September 08, 2010

Paper or Plastik Cafe - Los Angeles, CA - Serious Coffeehouse in Mid City

Good coffee is finally becoming city-wide reality, with places like Intelligentsia Venice and Pasadena marking the western and eastern boundaries. In between you can find places such as Cognoscenti in Eagle Rock, Café De Leche in Highland Park, Cafecito Organico in Silver Lake, Intelligentsia Silver Lake, La Mill in Silver Lake, Spring for Coffee in Downtown, Commissary in West Hollywood and Espresso Cielo in Santa Monica. There’s still a glaring need in the middle parts of the city.


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.

mac user

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.

mac couple

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.

hario brewers

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.

hario v60

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.

heirloomla sandwiches baked goods

Paper or Plastik Cafe
5772 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90019
7AM - 10PM


gourmetpigs said...

I really like the decor based on your photos (and power plugs! Yay!)
Not that I'm in Mid-city that much anymore - wish it was there when I used to tutor around there.

coffeeind said...

What about Drip Bar? I saw them at the Renegade Craft Fair and FYF serving Blue Bottle Coffee with the filter cones. They are new and in LA.

mattatouille said...

fiona: this place is a laptop paradise now. check it out if you're ever in the area.

coffeeind: I'm going to check out drip bar soon, but honestly my opinion of blue bottle is not very high. The two times I had it, I thought the coffee was way too strong. Also, I wasn't too impressed with the espresso drinks at the Ferry Building blue bottle. Still I'm willing to give them a shot at Drip Bar to see if anything's changed. My expectations aren't high though.

Ben said...

More california coffee shops seem to be getting intelligentsia coffee. Great to see that happening.

Lori Lynn said...

Sounds like a lovely place.
Great photos Matt!