Where to Get the Most Fun and Delicious Specialty Coffee Drinks in LA
Baristas around town are crafting elevated coffee drinks reminiscent of cocktails, seasonal specialties with house-made syrups and sodas, and all sorts of caffeinated milkshakes.
Almost everyone drinks coffee almost every day, but for such a ubiquitous thing there’s a staggering diversity of habits and rituals involved. Some people pop a pod into a machine and call it done, while some of us spend our mornings boiling, weighing, grinding, slowly pouring, gingerly tasting, and taking careful notes to make the absolute best mug of hot bean water.
Modern coffee shops reflect that diversity of preference too, both with their beans—dark roast to light, from all over the world, grown at different elevations and using different processing methods—and with the range of specialty drinks available to the curious coffee drinker. There are sugary blended drinks that are basically caffeinated milkshakes, there are light and bright carbonated espresso drinks to kick a sunny afternoon into gear, and there are complex and layered coffee cocktails, built with all the precision of the most attentive mixologist. It doesn’t hurt that many of these drinks are stylish and lovely, an accessory as much as a beverage, not created for social media exactly, but not ignorant of its impact either.
From San Gabriel Valley to Historic Filipinotown and Santa Monica, here are 11 of the best specialty coffee drinks in LA. And if you’re a coffee nerd who wants to peruse LA’s best craft roasters without all the pomp and circumstance, we’ve got a list for you too.
There is a regular customer at the Altadena location of Highlight Coffee who walks in before 9:30 am several times per week and confidently orders an affogato, like it’s no big deal. This woman is habitually eating a breakfast of espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream, doing dessert first in heroic fashion—an inspiration to us all. And this affogato is absolutely worth trying, made with Straus organic vanilla bean ice cream and Highlight’s outstanding espresso. If she’s living a little too big for you, they also do specialty drinks like a Pineapple-Lime Espresso Tonic, a Coffee Lemonade that they call a Nathan Palmer, and an Espresso-Pom Tonic with house-made grenadine.
How to order: Walk-ins only.
There are so many coffee shops of all kinds in LA that it seems unthinkable that there wasn’t a dedicated Oaxaca-style shop until Marlon Gonzalez and Pilar Castañeda started Café Santo. They were a pop-up first, working weekends at farmers markets and events while holding down other jobs, but now it’s a full-time thing at BLVD Market food hall in Montebello. All of the usual espresso drinks are well-executed, but the real reason to come is for the chocolate, imported directly from Oaxaca’s Reina Negra. You can get a Oaxacan Mocha, which is milk-heavy with a hit of espresso and excellent chocolate, or you can flip the ratio and add a shot of espresso to their dark drinking chocolate for a burst of luscious, high-octane coffee and chocolate flavor.
How to order: Walk in or order online.
Be Bright Coffee
Be Bright’s owners Frank and Michelle La always intended to open a retail coffee shop. The pandemic scuttled their original concept but now, some two years after they pivoted to launch Be Bright as a subscription-based coffee roaster, they’ve returned to that first idea—their brick-and-mortar store is now open. Classic drinks are great but their specialty beverages are a real highlight, including options like a Black Sesame Crunch Butter Latte and the Salted Caramel Ultra Light Bean, in addition to cold-brewed teas. And if you’re looking for beans to brew at home, the house-roasted beans are outstanding, divided not by region or process or elevation, but separated into four distinct flavor categories to help demystify the specialty coffee landscape.
How to order: Walk-ins only at the cafe, beans available online.
The creative, precisely calibrated coffee geniuses at Highland Park’s Kumquat—which could be on this list in its own right—have added a second cafe to their lineup, an offshoot with its own roasting program called Loquat. The new spot features all house-roasted coffee instead of Kumquat’s guest roasters, but they haven’t shed any of the Highland Park original’s unique perspective and attention to detail. Their specialty drinks are a marvel, ranging from bright and fun like the Caribbean Tonic with pineapple, coconut, tonic water, and espresso, to rich and dessert-driven, like the Mascarpone, a cold drink with milk, muscovado syrup, house-made cheese foam, cacao nibs, and espresso.
How to order: Walk-ins only.
