As specialty coffee bars and thoughtful teahouses become more prevalent in Santa Monica, businesses must serve unique drinks to stand out in the crowd. Restaurants are also taking non-alcoholic beverage programs seriously. Learn about 10 signature coffee and tea drinks that aren’t regularly available from the corner caffeine factory.
Boba Tea & Me
Evelyn Liao Douglas and husband Kyle Douglas started with a boba truck in 2016 before launching their Boba Tea & Me storefront in 2017. Visitors seeking refreshment will find a creative welcome party, including an anthropomorphic teacup logo with leaves sprouting from their jutting straw and paintings of pop-art pandas in headphones. Fun extends to beverages, which arrive in colorful cups that depict Santa Monica Pier. Boba Tea & Me makes honey grapefruit green tea with real fruit juice. They also have passion yogurt green tea with Yakult and passion fruit syrup. Add two-toned boba for more bounce.
This specialty coffee bar from Mark Wain and Gary Chau has become a favorite Montana Avenue hangout thanks to their artful coffee drinks and classy, Italian aesthetic. They duo roasts coffee beans in Gardena and now has locations spanning from Santa Monica to Montecito. A popular drink at Caffe Luxxe is Nico, a petite espresso drink co-starring half & half and candied orange, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with orange zest.
Tyler King’s L.A. born coffee bar micro-chain now roasts beans in Vernon that fuel outposts like this eye-popping location at MINI of Santa Monica. Their covered patio with pink splashes, neon signage and zigzag logos along Santa Monica Boulevard features turquoise MINI hanging (securely) overhead. In Cuba, café Cubano features sugar (or brown sugar) sweetened espresso topped with frothy crema. Coffee Commissary’s version is a cappuccino with house-made Saigon cinnamon syrup and whole milk.
Legendary local skateboard and surf culture, which centered on a beachfront area called Dogtown in the ’70s, inspired Assaf Rez, Itai Rez and Itai Klein to open Dogtown Coffee along Main Street in 2012. Dogtown Coffee expanded to the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in 2019. Their Salty Dog Iced Coffee treats 24-hour cold brew to distinctly bittersweet caramel before topping the drink with savory sea salt infused foam.
Dr. T House
Wilson Chen opened his meticulous tea bar across from Santa Monica College in the Pico Center strip mall along Pico Boulevard. Purists will appreciate the high-mountain Taiwanese tea that Dr. T House brews to order. White Peach Oolong Cheesy Teassy is more unique, featuring fruity, fresh-brewed iced tea topped with cheese milk foam. This frothy crown combines fresh milk, condensed milk, heavy whipped cream, cream cheese, sea salt and sugar in proper proportions. Students pair tea drinks with photos they take in front of green wings that Chen had painted on the east wall.
Health food legend Bernard Bubman and David Hakimian launched Earthbar. Now Bob Lustig and Maryam Rashtian run the business, which operates a location across from Palisades Park at the base of Ocean View Hotel. A sun image radiating blue and green rays on the wall reads, “hello earthling,” referring to an Earthbar customer. They offer grab and go snacks and beverages, though they specialize in made-to-order drinks like the iced matcha latte. Matcha lattes are available other places, but this unique preparation incorporates hemp milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and agave sweetener.
Diane Maler and husband Lew built on Main Street success by opening this stylish spinoff near the Third Street Promenade. Espresso Cielo‘s glass-fronted café mixes modern flourishes with old world charm. Marble counters and an oversized vintage French clock complement a sleek three-group Synesso MVP Hydra espresso machine and seasonal 49th Parallel coffee beans. Green Eye is a vanilla syrup sweetened Tenzo matcha latte bolstered with a shot of espresso, or as I call it, the best of both worlds.
Love Coffee Bar
This Ocean Park coffee bar from designer Kambiz Hemati features a California Republic flag and a wall reminder that COFFEE DESERVES LOVE. In their world, so does tea, as evidenced by drinks like Santa Monica Fog, a hot beverage that combines decaf peppermint tea, rosemary simple syrup, and steamed oat milk. Basically, it’s like drinking a frothy liquid candy cane. To enjoy this drink (and others), Love Coffee Bar set up a big concrete back patio that features plenty of shade and metal tub planters filled with trees.
Nathan Vuong debuted this globally inspired Orange County bakery in 2017 and recently expanded to an eastern Santa Monica side street. A living wall with staggered ferns and hanging planters help accent a tantalizing display case filled with baked delights like buttery Filipino ensaymadas and flaky Portuguese egg tarts. Paderia Bakehouse looked south to find inspiration for their nutty signature coffee drink. Iced mazapan coffee features hazelnut coffee topped with crème froth (heavy cream and salt) and Mazapan peanut candy bits.
TUMBI Craft Indian Kitchen
Longtime restaurateur RJ Singh has had many Indian hits over the years, most recently TUMBI Craft Indian Kitchen located near Third Street Promenade. TUMBI’s visually arresting space provides a fitting forum for the restaurant’s modern menu. Masala chai is a classic drink featuring hot, frothy Indian black tea and milk with a masala spice blend that includes warming cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom.