Baristas at L.A.’s Civil Coffee use a flick of the wrist to make coffee with an Impressionist touch
By Allison Ramirez / 01.27.2016
The Getty Iris
“I would live on bread and coffee and nothing else,” Vincent van Gogh once wrote to his brother Theo. He would have felt right at home at Civil Coffee, which opened on Figueroa Street in L.A.’s bustling Highland Park neighborhood on November 14 of 2015. Just two months later, the shop has garnered the attention of lifestyle blogs like Design Sponge and Thrillist, as well as L.A.-based photographer (and Insta-famous foodie) Bonnie Tsang.
The coffee really is amazing—I sampled at least four lattes my first visit—and the avocado toast is made with just the right amount of crispy shiitake “bacon.” But besides all that, what makes this place really special is the people behind it and the creative crowd it draws.
Brothers Alex and Alan Morales are L.A. natives who started learning the coffee ropes at a downtown L.A. roastery just a few years ago. And before opening their own brick-and-mortar shop, they built a clientele by popping up with a DIY coffee cart at weddings, parties, and corporate events throughout the city. The guys work tirelessly (both were behind the bar when I dropped in) and take pride in their endeavor as well as their neighborhood. Their menu is easy to navigate—espresso + milk served hot or over ice is the focal point, but the brothers pay homage to their Latin heritage with a special drink inspired by their childhood: a rich sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon coffee mélange they call “the Figueroa.”
Alexander and Alan Morales at Civil Coffee
When I approached the Morales brothers about creating some #GettyInspired latte art, they were all about it. It takes a talented barista to create images in a frothy espresso drink, and even more so when when all the lattes are free-poured. “Some baristas use little sticks or etching tools to create a design in their lattes,” Alex explained to me. At Civil Coffee, there are no sticks. Only slight wrist movements and a steady hand were employed to create these Van Gogh-inspired flowers.
Like any good creative, Van Gogh loved his coffee, even when financial times were tight. “I have my bread and a cup of coffee here, morning, afternoon, and evening,” he wrote contentedly to his brother from a Brussels boarding house in 1880. Van Gogh loved flowers, too, which he painted as a way to appreciate color. We hope he would enjoy these coffee flowers, two of his favorite things combined in his honor.
[LEFT and CENTER]: The baristas combined the shape of the different flowers in Irises with the speed and immediacy of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. The shapes were created with hand movements only, no sticks allowed.
[RIGHT]: Those brushstrokes! Detail from Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, painted in 1889
Art can be found everywhere and in everything. It’s certainly found at Civil Coffee in the way the drinks are made, and in the most subtle corners. The shop is bright and airy, with light blue tile, marble and wood, mirrored counters and golden countertops, navy walls, and light fixtures that are every Instagrammer’s dream. The design is timeless and modern and the menu is simple. But as Alex told me, it’s more than good design and fun latte art that makes this place special. There’s something about a warm environment and a hot cup of coffee that sparks conversation and brings people, specifically creative people, together.