For the everyday coffee connoisseur, competition for consumption is at an all time high. DTLA’s third-wave scene is beautifully saturated and great coffee, while still the foundational necessity for success, is no longer enough. Cue: Coffee Colab, downtown’s low-key den going beyond the bean.
Concealed in the court that dead-ends Santee St., and with only a simple “coffee” blade-sign and wooden A-frame to inform passers-by, Coffee Colab’s off-the-beaten-path location is fitting for owners Leon Li and Williams Miyazaki. The partners have spent years in the downtown coffee scene; consulting, roasting and brewing for a variety of familiar craft coffee shops before breaking away in 2014 to create their own.
Like them, the shop exists on the darker fringes of downtown’s typically vibrant coffee areas — balanced on the Flower and Fashion Districts’ knife-edge of dirty and clean, rich and poor. They are unwaveringly local, present, and engaged. “Lots of coffee businesses think what makes the business successful is the coffee,” says Li. “I agree like 50%, but I think it’s not just the product, but the philosophy behind it.”
The incredible coffee, courtesy of Suits & Knives (Li and Miyazaki’s Japanese slow-roasting company), is what draws people to the shop, but the communal philosophy explains why at least five or six guys and girls are hanging outside the shop on crates, talking and laughing with the baristas, every time you ride past.
Coffee Colab is intentional about building relationships with the businesses and residents in their community too. “We believe that in order to have success, we should support our friends,” says Li, which is one of the reasons they stock delicious Lamke Handcrafted donuts and other locally sourced pastries and produce.
Li and Miyazaki also highly value the input of their friends and co-workers. “Everybody gets together and brings their own personality and ideas to the shop,” says Mr. Matthews, who is the production manager for Suits & Knives. “It is low-key and it is off the beaten path. I think that’s what people like about it and is why they continue to come back.”
In a bustling scene of specialty coffee purveyors — all sourcing and roasting high quality beans — people are looking for a reason to come back for more. These guys might just be it.