Something Very Nice in Venice

Remembrance of Espresso Past

Remembrance of Espresso Past

By OLIVER SCHWANER-ALBRIGHT

The tricked-out 1972 La Marzocco GS2 espresso machine that Intelligentsia has had restored for the Venice, Calif., cafe is a dazzler. With its polished walnut, glass panels and laser-engraved knobs, it’s part vintage amp, part Apple Cube and not like any other machine out there.

That’s because it also has a pedigree: it’s the first La Marzocco, from the original Starbucks cafe.

“I guess you could say it’s the starting point of North American espresso,” said Kyle Glanville, the cafe manager. “Or one of them,” he added, carefully qualifying himself.

The vintage machine will be dedicated to pulling single-origin shots. But for all its flash it’s one of the cafe’s more conventional components.

Coffee Shop Innovation
Instead of a counter, four Synessos will be mounted on hydraulically adjustable columns that swivel 360 degrees (think barber’s chair). Instead of giving an order to a cashier, waiting patrons will be approached by a barista.

The idea, according to Mr. Glanville, is to get the barista and client talking: rather than passively watching the coffee assembly line to do its thing, you can chat about seasonal microlot coffees, or what to try on the Clover, or if Manny Ramirez will put up the same numbers he had last year with the Dodgers.

And if there’s some Hollywood spectacle to the setup, locals have always enjoyed a little showmanship. Just look at Lamill.

“Los Angeles is really open to new ideas,” Mr. Glanville said. “I’m inspired by coffee bars in Japan, and I wanted to bring some of that here.”

And that just might be the most succinct assessment of where specialty coffee (or, forgive me, the Third Wave) is moving: after decades of imitating the coffee cultures of Italy and France, the United States is now looking to Japan.

Japan, coffee geeks know, has arguably the most sophisticated scene anywhere. It’s also the world’s third largest importer of coffee, well ahead of Italy and France.

The cafe’s address is 1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, Calif.

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