When the weather gets chilly, there’s nothing better than cozying up with a hot beverage. Toluca Lake might not get as frosty as other parts of the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that a nice cup of coffee can warm the body and the soul.
Our community is full of coffee shops and cafés that offer exactly that experience, and they don’t stop at just offering a hot cup of joe. They have unique environments all their own, and they’re constantly rolling out fanciful flavors to keep coffee connoisseurs coming back for more. We checked in with some of these local establishments to see what crafted concoctions they have to offer and what makes them special. If you’re looking for your new favorite coffee shop or want to catch up with an old favorite, you’ve come to the right place.
’TIS THE SEASON FOR SWEETNESS
It’s no secret that pumpkin spice has become the singular flavor of fall. That popularity carries over into the winter, but other flavors join the party as well. Customers crave comfort when cold temperatures arrive, and there’s nothing more comforting than the combination of sweet and spiced. At Romancing the Bean in Magnolia Park, that means drinks with white chocolate and peppermint start to surge in popularity, owner Kerry Krull says.
At Priscilla’s Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts in Toluca Lake, gingerbread lattes grow in popularity, while the newly created flapjack latte has quickly drawn a lot of attention, too. “It tastes like a delicious stack of pancakes,” proprietor Shannon Hartman says.
Pumpkin flavors remain king at Burbank’s The Palm Coffee Bar. “We are currently offering a house-made pumpkin spice latte,” owner Joanna Heart Milliken says. “It’s a secret recipe our lead barista Jordan came up with that is rich and full of sweet, savory and spice kicks — and yes, it’s vegan.”
In addition to such seasonal selections, every coffee house has its own “signature” drink — the one it’s best known for, no matter what time of year it is. For Priscilla’s, it’s iced blueberry coffee, brewed strong and with subtle hints of blueberry. “It’s great for an afternoon pickup,” Hartman says. “Add vanilla powder to make it especially decadent.”
Romancing the Bean also punches up its drinks with a serving of fruit. Krull says the blended banana royal has been a “big favorite” since she opened her doors in 1993.
Things are a little different at The Palm, where the signature drink rotates throughout the year. Right now, it’s the “Sweet Creature,” a rose latte with edible glitter and rose petals. “It is a super pretty treat that is super Instagram-worthy,” Milliken says.
ALL ABOUT THE VIBE
As important as their drinks are, cafés are about more than that. The environment they create is just as important — they can relax you, inspire you, motivate you. It’s why so many creative people bring their laptops to coffee shops to write. The environment is infectious, and these establishments work hard to cultivate a vibe that is all their own.
Groundwork Coffee is actually built into the North Hollywood Train Depot, so the throwback vibe happens naturally. The depot was constructed in the 1890s, while the café was added as part of a restoration project. The depot is situated at the intersection of two of the city’s most-traveled public transportation routes, and the café acts as a hub of sorts, giving travelers a place to relax amid their busy schedules.
At The Palm, no matter what your background or preferences, they want you to feel like you’re on vacation with a group of friends. “I like to think we carry the best of the best,” Milliken says. “Organic, vegan, gluten-free, keto, paleo — all the ‘things.’ I gather items and make sure there is something for every single person who walks through our door.”
For Priscilla’s, it’s more of a relaxed, family environment. Hartman says she is like a parent to most of her employees, which increases the bond between her, her staff and her customers. They’re all like family. “Priscilla’s is what coffee is all about — relaxed, warm and inviting,” she says. “Lots of our customers are in creative fields, which adds to the positive feeling.”
Romancing the Bean focuses on relaxation as well, but with some influences from across the pond. “It’s cozy, homey, yet classy at the same time with a cool European vibe,” Krull says.
Burbank’s Simply Coffee goes with a more basic approach. As the name implies, they focus purely on the drinks and don’t trouble themselves with any fanciness. The wall art regularly changes but is always simple and quirky. One of the constants is a jar full of dog treats. It all adds up to create a welcoming, friendly vibe that customers rave about. As one Yelp reviewer said, “This coffee shop gives you the really warm neighborhood coffee shop feels.”
CREATING A COMMUNITY
Coffee is an integral part of the lives of many people, to the point that the act of getting coffee from their favorite local café becomes something of a tradition. Regular visits mean seeing the same faces, and friendships naturally start to form. Becoming such an essential part of the community around them and getting to know their customers on a personal level is rewarding for the people in charge of those cafés.
“The best part about serving our community is connecting people to others,” Milliken says. “We know such talented, multifaceted people and are so proud to call them friends and customers. My favorite thing is people connecting over our coffee. Be the love, see love.”
Feeling that kind of bond leads to owners and proprietors paying it forward to the community that has supported them. “Romancing the Bean is very involved in the community and giving back,” Krull says. “We support the schools, police department, fire department, churches, credit unions and, of course, our kids.”
When Hartman talks about the importance of coffee shops and cafés to the community at large, she sums it up better than we ever could: “We have had many relationships, marriages, screenplays, college degrees and babies that would never have happened if our customers hadn’t spent the time that they have sitting and enjoying a delicious coffee treat.”