On any given Sunday, if you turn a quick left after paying your fee and walking into the main entrance of the Melrose Trading Post you can find one of the best kept pop-up coffee secrets in the city. Okay, okay, Civil Coffee is not really a secret. In actuality, they have been serving coffee to Los Angeles thrifters at the flea market for over a year. But somehow, their weekly coffee booth maintains the excitement and charm of one of those secret finds that you heard about through a friend of a friend.
Owned and operated by brothers Alan and Alex Morales, Civil Coffee is a pleasure to visit on a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the city. It functions well as respite from the racks and racks of second hand clothing, and is a good place to grab a cup and strike up a casual, unpretentious conversation with people who know a thing or two about brewing coffee.
Growing up, coffee was a part of the Morales household but was mostly a “sort of dessert drink,” Alan shares. “It was Folgers or Tasters Choice. We would heat milk and dissolve the instant coffee in the milk, no water. Sort of a brute latte, if you will. Then sugar was added in plentiful quantities. To be quite frank, it was great.”
Of course, what the Morales brothers are serving today at their Sunday kiosk is a far cry from their childhood comfort drink - given that they are grinding up freshly roasted beans from Coava, and are steaming milk on a La Marzocco. But, the seed was planted at an early age and as fate would have it both Alan and Alex had their first life changing coffee experiences independently of one another at Intelligentsia’s Pasadena location.
“The ambiance was quite incredible for a place that ‘just made coffee’ Alan recalls of his first experience at Intelli Pasadena. “I ordered an espresso, and to this day I still don't know why, since I never chose to drink that on a regular basis. Yet, it was the perfect choice. I expected to get a beverage that was bitter and unpleasant on every level. I got the demitasse and remember being impressed with the different look of the "brown stuff" on top (I didn't know it was called crema). The smell too was unlike any coffee I had smelled before. The moment of truth though came when the first sip was taken. It was a religious experience. I felt as though the whole room went dark and a spotlight was on me and that espresso. Everything went silent and all I could do was be blown away by this superb coffee. The body was heavy and syrup-like. The flavors were just exploding. It was what I now know how to describe as bright, sweet, and balanced. I finished that espresso and I came back to reality. Without a minute passing by I thought - I have to know more about coffee! I went to Portland, OR where I went to a week long course on coffee. That was an experience and a story of its own. From there I came back resolute to start my own thing. The rest is history...”
Alex on the other hand, was a little later to the game, “I actually felt Alan’s coffee geekiness was a little much! It was not until I walked into intelligentsia Pasadena, while on my way to PCC, that I had a moment that really turned me to coffee. It was a cup of the La Perla Oaxaca that blew me away; it seemed expensive but my curiousity was peaked and I went for it. I could not believe coffee could taste so great! The cup actually was complex, sweet, absolutely flavorful. It changed the course of my life. That semester instead of transferring I set out to learn about coffee and get experience in the field. The folks at Handsome were kind enough to let me intern at what was once just a big muggy warehouse where we did production work, hosted the most fun ICB (illegal coffee bar) and events. It was absolutely awesome to see the space develop in to what it is now; it really showed me how powerful coffee can be in fostering the growth of community. That place became my Alma mater. It was a truly enriching experience. Three months into it I even had the opportunity toroast train with Chris Owens at LA mill, where they were roasting before opening their works. ”
It now seems of no coincidence that the day I dropped by to talk with them about Civil Coffee, Alan is manning the espresso machine while Alex is brewing coffees on multiple Clever Coffee Drippers. Each focusing on preparing the type of drink that steered them to this moment.
At the center point of their kiosk, and somewhat acting as their third and un-official partner is Coava Coffee. They were first attracted to the Portland based roasters’ incredible flavor profiles that stand up well against milk, but over time gained a deeper respect for the consistency of their product. Alex emphasized the importance of having a reliable roaster when you really busy. Having recently made a trip up to Portland, and being warmly welcomed as family by the folks behind Coava, Alex shared with me that their relationship to Coava is no longer just about the beans, it’s also emotional. At Civil Coffee, they are very proud to be serving Coava and proud to share the story of working with roasters who are passionate about what they do and who have not once broken a contract with any of their affiliate coffee farmers.
Civil Coffee gained it’s name from Alex and Alan’s desire to focus their coffee business on good service. Taking notes from places like, Coava and Barista in Portland that practice upmost professionalism in their craft. At Civil Coffee, the Morales brothers want to be approachable and hospitable. Being that Civil Coffee is often an introduction to specialty coffee for many of their clientele at the Melrose Trading Post, they thoroughly enjoy sharing about their coffee, their brew methods and educating people.
Having a coffee set up at the market comes with it’s own set of challenges - electricity, refrigeration, water, hot water - but the Morales brothers make it work seamlessly. Oftentimes, their pour over drinks might take a little longer than in a cafe because they have to boil each kettle of water to order, but Sunday market customers are a lot more laid back than your average cafe goer. They are happy to chat or take a gander at another stall of curiosities near by while waiting a few extra minutes for a delicious cup of hand crafted coffee.
Naturally, Alex and Alan have big plans for Civil coffee in the future. For now, they are serving Civil Coffee in the Melrose Trading Post, are busy with private events and are building a reputation for themselves in the Los Angeles coffee scene.