combo of hummus, feta and cucumbers. And I’ve never met a cheesier or more satisfyingly blubbery quiche than the one I had here.

For the sweet tooth, cookies are stored under a glass lid and are as thick as the meatiest part of my palm. And of course, there are muffins. They’re all reasons to get you to stick around longer, to relax and, yes, to spend another four bucks on a cup of coffee that’s only meant to tide you over until your next Starbucks run.

The Lost Bean, 13011 Newport Ave., Ste. 104, Tustin, (714) 544-2584; www.thelostbean.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Drinks, $2-$4.

 
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