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LA's Most Underrated Coffee Shops
Where to get your caffeine fix when you're on a budget.
Just as all good articles start with over generalizations, all good adventures start with a cup of piping-hot coffee.
Los Angeles is home to a stunning number of third wave coffee shops. As a matter of fact, I’m sitting at one right now—Bar Nine in Culver City. They serve their drinks in fancy glassware and sprinkle cacao nibs on top of their mochas. The girl sitting across from me has The Los Angeles Coffee Guide 2019 open on the table and seems to be plotting out her next stop on a coffee tour of the city.
Angelinos love sipping $6 lattes while crunching away at $12 avocado toast and complaining about how expensive it is to live in LA (count me among them—guilty as charged). But a lot of people who say they love coffee actually only love fancy, third wave coffee.
I’m not one of those people. I love coffee in all roasts, sizes, and origins. Sure, I have my favorites (Collage, Unincorporated, and Verve to name a few) but that doesn’t mean I’ll write off a coffee shop just because it doesn’t have the street cred of more well-known establishments.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite coffee stops in LA (or any city) that won’t ever make it in The Los Angeles Coffee Guide.
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What rhymes with Ronald and is never more than a 10 minute drive from home no matter where you live? You got it: the famed Golden Arches, McDonald’s.
Plenty of people will happily walk into a Starbucks but never dare set foot in a McDonald’s for their morning cup. Well, their loss. McDonald’s serves up as good a cup of coffee as any Seattle Based Megacorp ever did. They even have frappes, mochas, and seasonal drinks loaded with delicious sugary syrups.
What’s more, Seattle Based Coffee Megacorp charges $2.45 for a large drip coffee (still not unreasonable, and I do love Seattle Megacorp. Remember: I love all coffee) but McDonald’s, bless her sweet name, will give you any size cup for just $1! A single dollar! What a steal!
While you’re there, put in an order for a few crispy hash browns or maybe even a McGriddle to really get your morning going. Start any road trip off right and swing through McDonald’s for an underrated and inexpensive dose of caffeine.
There is a Nespresso branded coffee vending machine in the back recesses of Dodge College at Chapman University that deserves at least partial credit for my BFA. For only .65¢ you get a cup of black liquid that resembles coffee and contains enough caffeine to wake up a sleeping hippopotamus. For an extra .20¢ you can add foamed milk for something that loosely resembles a latte. I must have fed that machine over a hundred dollars during my senior year.
Vending machine coffee is accessible, fast, and almost never has a line. From order to delivery, vending machines have it down to a matter of seconds. This coffee has the fun added bonus (I’m calling it a bonus) of smelling nearly identical going in as going out. This isn’t to say it comes out of the machine smelling like urine; it makes your urine smell (sort-of) like coffee (ish).
Don’t take my word for it, go find a coffee vending machine near you.
Taco Bell made their foray into fast-food breakfast in Spring 2014. If you’ve never experienced a Breakfast Crunchwrap, stop everything and go order one. Along with their foray into a breakfast menu came the addition of delicious piping hot coffee.
Taco Bell takes a no-bullshit approach when it comes to coffee. None of those fancy syrups, whipped cream toppings, or even iced beverages. Taco Bell pours one blend of black coffee with the option to add cream and sugar.
For $1.49, Taco Bell serves up cups of Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee, which means it fuels your morning without taxing your wallet or the environment. Sometimes too many choices overwhelm a consumer, and Taco Bell nails it with their “hot coffee or no coffee” policy.
Taco Bell also has some of the best breakfast food in the game to pair with your morning cup of joe. For just $1, they serve up some delicious breakfast burritos with both bacon-filled and vegetarian offerings.
7-11 has to be one of the most quintessentially American establishments in the entire country. An entire aisle dedicated to candy, another to processed salty snacks. A row of refrigerators full of sugary drinks and a whole countertop of greasy pizza, taquitos, hot wings, hot dogs, and jalapeño poppers which have been sitting under warmers for a scientifically indeterminable length of time. Nestled beside this bustling mass of high fructose corn syrup is the not-to-be-missed coffee station.
What I’m sure starts off as rational and organized in the early morning becomes a sprawling free-for-all by 8:30am—which is one of the main draws. Never fewer than 6 carafes of coffee ranging from Medium Roast to Blueberry Infused Arabica, 7-11 is full of options. Most have those latte machines and some even offer cold brew.
Once you’ve decided on a roast, your journey has only yet begun. Move on over to creamers, sugars, and syrups where you’ll be pleased to find another dozen or so options for customizing your coffee to your taste. To top it all off, you can get any size coffee for just a buck if you sign up to be a 7-11 rewards member, and who doesn’t want to flaunt that membership card to their friends the next time they spot a round.
This one isn’t quite a coffee shop, but Seattle Based Coffee Megacorp deserves some credit for perfecting instant coffee. The reason these make the list is because it turns anywhere with access to hot water into a coffee shop, which means anywhere you can turn on a camping stove. Your local park, the trunk of your car, the top of a nearby hill—all are now coffee shops. Everyone knows coffee tastes better outside.
The individual packs come in several colorways, although after my research I cannot determine whether the differences in packaging correspond to any particular differences in flavor. When all is said and done the Via Veranda tastes exactly the same as the Via Sumatra when served up in my camping mug. All in, Via comes to ~.65¢ per cup, which makes it one of the most affordable and portable options out there. Plus, with the simple addition of a hot chocolate packet (which I’m sure you can find in your pantry somewhere) you get a backcountry mocha.
Got any other underrated coffee shops that I missed? Put them in the comments and I’ll be sure to give them a try!