Broadly speaking, coffee shop trends have evolved towards better coffee and at the same time towards a crowded, less comfortable environment. Please Enjoy, the new Santa Monica shop from bar impresario Jared Meisler and producer Marius Markevicius, aims to reverse the second part of that trend. Their space is warm and welcoming, designed to be a reliable place for locals to meet up, chat, and for people to sit for extended stretches and work. The wifi is good, the food menu is straightforward, and the drinks are playful and fun, the kind of thing that draws you in even among other work-friendly coffee shops. There are lattes in flavors like Maple Horchata, Orange Mocha, Honey Rose, and the turmeric, ginger, and lemon-infused Golden Sunrise. But best of all are the coffee slushies, Mocha, Vanilla, or Caramel espresso drinks blended with oat milk into the consistency of a summertime slurpee.
How to order: Walk in or order for pickup or delivery through Toast.
Bloom and Plume
Lots of coffee shops have style, but there are no other coffee shops that rock like Bloom and Plume. Maurice Harris’ exuberant, elegant, luxurious storefront is bright and beautiful and a little chaotic, and it doubles as a floral studio, a fashion line, and an art studio in addition to their elevated coffee program. The drinks match the aesthetic, with dazzling options like the Blood Orange Cold Brew with a hit of cayenne and vegan oat cream, and the Cardi P, a pistachio, cardamom, and rose latte that comes in a lovely green gradient with a scattering of pistachios and rose petals on top.
How to order: Walk in or order online.
If you are searching for pure milkshake-style coffee indulgence, Dayglow’s specialty drinks are not your best bet. Instead, the super hip multi-roaster shop has a menu that emphasizes complexity and spice, layers of flavors in unique combinations like hickory-smoked coffee, hibiscus campari, and pinot grapes in The Belafonte. Plenty of drinks are still purely delicious—their take on the Puerto Rican Christmas drink Coquito is particularly fun, with coconut, orange zest, spices, and espresso—but the emphasis is not on sugar, as it so often is elsewhere. Don’t miss the Totoro, with activated charcoal, black sesame, and orange; or the Warhol, with espresso, cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus.
How to order: Walk in or order ahead online.
Chitchat Coffee & Matcha
Sawtelle is home to an extremely dense concentration of restaurants and coffee shops, but even among great company, Chitchat stands out. Their straightforward coffee and matcha are nice, but the signature drinks are truly wild—the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte is not just a latte with cinnamon, but is actually infused with a house-made Cinnamon Toast Crunch oat milk to form the base of the drink. They also make their own syrups for the Banana Bread Latte and the Sugar Free S’Mores Latte, as well as for their seasonal drinks like an essential take on the PSL. And if espresso isn’t your cup of tea, you can also get all of their far-out drinks made with their ceremonial-grade matcha.
How to order: Walk-ins only.
You may not be drawn to Azucanela for the coffee at first—it is primarily a churreria, with excellent made-to-order churros. But as it turns out, their coffee drinks are the churros’ equal. The drinks are lavish and fun, with lattes in big flavors like Mazapan, Horchata, Pistachio, Abuelita, and Rose. They also come iced, or—if you’re really ready to treat yourself—as a frappe, blended up and topped with whipped cream and ribbons of caramel syrup. For something a little more restrained but no less delicious, the Cafe de Olla is well-spiced and not so cloying.
How to order: Walk in or order ahead online for any of their three locations.
If it seems like Fence’s specialty drink menu reads a little like a cocktail menu, there’s good reason for that—the duo behind the coffee shop are former bartenders, and they continue to innovate and serve non-alcoholic takes on cocktails at Fence. That translates to drinks like the sweet and tart Ex’s Best Friend, with cold brew, berry shrub, vanilla syrup, angostura bitters, and a cocoa powder dusting over the top. The signature latte is Black Sesame Cold Brew, and they make their own tonic water for their Espresso Tonic. They also have coffee-less drinks like Tropical Paradise with pineapple, coconut, lemon, and Earl Grey, and the fizzy and bright What The Fruit with guava, banana, citrus, and soda.
How to order: Walk in or order from the year-round menu online.
Sip & Sonder
There are so many reasons to support Sip & Sonder—they’re a Black women-owned coffee shop and roastery with stylish design, a lovely community-focused ethos, and a 501(c)(3) charitable arm called Sonder Impact, for example—but on a very basic level, they make kick ass specialty drinks. Their menu mainstays are both complex, like the rose and cardamom Cardi Rose, and strikingly beautiful, like the ONYX with vanilla and activated charcoal. And they also do seasonal specialties, including a Chai Cider Latte and a Spiced Pear Tonic, both new for this fall.
How to order: Walk in or order ahead for Inglewood pickup through Joe Coffee.