I became aware of Paper or Plastik when I heard that Tony Konecny, a well known coffee blogger and industry expert, was consulting on this café just a few blocks away from the Pico-Fairfax intersection. Generally this patch of Mid-City is known only for its wide east-west boulevards of San Vicente, Pico, Olympic, and Venice. A smattering of local businesses dot the landscape, but a serious coffee bar was overdue. The real problem is that the area lacks a true social and business hub, though perhaps Little Ethiopia tries to be a hub.
The largely residential areas in between the boulevards might find a good community hub in Paper or Plastik, where its large, airy confines feel like a big loft. Walking into the café feels like a revelation, as large grated windows give way to Pico Boulevard and the expansive L.A. sky. Inside, you can find sweeping wooden accents and unrefined steel beams. A minimalist Syneso two-group espresso machine greets you to the right, along with a few clipboards that reveal the drip-bar coffee menu and espresso menu. A staircase going up to the boutique shop fills the middle of the room while the sides contain weathered wooden tables and globular incandescent lights. If you step in the early evening you can hear gentle piano tunes coming from the dance studio next door, where nimble ballerinas strut their skills.
I’ve had many a conversation about the coffee industry with Tony, whom I met during my numerous tasting sessions at Silver Lake Wine. Tony was one of the guys that helped develop Intelligentsia Silver Lake nearly three and a half years ago and remains a known figure in the western U.S. coffee industry. After I asked him where he’d been for the better part of this year, he responded by saying everywhere along the west coast (San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, among others). Knowing Tony’s incredible knowledge of coffee, I knew that Paper or Plastik was going to be an excellent place.
It took nearly a year and a half to build out the space, which is rife with artistic appointments. The door is covered with a Mondrian-esque wrought iron guard while the outside tables feature all-steel construction. The industrial motif extends to the restroom, where the floor encases a design made by the artist who did all of the metal work for the café.
Most impressive might be the 4-port drip stations that hold the Hario ceramic cone brewers that are all the rage amongst artisan coffee houses these days. The price-conscious method is the aesthetic and mechanical opposite of the previously esteemed Clover brewer that had its time in the spotlight a few years ago when Intelligentsia and La Mill first opened in L.A. The five-figure machine seems to have fallen out of favor because of its heavy maintenance, high learning curve, and obvious high cost. Perhaps the real reason why Hario brewers mark the new wave of coffee culture in L.A. is that it makes brewing accessible to the public. It takes the mystique out of a good cup instead of shrouding it behind a massive steel machine that’s more 22nd century.
In contrast, these new artisan coffee bars and shops are going “old school” with the cone brewer, siphon brewer (actually from the mid-century) and Chemex (though the Eva Café Solo brewer’s sleek Scandinavian heritage pokes its head up as well).
Like Intelligentsia Pasadena, at Paper or Plastik, expect your water to be weighted and brewed with the proper technique – first with the warm-to-hot “rinse” of the filter to take out any taste of the paper, then the initial “bloom” that allows the coffee to swell before the rest of the water is poured in a circular fashion to “agitate” the grinds. Below, your brewed coffee goes into a glass kettle and eventually an Intelligentsia-designed Black Cat Project cup that “aids the barista in the perfect pour and balances effortlessly in the drinker’s hand.” I tend to agree – these wonderful ceramic cups (which are also very expensive) do lend to a better coffee drinking experience.
The by-the-cup drip program uses coffee from both Intelligentsia and Ecco Caffe, with the goal of displaying a range of single-origins options that rotate regularly to pique the interest of avid coffee drinkers. On one occasion, I had the more straightforward Honduran Finca La Tina, which displayed a balanced, quintessential flavor while a cup of Kenyan Kangocho (also from Ecco) carried more complex characteristics. Espresso drinks use Intelligentsia's Black Cat blend and are brewed using a two-group Syneso machine that's quickly becoming the Boeing 737 or the BMW 3 series of the espresso world - ubiquitous, reliable, and excellent. Tony made me (as he called) a competition-worthy cappuccino that might have been one of the best I've ever had. It certainly makes for a stunning photo.
Expect small sandwiches and side salads from HeirloomLA, as well as miscellaneous pastries from Cake Monkey and Sweets for the Soul from Atwater Village. More than anything, relish the beautiful, peaceful space that’s a true urban oasis. And don’t forget to tip your barista.
Paper or Plastik Cafe
5772 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90019
7AM - 10PM