"Wind and Water," if you're wondering. Viento y Agua is an art gallery-turned-coffee shop, still housing artwork on every wall (for sale). It has some day-of-the-dead elements to the place, but this is first and foremost NOT a third-wave coffee shop, in the owner's words. I sat down with founder & owner Bela over a rave-reviewed Mexican mocha (thinking, it's another cinnamon-y mocha, right? Wrong!) and he gave me the history on his 15-year old space (the oldest coffee shop in Long Beach).
Bela was in the film biz, and every day he would get to shoots a couple hours early to go to a new coffee shop nearby and just sit, drink coffee and enjoy the ambiance. When his best friend opened V&A as an art gallery, Bela had the idea to add a coffee shop in the space, and so eight months later, in July 2004, Viento y Agua the coffee shop opened. "It was a ghost town before we opened, there were no coffee shops anywhere nearby," he says. "We came in on the second wave of coffee shops with Starbucks."
People from all over come to hang out here, though they initially set out to be just the "neighborhood coffee shop." Bela's watched kids from the school across the street grow up as they came in every day after the bell rang. So how did V&A evolve?...
Bela drove from Long Beach to Santa Monica looking for the best roaster, and found them: Rocky Roasters. Now they use Copa Vida, but no matter what Bela stresses the importance of "doing it right," whatever it is. His favorite coffee origin is Guatemala, so that's something they usually have on tap. He mentioned that there's a lot of older customers who like the ol' fashioned first/second wave coffee (think Folgers, then Starbucks/Peet's), so he keeps medium and dark roasts around especially for them, and Latin American coffees suit a universal coffee flavor-profile.
The best thing to come out of owning V&A? "Relationships."
My ratings for Viento y Agua:
Study spot? 5 stars
Quality pour over? N/A
Espresso? 5 stars
Seating? 4 stars
First date spot? 4 stars
Customer Service? 5 stars
Hip. Bright. Vegetarian options galore. Why haven't I written about this popular spot sooner?
I've never had a great experience here, unfortunately. I gave them three or four tries over the last couple years, but the attitude is a big turn-off for me, which is why I'm adding to my ratings scale: Customer Service. I can understand one, maybe two times, just being bad luck with whomever was serving me, but every time my visit has either been met with negativity or with total apathy. It's a shame, really, because they have such a lovely spot, good coffee and great espresso! With the Long Beach coffee scene getting pretty competitive, this branch of Portfolio Coffeehouse better up its game.
Illy is their main drip coffee, so I don't usually get it since that's not unique to their shop. The espresso is the way to go, here. My last time here I had a latte with whole milk, and received a lovely cup with a rosetta design. It was smooth, if a bit hot on the tongue. The espresso felt lighter than average, but it went well with the milk's sugars. Another thing I'd recommend, despite not recommending the shop for an experience, is the Mexican chocolate mocha. Many shops have something like this now, but theirs is one that stuck out to me as on point. There are few outlets here, but if you get lucky you can snag one out of the floor under their long communal wood table. Seating here is sort of ridiculous-- as you can only take certain seats depending on what you're getting... I.E., only the front few spots for drinks, but all the back spots and outdoors if you're eating there.
My ratings for Berlin Bistro:
Study spot? 2 stars
Quality pour over? 2 stars
Espresso? 4 stars
Seating? 3 stars
First date spot? 2 stars
Customer Service? 1 star
Feature: Linden Public in Long Beach
On the corner of Linden and Broadway sits my new favorite study spot: Linden Public.
This is a gem hidden in plain sight, I can't believe it took me so long to finally visit! For starters, there's plenty of parking out front, if you know LB, you know that's practically unheard of. Second-- and the best part, is the interior, and upstairs views of art-deco buildings that surround the intersection, palm trees and the breeze from floor-to-ceiling windows. This place has everything you could ask for, and more: a walk-up window if you're just stopping by, WiFi (of course), lots of outlets, comfy seating and normal bar seating, views, an ocean breeze, a long, wooden communal table (the hipster staple), great coffee and friendly baristas! I only worked there for a few hours, but I already have a favorite seat and drink-- the upstairs corner with two floor outlets, and the rosewater mocha. If you happen to visit and you're hungry, be sure to sit outside in the street, which they've commandeered (and have musicians perform).
Next visit: brunch! (As recommended!)
My ratings for Linden Public:
Feature: Commodity in Long Beach
If you can't tell by my Instagram, I'm drinking my way through Long Beach. I was excited when Commodity opened, because it signaled LB was becoming a real coffee-capital competitor to San Diego, San Fran and LA. Unfortunately the one time I went to actually work, their WiFi was down, but crafty as they are, they had an alternative for me. There aren't many outlets or seats in the shop, but I've never seen it get crowded (on a week day anyhow). I've had two drip coffees, one I didn't care for and one very citrus-y Ethiopian I liked, as well as an O.K. mocha. I'm going to come back for another coffee and espresso, so the jury's out on a final rating, but the baristas are cool, the music choice is great (think 500 Days of Summer soundtrack) and the ambiance is clean and inviting. Considering it's proximity to CSULB, I'll be back, at least for a to-go cup!
My ratings for Commodity:
Feature: Recreational in Long Beach
Brick walls, real small. You could walk right past Recreational Coffee without knowing it, and that would be a real shame! Recreational is one of the most established shops in Long Beach, without a doubt. I sat down with owners Bobby and Corenne Hernandez to hear about the shop's history, and why they chose Long Beach for their (first) brick-and-mortar.
Bobby saw the demand for third-wave coffee in Long Beach, and pounded pavement to do research on if that was the city to settle in. He went around asking people, "Where do you get your coffee now?" "Would you be willing to pay a couple dollars more for a high quality cup?" "How do you feel about big chain coffee shops?" The response was great, and thus Recreational was born.
While I sat with them, I tried several different drinks, to break away from my constant Ethiopian, black. The "iced basilfruit," made with a Kenya iced coffee, fresh basil and fruit syrups, the espresso milkshake and of course, the Ethiopian Gesha (all amazing).
Bobby came up with the name, "Recreational Coffee" easily. "Some people do sports or cannabis-- we do coffee, recreationally," said Bobby. Another part of the name is the atmosphere he and Corenne have created. No snobbery, no "fast-food" type service, just fun and happy: In Bobby's words, "we require baristas to act like everyone drove four hours to get here. Being authentic is the key to it."
My ratings for Recreational:
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My ratings scale is as follows: