Primera Taza Coffee House is trying to go where no coffeeshop has gone before: South Central Los Angeles.
That's according to manager and barista, Alma Catalán, 27. "There aren't any coffeeshops besides us [in this area]," she said, saying that the closest one is near USC. "We are the first one of our kind on this side of town." Catalán consulted for Cafe Bolivar in Santa Monica before coming to Primera Taza's Central Avenue location. She's been "doing coffee" since 2003.
"The mentality was not to just offer coffee, but the art space – the safe space for people to be creative and showcase any artwork," she said, pointing to the artwork lining one of the walls. Catalán said that at Primera Taza, which just opened up in August of last year, baristas view the coffee they make as more than just a product.
"We try to make coffee as if it were for us," she said. "This is your home – after welcoming someone into your home, the first thing you do is offer them something to drink. Same thing here."
Catalán, who along with 22-year-old Jorge Palafox make up Primera Taza's only baristas, explained that the coffee house seeks to be an environment that fosters creativity, because the baristas themselves are artists. "We want to be able to give our customers something so they can seek creativeness, be surrounded by creativeness and drink creativeness."
The drinks at Primera Taza, which also has a location in Boyle Heights, are a bit pricier than you'll find at Starbucks, Catalán admits. (Whether there are any Starbucks within a reasonable distance is another matter entirely.) But she remains optimistic.
"People are more likely to spend their money here than a place where it's just a corporation," she said. "Do I want to pay three dollars for coffee that's going to make me feel good, or do I want to pay for a coffee from McDonald's that's going to taste bad and that I'm just going to end up throwing away?"
It seems changes are on the horizon for Primera Taza, too – business has been picking up lately, thanks to a Groupon, and the shop will be remodeling in upcoming weeks. Catalán said the store is looking into expanding its menu.
"We're lucky to have [Newton Division] police station right on the corner," she said laughing. "We've just to hang in there."
When OnCentral asked Catalán about Primera Taza's five most popular items, this is what she told us:
- Mango Maté Tea (iced) – "Maté is supposed to be a naturally energized tea, but the mango gives it a fruity taste." (Small: $2.75 / Large: $3.50)
- Taza de Mocha ("Pimped Out") – "Pimped Out means adding whipped cream and sprinkled with a little bit of love." And what does love mean? "Bits of Mexican chocolate." (S: $3.55 / Medium: $3.90 / L: $4.30)
- Caramel Latte – "This drink is popular both hot and cold – so iced or blended." (S: $3.55 / M: $3.90 / L: $4.30)
- Vanilla Tea Latte (hot) – "This is a hot tea for cold weather." (S: $3.55 / M: $3.85 / L: $3.95)
- Breakfast Croissant – "It has egg and bacon. A lot of people will get these in the morning." ($3.50 – $4.00 with a small cup of house coffee)
Primera Taza is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. Primera Taza is located at 3310 South Central Avenue.