I keep my coffee grounds in an air-tight container. Every morning, I open it up and breathe it in—deep, rich, almost earthy, but not too much. Medium blend. Two tablespoons to six ounces of water. As I nudge eggs and bacon bits around in a pan, I listen to the machine gurgle and sputter. A quiet excitement flutters within me when I finally grasp the warm mug. Despite whatever chaos ensues after I leave my apartment for the day, I at least have this intimate, glowing moment of contentment.
I was greeted with a wave of indie pop, roaring blenders, and burnt espresso. Baristas zipped from counter to counter, shouting at one another, shining panicked smiles at customers as they misspelled their names with Sharpie. I waited for my drink, foot tapping, watching a group of teenaged girls in mid conversation retrieve their green tea frappucinos and berry hibiscuses, their voices sharp and showy. I took my order to go. It was too cold to write in there.
“Vanilla latte, please,” I said, hesitantly. I always get nervous when I order at a new place. What if I pronounce something wrong and unveil my lack of sophistication?
The barista, who bore a single loop earing, nodded with a bored expression, as if my request was unimpressive. Too…vanilla? I agonized over my supposed mediocrity until my order was ready, presented in a large, globular mug; its surface displayed wisps of cream curled into a lovely heart. My first ever latte with art! The coffee was so much creamier and lighter than the ones at Starbucks and the Coffee Bean, tasting neither burnt nor artificial. With each sip, my anxieties dissolved.
Someone had warned me about Philz.
“You can’t just say that you want a vanilla latte,” she warned. “You have to know what goes into your drink.”
This echoed in my mind as I walked up to the counter. I may be a coffee enthusiast, but I’m not quite a coffee connoisseur, which became that much more apparent after the barista interrogated me about my preferences (How sweet? How creamy?). Ordering coffee had never been so damn tedious.
But the result was beautiful. I could taste the barista’s careful consideration in the earthy and rich notes—each of which was incredibly vibrant. Philz was the first coffee shop that made a coffee for me.
My roommate and I drove out to Pasadena in search of caffeine and ambiance. Twinkle lights, brick walls, and wooden tables—there was something magical about Intelligentsia. We arrived in the late night, when conversations have a tendency towards depth and the air is quiet and relaxed. In the corner of the shop, we read in between sips—Chekhov for me and race theory for her—occasionally exchanging musings and smiles.
“This is nice,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It really is.”
BUT FIRST, COFFEE.
The phrase was painted on the wall in big, bold letters—one of many aesthetic quirks that I observed in this little kiosk in Brentwood. Floral wallpaper coated the ceiling, and the main wall that displayed the menu was covered in teal tiles. My boyfriend and I squeezed onto the only two bar stools in the place to escape the California heat, looking out the window at a street fair. There’s something about drinking coffee with someone that brings me closer to them, calms me down enough to focus on the moment and the person and their voice and their eyes. So we sat, knee to knee, sipping and talking, more together than we were minutes before.