The new Kéan Coffee in Tustin has a familiar feel—and smell and taste
When we broke the news last September that Martin Diedrich was opening a second Kéan Coffee—in what used to be Starbucks in Tustin—I scrounged for analogies to pair with the moment. David triumphs over Goliath. Luke Skywalker defeats the Empire. But more than anything, it made me remember Lewis Black and his now-classic rant, the one in which the comic postulates that he had arrived at “the end of the universe” when he saw a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks. So naturally, I thought, with this development, Diedrich had staved off the apocalypse.
Now, I have nothing against Starbucks. It’s a fine company that employs fine, hard-working folks. I count myself as a loyal but infrequent customer (exclusively for their green-tea blended creme frap, extra whipped cream). But still, it seemed sweetly karmic to see Diedrich, who opened his first Diedrich coffeehouse in Costa Mesa in 1984, reclaiming some OC turf. And especially here, at the Tustin location, which was originally a Diedrich.
The story is one that many OC java junkies already know: In 2004, Martin Diedrich left the company his grandmother and father had founded and opened Kéan Coffee (named after Diedrich’s young son) in Newport Beach that year. Diedrich Coffee was sold to Starbucks in 2006. Since then, Kéan has gone on to win back OC’s coffee-loving hearts and caffeine-addled minds, including multiple wins in many OC Weekly Best Of issues.
How did he do it? Ask Diedrich, and he’ll likely say this: freshly roasted beans. The fresher, the better, since all beans begin a steep downward slide toward staleness the minute they’re roasted. And grinding? Not a remedy. “That would be the same as saying that the shelf life of bread begins when you slice it,” he argues.
Kéan’s beans are roasted as needed in small batches on-site in a custom-made contraption that looks like a Franklin stove equipped with Space Shuttle parts and a touch-screen console—the progeny of HAL 9000 and a stand mixer. The first thing you see when you come into the store, the machine is the handiwork of Martin’s brother Stephan. It flanks an array of packaged coffees ready for immediate sale, which exist in endless varieties from more countries than I care to name. All are labeled with the date they were roasted, origin and nuanced flavor profiles. I bought a Sumatran Blue Batak, and the room that I left the bag in is now saturated with its aroma, as if I lit a coffee-bean potpourri pot. I’ve yet to brew a cup for myself, but knowing Martin’s credo, I’d better do it soon.
While in the store, I did, of course, sample the coffee, as a latte, insulated by an unusually rich, thick, milky foam they call “crema,” sculpted and coaxed into ornate leaf patterns. Beneath it, the brew itself was rich, intense, smoky and bold.
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The coffee is featured in other permutations of hot and cold elixirs. The Grasshopper, one of their signature hot drinks, is scented with nostril-tickling mint, which can be smelled in the updraft but not tasted in the liquid. The shakes are whirred with chocolate ice cream, with the coffee dosage measured in varying strengths, depending on what you order. The non-coffee shakes are delicious, especially the Orange Dreamsicle. The chai-honey shake tastes like Christmas. And with every reassuring gulp of the green-tea latte—grassy Japanese matcha merged in Zen-like perfection with sugar and milk—the already tenuous grip Starbucks has on my budget for frivolous drink purchases gets even weaker.
But perhaps the most stunning drink found at Kéan is the single-origin sipping chocolate. You choose from Venezuela, Madagascar or Ecuador, countries from which the cocoa pods were plucked. And when you get your steaming cup, you don’t pound it down. Sip it slowly—it’s in the name, after all. In the drink, you’ll discover an enduring cocoa froth that lasts to the final drop. It’s bitter, unadulterated and finishes with an understated sweetness that lingers until your next deliberate slurp.
Since I had nowhere to go and the rest of my cocoa to savor, I sprang for pastries, which are sourced from Pacific Whey Cafe. Anise-freckled biscotti were stacked like Lincoln Logs in glass jars. There was a flaky croissant filled with cinnamon and nuts. But ultimately, it was the chocolate cupcake swirled with a cream-cheese frosting that was a perfect match for my cocoa. Never mind its calorie count. It’s a special occasion: The end of the universe has been averted.
Kéan Coffee at 13681 Newport Ave., Ste. 14, Tustin, (714) 838-5326; www.keancoffee.com. Open Sun.-Thurs, 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Drinks, $1.80-$4.85.