Going Three for Three: L'Epicerie's Revamped Coffee Bar
T. Nguyen cappuccino at L'Epicerie Market
Nearly nine months after opening L'Epicerie Market in Culver City, and, yes, owner Thierry Perez is still there. Perhaps not surprisingly however, the man noted for his "culinary ADD" is still tinkering and improving his French restaurant-slash-market-slash-cafe. His one-stop shop is two-thirds of the way towards being everything he envisioned: the restaurant, he feels, is doing well with its classic French dishes and popular brunch menu. The market, particularly the wine section that relies on his experience as a sommelier, also is thriving. Until recently, it was his coffee bar that he felt needed a jolt. And so, he focused his trifurcated vision on L'Epicerie's bean counter.
The first step was to find the perfect coffee to complement the market's bistro atmosphere. Perez sampled many a brew until he finally picked Weaver's Coffee, a San Rafael-based roastery started by a veteran roaster at Peet's Coffee & Tea. Perez chose Weaver's Coffee in large part because of the company's commitment to sourcing organic, certified fair trade beans. Owner John Weaver's enthusiasm for his product was the clincher: "John is passionate about his product from A to Z. All the way. I want to work with that kind of person."
Weaver's own passion for coffee goes back almost 30 years, when he apprenticed under none other than the father of specialty coffee, Mr. Alfred Peet himself. Weaver eventually became the head roaster at the storied coffee company. A few years ago, he "got the itch" to start his own company and left to roast his own brand of beans. In a nod to his mentor, one of Alfred Peet's original roasters stands at the entrance of Weaver's cafe in San Rafael.
As head roaster at Peet's, Weaver often cupped (coffee jargon for tasting various coffees for acidity, quality, aroma, and other features in a bean) up to 200 coffees a day and roasted hundreds of pounds of coffee every hour. This experience taught him how to evaluate and bring out certain flavor profiles of each bean and, importantly, how to keep his roasts consistent.
"Through years of experience roasting coffee, I learned when to hit the sweet spots during the roast -- the point in time when you decide whether or not to manipulate the momentum of the roast. When I roast, I have control over the heat and airflow at any point, and therefore can ultimately stop the process when I deem necessary."
At his own company, he roasts in much smaller batches, sticking with the Peet's tradition of favoring darker, robust roasts over the current trend amongst artisan roasters to create lighter, more fruity coffees. He also developed a unique roasting style, one that he would not elaborate on further. He only hinted, "If Mr. Peet knew how I was doing the roasts, he would roll over in his grave!"
At L'Epicerie, lead barista Harry Krigel promises to do justice to Mr. Weaver's beans. "I want to bring SCAA-standard coffee to L'Epicerie," Krigel says, referring to the Specialty Coffee Association of America's strict standards and procedures that are the benchmark for many a craft coffee shop. Pointing out that several members of the staff, including himself, serve as judges at SCAA's Barista Championship events and teach at the association's regional espresso workshops, he's focused on raising L'Epicerie's coffee bar. "People think espresso should be a painful experience, but it really should be pleasant to the palate. We have great coffee here. It won't be painful to drink."
T. Nguyen Harry Krigel behind L'Epicerie's coffee bar.
Both Perez and Krigel are keen on adapting L'Epicerie's coffee bar to the city's burgeoning coffee culture in a friendly, approachable environment stripped of the snobbiness associated with too many a specialty coffee shop. Personal attention to each cup and focus on the customer's experience will be paramount. As Perez insists, "If you take time to make the food, you should take the time to make the coffee." Drip coffee is individually brewed to order in Timolino Modified drippers, a cone similar to a Clever coffee dripper in that allows a barista to immerse the coffee grounds in hot water and brew a clean, sediment-free cup. For those who like their coffee enough to take a bag home, John Weaver recommends brewing his beans in a Frieling or French press pot.
With the coffee program in place, Perez hopes that L'Epicerie's coffee bar will be on equal footing with the restaurant and market. "Love and passion. Love and passion," Perez repeats. "John and Harry, they both have love and passion for what they're doing. I do, too. We are going to make it happen all together."