Finding a new shop is one of my key motivations for pursuing coffee and writing these reviews. Looking for the my favorite pour over or a barista capable of “the god shot” is of course pivitol, but so is finding the perfect space and the right people to connect with. Chains, they’re all the same right? Once you visit one, you’ve seen em all. Convenient, consistent, and a bit trite. Artisan coffee companies, by contrast, usually have only a handful of stores that are in relatively close geographic proximity to one another. As of 2012, Intelligentsia has eleven stores spread across the United States. However, you cannot be satisfied by visiting just one; each store has its own unique concept, aesthetic, and value.
Visiting Intelligentsia, for me, has almost turned into something like a scavenger hunt. I first visited the Venice store earlier this year and was enthralled by their concept. After doing a little research, I learned that every store is consciously designed differently and has unique flare, brewing methods, and (of course) character. I am now motivated by my desire to collect all 150 Pokem… I mean, visit as many stores as possible, starting with Southern California, to experience all that Intelligentsia has to offer.
Entering the Pasadena location was like entering an entirely new shop, rediscovering Intelligentsia as if it was my first visit. This store was had an elegant, upscale feel that was a sight to behold, as far as coffee shops are concerned. The bar, machinery, and decor were ergonomically and aesthetically meshed together harmoniously to bolster this image. But, just like Venice, the Pasadena store had an extra something that made it resolutely stand out amoungst “normal” coffee shops and against other Intelligentsia locations; it had a full wine-bar that offered wines, beer on tap, and small edibles. Classy.
I engaged in a wonderful conversation with the baristas. We talked about their Synesso Hydras, Chemex techniques, and about which of their beans was “good for the region.” I couldn’t decide which pour over offering to try, so I figured I would have the one my barista felt was the most unique/well roasted. The staff all eventually picked up on the fact I was a barista and treated me like a friend. Even the vibe from the staff was different than Venice; they acted (and appeared) less like baristas and more like bartenders, ready to have a conversation, offer advice, and serve a great drink.
Ultimately, the overall concepts between these two stores is similar yet very different, and the same can be said of all Inteligentsia’s impressive establishments. While the absolute goal of delivering amazing coffee professionally is present at every shop, the atmosphere, approach, experience, staff, equipment in use, and methodology makes every location unique. This deliberate divergence makes every visit to a new store like a brand new adventure.
That feeling of finding a new spot and an amazing new bean to become infatuated keeps me going, and I am sure the same is true for others. The fact that I can rely on Intelligentsia’s sterling reputation for quality and service should be compelling enough for me to visit every store. But the fact that I can able to relive that moment, that instant uncontrollable excitement and anticipation, again and again in some fashion with each shops’ sovereign concept, aesthetic, and appeal will entice even the most skeptical and turn them into believers.
Intelligentsia Cafe55 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91103