The good thing about coffee is that there's never a bad time to have it. If you're hot, just grab a cold brew. Cold? A caramel latte might do. And lucky for us in Orange County, there are plenty of coffee shops to sip a cup of jo while, maybe, reading literature like a fancy person. But which ones are as great as they are cool?
Let's start with some honorable mentions--the places that deserve to be on this list but don't yet have brick-and-mortar locations--and then we'll explore the rest.
Honorable Mention #1: Hopper and Burr (Santa Ana)
Currently located at Little Sparrow as a pop-up coffee bar, Hopper and Burr's quality is as noteworthy as OC's coffee big boys--and maybe, just maybe, the fact that it's owned by Truman Severson (formerly of Portola Coffee Lab) is a coincidence. The menu here is organized into "black" coffee (batched brew filters and espressos) and "white" ones (capps, lattes, and mochas), all of which are made with beans from a variety of roasters.
300 N Main St, Santa Ana, (714) 265-7640; instagram.com/hopperandburr
Honorable Mention #2: Contra Coffee and Tea (Santa Ana)
As Charles Lam reported earlier this week, Contra Coffee and Tea--a mobile coffee and tea brewery--may make the best Thai tea and Vietnamese coffee in the county. Here's what Mr. Lam had to say:
It tastes as good as Vietnamese coffee can taste, without any of the heavy, unfortunate after effects. The nitro in the coffee does what nitro does, and smooths everything out, imparting a creamy mouthfeel and mellowing the flavors without getting in the way.
[Charles' Note: Everything I tried from them was good, and they're already started vending at the Downtown Santa Ana Farmer's Market. Swing by and say hello!]
Honorable Mention #3: Bear Coast Coffee (San Clemente)
In The Cellar in downtown San Clemente, Bear Coast Coffee is set up as a pop-up shop serving lavender caramel lattes and mochas roasted from Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, as well as other roasters. Give 'em a follow on Instagram, and you never know when you might run into a special.
156 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente, (949) 492-3663; instagram.com/bearcoastcoffee
And now, for the chops with their own homes! 11. Blk Coffee (Irvine)
Located near Irvine's Google building is something you'd least expect: a super hip coffee shop (yes, succulents and artwork are included). Using beans from Kean Coffee, Blk Coffee makes a memorable Vietnamese coffee--one that's as strong as Lee's but as serene as UC Irvine during the weekend. Whether you're swamped with a long day of work or running on little to no sleep, this Vietnamese coffee is the fix.
19510 Jamboree Rd #150, Irvine, (949) 752-2882; facebook.com/getblkcoffee
10. AoSA Coffee (Huntington Beach)
AoSA stands for Art of Sustainable Action, which of course refers to the coffee shop's desire to bring the community together via well-crafted cups of coffee. They're located in a tiny little shopping center, sure, but the quality and atmosphere they bring is over the top. AoSA's got its finger right on the pulse of coffee culture. They were one of the first places you could get Stumptown's increasingly ubiquitous cold brew on nitro in Orange County. They circulate drip coffee every month, which is currently Little Amps based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And their espresso? Stumptown. You can even bring bags of them home.
Huntington Harbor Mall Shopping Center, 16821 Algonquin St Ste 104, Huntington Beach, (714) 840-5700; instagram.com/aosacoffee
9. The Green House (Long Beach)
Rotating between Stumptown, Rose Park, and Stereoscope Coffee beans, The Green House makes a mean cold brew iced coffee among other their fine concoctions. They're hip, so be prepared to enjoy your lattes amidst a rustic-lover's paradise. If you live in the neighborhood, their lofted sitting space might be one of the places to get some work done.
149 Linden Ave, Long Beach, (562) 491-1111; facebook.com/TheGreenHouseLB 8. ChocXO (Lake Forest and Costa Mesa)
They make chocolate. They roast their own coffee beans (right in the Irvine facility!). Guys, ChocXO may have straight out of my dreams (and yours too). With cacao beans from Central and South America comes their creamy chocolate. And if you ever need some coffee to simmer that sweetness down, they've got beans from Ethiopia and Costa Rica to get the job done. The spaces are beautiful too, completely with airy interiors, large windows and plenty of places to sit. 20025 Lake Forest Dr #101, Lake Forest, (949) 305-2800; 1534 Adams Ave #A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, (657) 231-6190 instagram.com/chocxochocolatier
7. Portfolio Coffeehouse (Long Beach)
"Artsy" would describe Portfolio Coffeehouse best, whether you're referring to their decor (which has plenty of local zines) or the quality of their Mexican chocolate mocha and/or blended vanilla latte, both of which are made with Illy blend for a floral, fruity, and almond taste. Also check out their Berlin Bistro in the East Village, which serves a great menu, awesome rotating beers, and one of the best booze-y brunches in the Southland.
420 E 4th St, Long Beach, (562) 435-0600; berlincoffeehouse.com
6. Hidden House (San Juan Capistrano)
Hidden House might've gotten its name for the fact that in this tiny little coffee shop, there is a surprisingly large amount of treasure: drinks--both foamy-hot and cold--that pair perfectly with house-baked carrot cakes and muffins. Oh, and their house-roasted espresso is rich--so rich that it comes with a glass of water to wash it all down.
31791 Los Rios St, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-0200; instagram.com/hiddenhousecoffee 5. Lord Windsor Roasters (Long Beach)
Lord Windsor is all about transparency: from the farm the beans were harvested at to the cup you're holding in your hand, they want you to know exactly how each product was made because knowing that matters to them too. Cappuccinos and macchiatos alike are handcrafted and, from the smell to the taste, you can tell.
1101 E 3rd St, Long Beach, CA 90802 (562) 901-2111; lordwindsor.com
4. Alta Coffee (Newport Beach)
Atla Coffee is another coffeeshop that roasts their own coffee, the product of which goes pleasantly with their warm baked goods. Their iced toffee latte is particularly delicious, which is built of iced coffee topped with whipped cream, bits of crumbly toffee pieces, and a trail of chocolate syrup.
506 31st St, Newport Beach, (949) 675-0233; instagram.com/atlascoffee
3. Rose Park (Long Beach)
When it's warm (and it oftentimes is here in Southern California), a cold brew (specifically from Rose Park) could close your sweat glands. Formerly a coffee joint delivering beans by bike, the now brick-and-mortar Rose Park is establishing a local legacy for itself, spearheaded by the cold brew mentioned above plus the prettiest of their lattes (hey, presentation counts too).
3044 E 4th St, Long Beach, (562) 434-4346; instagram.com/roseparkroasters 2. Kean Coffee (Tustin and Newport Beach)
Quality is the mantra at Kean Coffee, the new home of Martin Diedrich, the grand father of OC coffee. Where else can you sip on organic and fair trade coffees from around the world (Nicaragua and Guatemala are a few examples) that are roasted in-house, and try different kinds based on season?
13681 Newport Ave #14, Tustin, (714) 838-5326; 2043 Westcliff Dr #100, Newport Beach, CA 92660; instagram.com/keancoffee
1. Portola Coffee Lab (Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Tustin)
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When you visit their website or shop, you get this sense that Portola considers coffee an artform, and they really want you to know that. From their efforts to search for the best coffee beans around the world to roast and insistence that creativity and passion go into every step of the coffee-making process, it's clear they ain't joking. In fact, the roasting and process is slow--much akin to the each stroke artists carefully place in paintings.
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, (949) 284-0596 2493 Park Ave, Tustin, (949) 284-0596 instagram.com/portolacoffeelab