Kumquat Coffee brews creativity and community

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The exterior of Kumquat Coffee on York Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 1, 2022. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

With its laid-back minimalist style, the eye-catching white exterior of Kumquat Coffee arrived at York Boulevard in November 2018. Austin Grainer, the head barista and the first employee at Kumquat Coffee for co-owners Scott Sohn and AJ Kim, said Kumquat Coffee adapted to the pandemic by doubling as a coffee goods store, and they now offer a wide variety of coffee beans. Grainer said Kumquat Coffee is doing well, and there is always a line.

“When a customer comes in, although we may have been serving hundreds of customers before them, that is their first experience,” Grainer said. “So we want to treat them as if they were our first customer.”

Customer Grason Caldwell, who works as a video editor near the shop, said he has spent thousands of dollars at Kumquat Coffee and has visited almost every day since the store’s opening. Caldwell said their consistent quality and rotating drink selection makes them stand out from other coffee shops.

“When I walk in, there’s the sarcastic sort of ‘look what the cat dragged in’ attitude that the baristas have with me,” Caldwell said. “They’re gruff with me as well. Which is, I guess, how I express affection.”

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A barista makes a drink at Kumquat Coffee on York Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 1, 2022. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Caldwell said everyone has three main places in their life — their home, their work and that special third place that feels equal to the other two. For him, Kumquat Coffee is that third place.

“[Kumquat Coffee] is the whole third place,” Caldwell said. “I can’t think of anywhere else.”

Caldwell said he typically orders an iced Americano, and each time, he is blown away by the first sip. Grainer agreed, and said the best order at Kumquat is an iced Americano or a cold brew.

“With that order, you are able to taste the nuance, and the actual intentionality that we put behind our espresso and our coffee,” Grainer said. “But that’s kind of a lame answer, so I’ll say the Tennessee.”

The Tennessee has hints of dark caramel, molasses and smoked salt.

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A latte at Kumquat Coffee on York Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 1, 2022. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Customer Isabella Sun, a realtor and living trust consultant, said what gets her to Kumquat Coffee over other shops in the area is their hojicha latte. A hojicha latte is earthy, sourced from Japanese green tea — a sweet but mellow drink.

“[Before entering] I feel like my brain is dead, and I’m just waiting for caffeine to revive me,” Sun said. “[The hojicha latte] is something different. I can make matcha and coffee at home, but the hojicha latte feels like a treat.”

Customer Amanda Burch said she goes to Kumquat Coffee on the weekends when life is slower and less busy. She said she enjoys their holiday drinks and their atmosphere. She also said she likes the chance to surprise Grainer, whom she met through the Glendale Presbyterian Church.

“It’s really fun just taking pictures of him, and making fun of him in front of his coworkers that I know he’s really close with,” Burch said.

Grainer said some of his closest friends work at Kumquat Coffee with him and he admires the care each employee puts into their work.

“[The baristas are] not just begrudgingly there,” Caldwell said. “They bleed creativity with the [rotating menu] that they do.”

While this is the fifth shop Grainer has worked at, he said Kumquat Coffee also attracts some of the best customers he has interacted with — a testament to the community surrounding York.

“Coffee is coffee. You can find it literally [freaking] everywhere, but I think that they bring a level of attention to detail and warmth that no other coffee place has,” Caldwell said. “If God forbid they ever had to close down, I would be so depressed. Not just for the coffee, but it’s being able to see those people every day.”

a barista at kumquat
A barista makes a drink at Kumquat Coffee on York Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 1, 2022. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Scott Sohn and AJ Kim were unable to be reached for this article.

This article was updated at 1:47 p.m. Feb. 10 to correct the church where Amanda Burch met Austin Grainer. This article also corrected that Austin Grainer previously as worked at five coffee shops, not Grason Caldwell.