REVIEW: Tilt blends hot and cold in coffee

It’s not hard to find great coffee in Los Angeles. In Downtown, a high-end coffee bar, low-key diner or chaotic Starbucks are never more than a few hundred meters away from each other, and more are popping up every month.

What is rare, however, is a truly unique coffee experience, and Tilt Coffee Bar offers just that. In a sea of competitors, Tilt differentiates itself with a gorgeous location, quality ingredients and its one-of-a-kind signature drink, the cloud mocha.

Tucked behind a wall of apartments on the corner of 4th and Main Streets, the small coffee bar is situated on a grassy courtyard with striking views of the L.A. skyline.

The interior is small, sleekly designed and airy, with stainless steel accents and a warm-colored wooden bar, but the wide expanse of outdoor seating gives customers plenty of room to enjoy their coffee and pastries.

The intentional design and higher-range prices — most small drinks were around $4 — signal that this is not a simple coffee shop for a quick caffeine fix. Rather, it’s more well-suited for sitting and savoring a drink, and the sun-drenched patio is perfect for lounging with a latte on a slow afternoon.

Tilt serves a full menu of espresso drinks and filter coffee from Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore. as well as teas from San Francisco-based Red Blossom Teas, and sells pastries from DTLA mainstay Bread Lounge.

Owners Suk Hong and Kyu Choi opened Tilt on the last day of 2016. The two decided to open a shop together after Hong left the world of architecture design — although he did design the shop’s warm interior — and work with Choi, a decorated barista with six years of experience in the L.A. coffee scene.

As they developed the concept for the shop, Choi traveled to Canada, Japan and Korea for research and development. A particular experience in a Korean coffee shop soon developed into Tilt’s signature drink.

“Korea has a lot of differently styled cafes with dessert coffee or different focuses in their coffee shops,” Choi said. “I ordered hot coffee, but there was cold cream inside of it, and I was like ‘Wow, this is very unique.’”

Intrigued by the idea of contrasting a cold, creamy element with a warm, bitter one, he began experimenting.

“I just bought tons of milk and tried it myself, and I just made it up,” Choi said. “I didn’t ask them for any recipe, I just imagined it in my palate and tried tons of different things.”

The resulting drink, called the cloud mocha, is made with warm espresso, milk and chocolate, with a dollop of cold, lightly whipped cream added in a large white dot in the center of the cup.

The cloud mocha is served in a small, eight ounce cup, while its counterpart, the cloud latte is comparably larger.

As with all great coffee drinks, the first sip is the best: The hot and cold elements enter the mouth simultaneously, contrasting each other before mixing into a sweet froth.

“A lot of people are really surprised because of that contrast, it’s very unique and only Tilt has it,” said Choi, who made it to the quarterfinals of the Latte Art World Championship Open in October 2016.

He said that he named the drink because of its unique presentation.

“The creamy white part is like a little white cloud floating on top of the coffee,” Choi said. “It’s kind of a cute name.”

An iced version, the cloud latte, is also available, and features a layer of cream and ice floating above the espresso in a tall glass. In the cloud latte, the chocolate is replaced by maple syrup, creating a more traditional, less dessert-like flavor. 

Though the latte is iced and will surely attract overheated customers in the coming spring months, the warm, original cdloud mocha should not be passed over.

“I made the cloud mocha first and then a lot of people wanted iced coffee because L.A. is usually so hot,” Choi said.

Because of the contrasting temperatures within the signature drink, the cloud mocha stands out in comparison to the latte. The flavor from the cloud latte is not as impressionable; its taste is comparable to lattes found in other L.A. coffee joints.

Together, the cloud mocha and the cloud latte are two of the most unique and enjoyable cups of coffee in Los Angeles.

“These two are new to the community,” Hong said. “There is no drink like this in L.A., and that’s really compelling for coffee lovers.” 

Combined with the peaceful location in the midst of downtown’s bustling core, Tilt Coffee Bar is an essential experience for any coffee nerd in search of a truly unparalleled cup.