Jutted at the end of Astronaut E.S. Onizuka Street and San Pedro Street, Café Demitasse seems like any other posh, modern coffee shop in Little Tokyo.
The first thing you see upon entering are two sets of long glass and bronze contraptions that look straight out of an 18th century science laboratory. They’re in fact special Japanese slow-dripping coffee makers that require at least 18 hours to extract a dark, smooth, chocolate-like concoction called Kyoto coffee.
The small cafe, opened by former lawyer and USC alumnus Bobak Roshan in late August, is not another Starbucks wannabe or cute-themed Asian cafe. Café Demitasse loves its coffee and takes it very, very seriously.
Unlike cafes such as Intelligentsia, which has earned a feverish fan base, Café Demitasse is stripped of all the avant-garde egoism of the new artisanal coffee places. It might showcase lots of fancy coffee-making gadgets and sleek interior design, but owner Roshan’s mission for his cafe is simple: He just wants to serve the perfect cup of joe.
Café Demitasse buys from San Rafael-based Equator Coffees and Teas and a rotating guest selection from Los Angeles-based coffee roasters. Accordingly, the menu is simple and limited; every hot beverage is ground and brewed to order, either in a siphon filter or a Clever full-immersion coffee dripper.
If you order the siphon-style coffee, make sure to sit at the Aroma Bar, a mini counter where you can see, smell and hear the ball-shaped glass carafe (also called vacpot) of water steaming over halogen light bulbs.
The 18-hour slow-dripped Kyoto iced coffee is made ahead of time, for obvious reasons, and is served in a sake bottle that separates ice cubes from coffee so the coffee is preserved as iced coffee instead of melting into coffee with extra water.
The flavor is unlike any iced coffee you can get at a commercial coffee shop. Clean and robust yet fragrantly sweet, the Kyoto iced coffee is like the bitter liquid extract of high-quality dark chocolate. If cacao beans could ever be pressed into wine, it would taste like this.
The coffees here are given the same thought and care as a good wine tasting bar. Café Demitasse recommends pairing different coffee with specific desserts. The floral tones of Tanzania Peaberry Kanyovu brewed in a siphon filter, for example, are accentuated with a Jasmine tea truffle from Compartes Chocolatier. Meanwhile, the smokiness and darkness of El Salvador Finca El Salaverria coffee becomes more pronounced with a Cardamom Pear truffle.
All desserts are purveyed from small Los Angeles-based businesses like Santa Monica’s Farmshop, Venice’s Jin Patisserie and Batch from Scratch bakery, operated by former Masterchef contestant Esther Kang.
Like a lab, Café Demitasse is always experimenting with new coffee beans, desserts and beverages. It offers seasonal menus; the current summer menu features interesting cold drinks like iced mint Cubano (an energizing mix of fresh mint, espresso and milk sweetened slightly with Demerara sugar) and iced shiso green tea (a refreshing, unsweetened blend of vibrant shiso leaves and lemon-ginseng green tea).
The cafe is currently working to perfect the lavender hot chocolate — a thick, intense blend of cocoa, steamed milk and lavender extract that tastes like melted-down lavender truffle. The drink is not yet on the menu, but the baristas will whip one up upon request.
Café Demitasse makes every drink to go as well, but take the time to sit down and relax. It’s more than a grab-and-go shop; it also doubles as a lounge where you can sit for hours and chat with baristas, or as a comfortable study room where you can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi without all the usual background noise of blenders and loud music. Plus, the mugs they serve their coffee and teas in are funky and cool.
It might just be coffee, but at Café Demitasse, the humble cup of java takes on multiple dimensions. It’s no longer just a beverage, but a unique experience of delicious and wonderful senses. Here, coffee buzzes you in more ways than just caffeine can.