Coffee Shops: True Brew

What better way to catch up with friends, or finish a compelling novel, than over a fine cuppa joe?

No matter your taste, these 11 indie coffee havens impress.

There are places for a quick cup of coffee, and then there are coffeehouses. These act as living rooms, study halls, rendezvous points. The best have excellent service, an engaging atmosphere, and drinks suited to a variety of tastes. It’s a lot to ask. But lucky for us, Orange County has plenty that fit the bill.

1. Cafecito Organico
Newly opened, the O.C. branch of the beloved L.A. coffeehouse has found its niche at The Lab. With a focus on Guatemalan roasts and signature drinks such as the Global Warming ($5)—a sugarcane-infused latte—as well as desserts from Blackmarket Bakery, it’s quickly and quietly winning over coffee aficionados. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 949-791-7058,  

2. Lost Bean
If years of Starbucks runs weigh on your conscience, let this place be your salvation. Environmentally conscious, philanthropic (30 percent of profits go to charity), and fully organic, you might dismiss it as a hippie hideaway if it weren’t for the chic setup and elevated taste. Lattes ($3) and mochas ($3) in flavors such as banana, hazelnut, and raspberry, plus a to-die-for quiche ($6) are merely evidence of karma. 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, 714-544-2584,

3. Sweet Elle
Dying to try Vietnamese iced coffee but don’t want to drive to Little Saigon? This version of the sweet-yet-intense drink ($3), made with condensed milk, is offered along with other favorites such as a sea-salted caramel mocha ($4) and a variety of frappes ($4), all in an ambience modeled after Greenwich Village cafes. 7251 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-841-1270,

4. Alta Coffee Warehouse
Converted from an old bookstore in 1985, this roasting house feels like a storybook ship’s galley. The interior is mostly wood, the staff is chummy, and the drinks are hearty and comforting. The standout toffee latte ($3) arrives overflowing with whipped cream and toffee bits. Located blocks from the beach, this is a great spot to grab breakfast before hitting the sand. 506 31st St., Newport Beach, 949-675-0233,

5. Milk + Honey
Give your soul a rest at this hip, serene alcove at The Camp. Lavender Latte ($3) in hand, head to the garden area to sink into a couch, take a deep breath, and “forget” to check your email while you contemplate ordering some chocolate baklava ($3.50). 2981 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-708-0092

6. Portola
The elaborate centerpiece of the OC Mart Mix has been at the top of everyone’s list since it opened last year, and for good reason. The coffee is unfathomably good, the service surprisingly unpretentious. Now with a new specialty bar (see Page 152), it’s clear we’ll be in their clutches for some time to come. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-284-0596,

7. Freesoulcaffé
The vegan drinks and pastries of this romantic Old Town hideaway are among the county’s best. Sit on the covered patio by the fountain, dunk a green tea-pistachio biscotti ($3) into the coffee of your choice—Spanish mocha, cappuccino, matcha latte ($4 each)—and see for yourself. 191 E. Main St., Tustin, 714-371-0976,

8. The Neighborhood Cup  CLOSED
Bookworms naturally gravitate toward the cozy cafe connected to the Aliso Viejo Public Library. Modestly priced drinks with names such as Writer’s Block ($2.50)—coffee mixed with hot chocolate—and the Literary Latte ($3) make it a great spot to read a novel or write one. 1 Journey, Aliso Viejo, 949-716-5100, 

9. Kéan
O.C.’s die-hard Diedrich devotees form a cult following at Kéan, but anyone who tries Martin Diedrich’s freshly roasted coffees easily is indoctrinated. From the creative foam art to the smoothness and richness of the Café Napoli ($4) and Turkish Latte ($4), this coffeehouse gets it right with substance as well as style. 2043 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, 949-642-5326,

10. Hidden House Coffee
Across the tracks from the Capistrano Depot, this yellow-and-green house sits in the Los Rios District, the oldest neighborhood in California. Coffeehouse staples are made with fresh beans roasted in small batches. Sit on the porch for a while and you’ll feel like moving in. 31791 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, 949-240-0200,

11. Class 302
Modeled after an elementary school classroom complete with desks, chalkboards, and a big wall clock, this Taiwanese coffee shop is fun for all ages. Drinks such as the iced almond latte ($3) come in one size—bucket—and are adorned with cartoons. Don’t forget your lunch money—it’s cash only. 18090 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-552-0555, 


photography by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Orange Coast magazine.

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