So...what was your last day at 'Handsome' like?
My last day at Handsome Coffee was quite mellow and inconspicuous. It started off normal, but with the most enjoyable driving experience going past all the ever-changing street art amongst the Downtown LA's (DTLA) art districts and industrial buildings. It sure set the tone for this independent coffee darling, hidden within the neighborhood.
The original plan for my day was, a Handsome Coffee community cupping, which sadly I'd discovered, was canceled once I arrived. There were no banners or crowds of people, nor any magical coffee fairies or media. Just a handful of super fans and the usual regulars. It was to my surprise when I walked in, to find plenty of open seating and shelves with only a handful of merchandise. Everyone was dressed in 'Handsome' aprons, and all the signs were up and no one made any mention to the change until I'd asked. It's hard to grasp the reality of an overnight coffee shop's success being bought out by the big wigs, yet still retain its integrity -- even though, one can't really complain when the big wig is Blue Bottle Coffee.
If you're unfamiliar with Handsome's amazing success story, it's all due to three famous men of the LA coffee scene: Tyler Wells, Chris Owens and the best of them all, Michael Phillips. Just so you know, Michael is the first and only American to win the world barista championship - in 2010. He has been with Handsome through all its stages of growth and of course was walking around the shop on this wonderful day. I'm a lucky girl! Their winning formula of specialty coffee put them as part of the "top 5 coffee shops" to visit on everyone's list from LA Weekly, The New Yorker, Epicurious, etc. And whenever there was a coffee competition, everyone compared themselves to Handsome, as if they're the unanimous, perfect 10 on a judge's scale. It would then only make sense that if someone could merge with this powerhouse product and brand, then why wouldn't they?
Back to the reality of my last day of the shop now... I took in the energy of the place and then went with my usual dealers choice on the beverages. But since it was 80 degrees out, I did request it to at least be iced. My barista was the only Handsome original there, while her two assistants were pulled over from Blue Bottle to help with the transition. She gave me a New Orleans style Iced Coffee, which is coffee that's cold-brewed for 12 hours with roasted chicory, sweetened with organic cane sugar, and then a little pour of whole milk on top. I’m pretty sure this is a drink popular with Blue Bottle, but I couldn’t complain. It was of course delicious -- not too sweet, and tasted overwhelmingly strong of coffee. This is due to the chicory, which I found out, is a wild blue dandelion found in France and South Africa. Chopped up, dried and then roasted, chicory is often a coffee substitute actually. I believe because of the flavor, not necessarily because it produces caffine. Just ask your local specialist about that one! It's sort of like when you add lemon exract in your lemon bars to help out the lemony-ness to it. It tastes like lemon but doesn’t have original properties a real lemon has.
I took my drink to the counter and quickly striked up conversations making friends with locals, baristas and Blue Bottle execs a like, while everyone enjoyed the amazing customer support and warm air of the day. It was a poetic ending for such a strong and reputable shop, represented by bold, distinctive branding that gained epic achievements, to then be packed-in a humble building without much of a banging ending. I got my worth of laughs and stories from everyone, leaving feeling good and happy for this change. But I also felt fortunate enough to have been to Handsome Coffee, back in its glory days.
Alert! Alert! Don't you dare be disheartened if you've never been, because Handsome is still not yet completely gone. Michael, whom I met and spoke of earlier, is now the Director of Training for Blue Bottle. And to those who have yet to meet him, he'll still be found around the shop, as well as now all up and down California! He is quite friendly and if you're as star struck as I was to meet him, just ask, "What's it like to be the best barista in the WORLD?"
Also, because of its undeniable popularity, Blue Bottle LA will continue to carry the "Dandy" roast from Handsome Coffee, with no marked production ending date. Sweet!
So as the sayings go, 'gone but not forgotten' or 'so damn handsome' -- Handsome Coffee Roasters!