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Handsome Roasters Ready to Teach the Arts District About Coffee

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, July 14, 2011, at 08:39AM
Handsome Coffee Roasters Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Tyler Wells, Chris Owens and Mike Phillips of Handsome Coffee Roasters inspect beans in their Arts District headquarters.

Tyler Wells, Chris Owens and Mike Phillips enjoy the intricate details of coffee, and they are not afraid to admit it.

"We're definitely nerds about coffee," says Wells. "We're into it and we can tell you all that stuff and talk about varietals and processing method and diurnal temperatures."

The three are well known in coffee circles, and Phillips won the 2010 World Barista Championship in London.

That doesn't mean there will be a test when a customer walks into the coffee bar at Handsome Coffee Roasters, the company the trio just recently started inside an Arts District warehouse. Each left a good job with Intelligensia Coffee to start up their own venture.

"You can draw the parallel to wine," Wells explains. "People are definitely getting into wine and learning about wine, but we all know those wine snobs who rattle off a bunch of stuff that means nothing to most people."

"It comes across as a little bit arrogant, even if they have the best of intentions."

In designing their space, which is currently in the permitting process, the three set out to create an environment where a patron could get close to full process of taking green coffee beans and turning them into a perfect cup. At the center will be their 1956 Probat UG Series 22-kilo roaster, which is currently undergoing a full restoration after a six-month search located it in Belgium.

They are glad to answer questions, but only if you are interested.

"There's an education process, but you have to opt-in," says Wells. "We're not going to push it on you and we're not going to preach at you."

The coffee, they believe, can speak for itself.

"If you make a really great drink, and the product is there and it's worthwhile .. there doesn't need to be an essay or a test or anything that goes with it," says Phillips. "There can just be this really nice interaction that leaves them with something fantastic."

Don't expect to walk into Handsome and find your typical modern menu full of mochas and Frappuccinos. The three plan to offer no soy, no low-fat or non-fat milk, no syrups and no chocolates.

"We're going to have coffee and milk and I think it's going to blow a lot of people's minds," says Wells.

That may throw off some patron's ordering habits, but the three think it will be worth it.

"You might come in expecting one thing and get something else, but it's going to be delicious and you're going to enjoy it and we're not going to be jerks along the way," explains Owens.

Build-out for the coffee bar will take time, and the process of finding cafe partners interested in wholesale buys has just gotten underway, but the three are already staying busy finding beans and working on their roasts. In May, they launched the "Handsome Wager" via a simple blog post, offering followers a chance to experience the company's earliest roasts. It sold out, quickly.

"I guess I wrote it about 12:30am and I was up until 2:30 just answering emails as they came in," recalls Wells. "It was just instant. We filled that program up in about six hours."

A followup wager is now underway, and the trio are preparing to start a series of "Saturday Socials," inviting neighbors to visit the warehouse, taste some coffee and walk off with a bag of freshly-roasted beans.

They will be at the Helms Bakery this weekend for their first public appearance, participating in the Eat Real Festival. They are excited, but also hustling to get ready.

"It's our first public outing. We're prepared--ish," says Wells. "It's a really great venue for us because it's a focus on the craft of food."

The three believe Los Angeles is uniquely suited for what Handsome is offering, precisely because of that focus on craft.

"Everyone here is practicing a craft, in one way or another," says Owens. "Everyone is constantly trying to refine their acting, or trying to refine their writing, or their clothes design, or their printmaking skills, and they get very excited about the details of their craft and how to make it better. They kind of understand that we're doing the same thing."

"That's what we're here to express. This is our craft, and that's how we're trying to portray it: 'This is what we're super-excited to serve you, and we hope you'll try it out and give it a shot.'"

To keep up with Handsome Coffee Roasters, visit their website at handsomecoffee.com or follow them on Twitter at @HandsomeRoaster.

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