Coffee and Latinx culture are intrinsically linked in many ways, but that connection goes much deeper than the fact that much of the world’s coffee beans come from farmers in Latin America. Entire economies are centered around this prized crop, and for many of us, gatherings with family and friends either begin or end with a cafecito. Café, either as a pantry staple or just as an excuse to get together for a merienda, is something that all Latin Americans can get behind, whether in their native countries or communities here in Los Angeles
LA is home to many Latinx-owned coffee shops, each one offering a variety of Latin American blends, pastries, and flavors that pay tribute to their heritage. And besides serving excellent coffee, many of the businesses use their unique platform to give back to their local communities and aid farmers by creating ethical supply chains from harvest to coffee counter. Below you’ll find some of our favorite Latinx-owned coffee shops across the city, along with some stories about the people behind them.
After years of independently roasting small batches of organic coffee, Deanna and Geoffrey Martinez decided to open Patria Café in 2018, Compton’s first specialty coffee shop with a mission to celebrate BIPOC voices in their community and beyond. In particular, Patria is a great place to soak in some morning calm before the work avalanche hits. As you wait for a drink, browse through the café’s art display that includes pieces by neighborhood photographers and Latin American artists, or simply stand in the space’s natural light as you internally sift through your to-do list. Either way, you’ll be treated to Patria’s slow-roasted, seasonal co-op espresso. This double shot goes great in the shop’s Mexican Mocha - a creamy mixture of espresso, your choice of milk, and chocolate Ibarra, which is cinnamon-infused chocolate typically used to make Mexican hot chocolate.
Located in Huntington Park, Cruzita doesn’t claim to be some state-of-the-art shop on the cutting edge of coffee roasting. And frankly, it doesn’t need to. Instead, this first-gen, Latinx-owned business focuses on what it knows best: homemade agua frescas, traditional café de olla, and some great breakfast sandwiches that always make us want to sink into a plush chair with The New Yorker’s cartoon section. Their café de olla is one of the best in town and comes full of aromatic cinnamon and sweet piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar with a molasses-like flavor). Everything gently bubbles together in a pot until the brew becomes a spicy, sweet, and eye-opening concoction that calls for some much-needed breakfast. We're partial to the egg sando that comes with soft scrambled eggs, black forest ham, and a slice of American cheese, all on your choice of bread (we like their ciabatta).
Tropicana Bakery isn’t the Madrazo family’s first culinary venture, having previously run a chain of Eastside chicken restaurants called Los Pollos back in the 90s. You can still find plenty of pollo on the lunch menu, but we come here for the baked goods and strong Cuban coffee. Besides creamy cortaditos and dark roast espresso to power you through the morning, try the Cuban iced coffee - the lovechild between an iced latte and a frappe. Cuban espresso gets whipped with sugar until it gets all frothy, before getting poured over ice and your choice of milk to create a creamy drink as everything gets swirled together. Tropicana also has plenty of delicious guava treats, like their guava cheese pastelitos. These flakey pocket pies are filled with sweet guava jelly and cream cheese and are usually the first thing we gravitate towards. Grab a coffee and a few pastries and even gridlock traffic won’t be able to stop you from having a perfectly average day at worst.
Right off the Promenade in downtown Long Beach, you’ll find Recreational Coffee, a shop serving slow pour-overs to the beat of punk, reggaeton, and hip hop. The coffee here is undeniably great, ethically sourced, and comes in a wide variety of roasts, like the Ethiopian blend that has hints of lemongrass and pineapple. And this hangout spot also never shies away from reimagining how you can serve a double shot. Their sea salt affogato is like a certified ice cream sundae with three vanilla scoops, rich espresso, and a delicious chocolate sea salt topping that adds tons of flavor and crunch. If you aren’t looking for dessert, try the hoppy iced coffee that’s flavored with Wai-Iti New Zealand hops and faintly tastes like you’re at a Happy Hour.
