Last week I drank a $12 cup of coffee. I don’t regret an ounce of it.
Since it opened as downtown Long Beach’s first third-wave coffee shop nearly two years ago, Recreational Coffee has become my safe space to ask dumb coffee questions and explore the outer nerdy reaches of morning joe. With a full staff of unpretentious baristas and a coffee-obsessed owner who is hellbent on making specialty coffee accessible to those previously put off by industry snobbery, Recreational’s proven that if a $12 cup of coffee is on the menu, it’s going to be worth it (and will come with a much-needed side of helpful education).
The shop has always done things differently and bucked third-wavey conventions. Since the day it opened, it’s called its apothecary-like pour-over system “slow coffee” and vocally rejected the cold brew craze by emblazoning “THIS IS NOT COLD BREW” on the branded growlers, which you fill instead with iced coffee, made through a traditional hot extraction that owner Bobby Hernandez says maintains the flavor integrity of the bean.
But the weirdness started last year with the introduction of a drink called the Iced Basilfruit — a wannabe-Manhattan of a coffee drink made with iced coffee, house-made basil and grapefruit reduction, served on the rocks in a highball glass. Sipping one of the cocktail-looking beverages while sitting at the coffee bar (garnish: grapefruit slice) and it’s hard to imagine it being caffeinated at all.
Then, at the Promenade Beer & Wine Festival last October, Hernandez debuted a hoppy iced coffee, which, as its name implies, takes the beloved craft beer ingredient and adds it to Recreational’s house blend. The concept is not unheard of – Long Beach’s 2nd Craft experiments well in this realm – but it is unheard of for a local shop to constantly make fresh batches and serve the citrus-y smelling drink as an everyday item.
More recently, Hernandez started roasting coffee himself under a house brand, replacing pour-overs of Portola and Case with some of his own favorite varietals earlier this year. This new project also brought more experimental opportunities, and within weeks, Recreational collaborated with Beachwood Blendery next door to create one of the industry’s first sour coffee lambics.
Dubbed Oaky Koke (Koke is the Ethiopian varietal used), the beer doesn’t bother with the roasty flavors like most coffee beers, instead opting for coffee’s natural sweetness to offset the complex acidity of a Blendery barrel-aged and blended sour.
Couple this all with Recreational’s small weekend helpings of breakfast burritos from Nick’s in Seal Beach (only 15 are sold and, boy, do they go fast), its daily Working Class Kitchen sandwiches and its Sunday cupping classes that provide free coffee insight each week (1 p.m., FREE!), and it’s clear that Hernandez is out to offer an entirely different kind of Long Beach coffee experience.
Which brings me back to the Colombian Geisha, which at $12 a glass, I’m told is a steal. The beans themselves, Hernandez says, cost 30 times more than his next most expensive varietal. In order to make it affordable for retail sale, he’s be packaging it in 4-ounce containers, which will cost customers $20.
The coffee is so prized not only because of its flavor – delicate citrus and floral layers, with a silky mouthfeel that goes down like Japanese whisky – but because of its rarity. Originally an Ethiopian varietal, it somehow took to the soil in Colombia a decade ago with these remarkable results.
Hernandez procured only 10 pounds of this Geisha and is using word of mouth and a few Instagram posts to sell through it (maybe it’s already gone by the time you read this – sorry!). But even if it disappears before you have a chance to try, rest assured that he wont waste much time finding something else exciting to offer.
Until Recreational’s next experiment, try a cup of the shop’s hoppy coffee, drink the borderline coffee-cocktail Iced Basilfruit, or pop next door to the Blendery for a glass of the palate-confusing coffee sour. Dumb questions are most definitely encouraged.
237 Long Beach Blvd, Ste A, Long Beach; (562) 436-4954; @recreationalcoffee
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.