HURRAY! The first installment of my monthly Guest Post is here! My brother, Joshua, has so graciously sampled and reviewed a fabulous looking mocha latte from Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, CA. As an English major turned lawyer, Joshua writes with vivid descriptions, perfect grammar, and a factual representation of his client (Ms. Mocha). And now, ladies and gents, I present to you: Joshua Giraffe.
Hello from Rainy Southern California! A guest post for my sister has been a long time coming, because a) Orange County has a number of terrific coffee spots, and b) there are more organic grocery and coffee shops than Dunkin’ Donuts. If there were a third answer, I suppose it might stem from the blessed spring break I now have from law school, so putting together an entry seemed doable…around catching up with Justified and Walking Dead. Anywho, I resisted the (admittedly easy) urge to start my California guest post with a “Greetings, Loved Ones,” and in that regard, I will jump right in to one of the most well-known stops in South County.
Portola Coffee Lab
I was not familiar with how the Portola story had developed over the years, but if one thing was clear from the six-dollar mocha I had, this shop stands up and matches the bold claim listed on its website…”In every way coffeehouses around the world try to be truly excellent, Portola Coffee succeeds.” I encourage everyone to defer your judgments until after you smell the coffee beans here. I don’t quite know how to describe this – imagine the most fragrant coffee beans you have smelled in your travels (or, failing that, what you’ve smelled grinding coffee at the store or at home), and multiply it by an incomprehensible number.
Perhaps a better way to describe the smell is to consider how wine connoisseurs insist they smell hints of aged oak or mountain-top elderberries, or something infinitely more presumptuous. In that regard, it was as if Portola’s methods for preparing their coffee beans acted as a magnifying glass for my nose, allowing me to smell exactly what a coffee expert might discover, or what that wine connoisseur might taste in that red.
I will say this. Their methods of preparation, from the siphon bar to the “slayer” espresso machine, are worth simply observing, let alone enjoying. If I hadn’t come there with the singular purpose of documenting the experience of a mocha, I may have easily forgotten my order at the front of the line. Onward.
I was not sure how to give out grades here for this. I relied a bit on how Kate has graded other mochae of the past (get some, Latin scholars), and by simply gauging a number that felt right in my mind. In that regard, I felt this one blew some other high-scorers away, and has set a standard that Kate herself will have to try when visiting. However, I cannot be so conceited as to announce my only post as the best possible mocha in the world, nor can I take away from the very premise of a mocha quest by announcing a ten-point mocha as yet.
Anyway, the mocha took nearly ten minutes to make. I enjoyed that time to watch a baristientist take five, timed minutes to brew a single cup of coffee. He explained that the mocha would have Strauss pasture-fed, nearly-raw milk, specially used by baristas and set at the lowest legal limit for public consumption. This particular individual seemed genuinely upset that the FDA would not allow Portola to use raw milk, but I honestly have no cause to complain…whatever was in that mocha was incredible. The substance of the chocolate, in combination with the milk and espresso, created an extremely thick drink that just breathed dark, dense chocolate into every sip. I am not one of those types who discovers something delicious and wants to savor it so much that he or she is barely eating or drinking it, but I was compelled to do so for this drink. Incredible.
Akin to my first point, I relied a bit on how Kate has graded other drinks. In that sense, I could not grade the appearance of the mocha significantly higher than a number of other previous posts, but the whipped-milk hearts design was a nice touch. I understand that the white mugs have tradition and elegance, but I felt this was the kind of place that could actually reinvent the wheel in a positive way.
store ambiance: 8 / closing: 8.167
Next to where you pick up your drinks, there are is a simple motto in white letters printed on to the light lime wall – geek out, sip, savor. Portola is a highly-recommended experience in a large but quiet outdoor shopping complex (these actually make sense in Orange County, where you can shop outside a solid twelve months out of the year); it provides excellent lighting and outdoor seating, so you can enjoy your drinks in whatever context – reading, conversing, enjoying the air. There is an IKEA very close by, so if you have the opportunity to come to Portola with your spouse or significant other, be sure to take two cars and split up after your drinks. Tina Fey knows her stuff.