The Boy & The Bear owner Andres Piñeros began his journey into the coffee world back in 2012 in his native Colombia, starting first as a pop-up before opening a brick-and-mortar here in LA. Now with three locations, The Boy & The Bear is where you can find 100% Colombian coffees with some modernist Scandinavian design touches. The shop’s beans are directly sourced from the farmers, with their Light & Dark espresso packing some beautiful dark chocolate and berry notes after undergoing two different roasting techniques. Enjoy it as a smooth Gibraltar, aka the perfect ratio between milk and espresso. Or if you’ve shown up with a sweet tooth, try the café con panna - a double shot with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Doubling as a social enterprise, El Cielito Café prides itself on serving farm-direct coffee and ensuring Latin American farmers receive their full cut of profits. Besides its ethical sourcing, this South Gate shop also makes excellent pour-overs with various blends originating from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Brazil. Each one has its own unique flavor that ranges from nuttier notes to sweet fruit and dark chocolate. El Cielito also makes great sweetened drinks that come in flavors like churro, horchata, and our personal favorite: the champulatte. A champurrado and coffee crossover, this drink has the butteriness of corn, the molasses flavor of piloncillo, and subtle kicks of cinnamon. It’s something that tastes distinctively Mexican, but with the same warm feeling you may get from your favorite holiday time latte order.
Maybe it’s the early calm or smell of espresso that makes us crave warm bread first thing, but something cheesy, meaty, and carby in a café just makes sense in the morning. Santa Monica’s Café Bolivar, however, specializes in a different delicious way to start your day - the arepa. These South American corn masa cakes are subtly sweet, dense, and stuffed with several things like meat, cheese, and creamy avocado. Café Bolivar makes their arepas fresh, with our favorite being the pulled pork - golden masa filled with tender pork shoulder that’s slow-cooked for nine hours in a tomato-based sauce, seasoned with Caribbean spices, and topped off with cilantro and pickled red onions. Arepas come in orders of two, so feel free to mix and match and enjoy them with your coffee. The Bolivar is great and consists of a double shot of espresso mixed with condensed milk for a decadent twist on your morning routine.
While this place was acquired back in 2019 by the owners of El Cochinito, Café Tropical has been providing caffeine to Silverlake for decades. This place still serves its famous Cuban coffee, medianoche sandwiches, and delicious pastelitos just as it always has. If you wander in at 7am in need of espresso and pastry comfort, order a strong cortadito and their signature guava cheese turnover. The cortadito is a 1:1 ratio of milk and espresso, making it less heavy than your typical latte, but not as bold as a pure double shot. The turnover comes with a deep golden crust with tiny specks of guava paste bursting out from the flakey dough and tastes like the marriage between our favorite cheese danish and some of the best fruit jam we’ve ever had. It’s creamy, sweet, slightly tart, and our ideal way to start the day because life’s too short not to have pastelitos.
Tierra Mia Coffee
Think of your top three favorite Latin American desserts and chances are Tierra Mia already has an iced coffee version of each of them. This California chain has now expanded to 13 locations after its original South Gate shop opened in 2008 and serves drinks like creamy horchata frappes, dulce de leche lattes, and the super-rich chocolate mexicano de guadalajara. This mocha coffee is lightyears away from your average chocolate syrup-infused drink and packs an intense peanut and cacao flavor. Its subtle smokiness pairs great with the shop’s self-roasted espresso too. Also, make sure to try their churro muffin if you’re into delicious pastry crossovers.
There’s a lot to love about La Monarca, like the sweet smell of their shops, the freshly made conchas on display, or the flaky orejas that we enjoy eating on the couch by the half-dozen. But more importantly, La Monarca is that reliable friend who's always there for us (mainly because they now have 12 locations across the city). No matter which one you visit, you’ll walk out with freshly baked pan dulce, but don’t skip over the coffee options either. This place makes a tasty café de olla with cinnamon and brown sugar, which is also now sold in tea bags for the perfect last-minute gift. La Monarca’s Café Oaxaca is also wonderful and made from rich Oaxacan espresso and a Mexican hot chocolate blend with plenty of cinnamon and bitterness from the pure cacao nibs.