Handsome Coffee Roasters Strip Away Specialty Coffee Conventions in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District
Owens is Handsome’s head roaster, and he went with a Probat UG-22 from 1956, stripped down to bare metal, fully restored, repainted and rechromed in Belgium. Why this machine? “It has a lot of airflow control, and it has separate motors for cooling and roasting, so when you’re pulling air through, you can cool a batch at the same time you’re roasting a batch,” said Owens. His simpler answer was, “A lot of people that I respect use this roaster, and they make delicious coffee.”
At times, Owens will open the roastery for tours, and possibly classes, but this will primarily be his domain for roasting and cupping, visible from a standing bar just beyond the wire-frame glass.
When hiring baristas, Phillips didn’t focus on prior experience. “That probably wouldn’t even be in the top 5 of things that we look for. First off is hospitality,” he says. “How does this person feel to us in their ability to make me comfortable? To make me want to learn more about coffee? If they have that, the skills of how to actually make a cup, and what goes into that, are far simpler than anyone makes it out to be. The most important part is that they care to learn it and uphold that standard.”
For Handsome’s menu, they stripped away everything that could possibly be ambiguous, including the words latte, macchiato and cappuccino. Phillips said, If you were to go to 15 shops, you’d get 15 different drinks, so we tossed a lot of those names out, and the menu will consist of espresso, and then 3, 5 and 10-ounce espresso and milk drinks.” They also have cold-brewed ice coffee, and two brewed coffees per day, but no sweeteners, alternative milks, tea, or decaf coffee. The only concession is that most drinks are available iced.
Phillips said, “We’ve been in coffee shops before that have had established brew methods, and we’ve done an excellent job of serving great coffee with those in the past, but one of the things we’re really trying to do right now is look at all of this as though we’ve never done it before and there is no established track record, so we’re not beholden to these patterns.”
Instead of featuring a pourover coffee bar, which has become de rigueur in specialty coffeehouses, Handsome opted for a Fetco batch brewer and a Curtis one-cup brewer. “In general, the success [of aggressive pourover bars] is very theatrical,” says Phillips.” “It’s a beautiful thing. It can engage people. They can see it and be pulled in, and that’s wonderful. The dark side, in my opinion, is that they simply are not as consistent as we want.” Owens said they plan to manage variables, “things that are typically bad about batch brewing, constantly cleaning our equipment, dialing in the batch brewers every day, checking dose and doing lots of tasting.” Their choice of espresso machine was more clear-cut: a custom three-group La Marzocco with a Linea body.
When asked how important it was for them to differentiate between other coffeehouses, Owens said, “It wasn’t, because there are a lot of people doing good work, and what was important to us was that we do the work that we wanted to do, and build what we wanted to build, without thinking too much of positioning or beating someone else.” Phillips took that thought one step further, calling Handsome Coffee Roasters “an amalgamation of dreams.”