I don’t feel prepared without coffee. So I was glad that today at Balconi Coffee Company in West LA, Ray recommended the last of the season’s Burundi. There is something about a small, carefully-crafted, absurdly-expensive cup of coffee that is quite satisfying.
Ray used to have a place over on Santa Monica Blvd. It was an orphan in a nowhere neighborhood, somehow airlifted intact from New York’s East Village, circa 1977. Ratty couches, tables with insecure legs, populated by characters, you’ve been there if you are over 40; and if not, you’ve heard old people talk about that kind of place. My son Dean introduced me to the original Balcony Coffee. Dean used to work at an art supply place across the street, and we went there pretty often until something happened. Ray and most of the other stores on the oddball triangular block closed down one day, replaced by plywood on the windows. Now, the only remaining storefront is a fortune teller. Maybe they knew something?
Ray is known as a coffee scientist and coffee guru, and his reputation is well deserved. In his new place, just like in his old one, he uses the siphon method of brewing. The method fell out of favor in the 1960s, but it is making a comeback, producing a sweet cup loaded with character, a conversation with caffeine that you just can’t rush. I took the time to get to know this African coffee, concocted by half-forgotten chemistry. For one thing, there won’t be any more Burundi, Ray says, for another year; and for another, I am preparing. For me that always starts with coffee.