The New Normal of Café Reopenings: Los Angeles

We learn how the once jam-packed coffee shops of Los Angeles are handling the new restrictions placed by COVID-19.


Photo sourced from Unsplash

From time to time, I’ll find myself daydreaming of a time when things were “normal” here in Los Angeles: I’ll remember how it was on Sunset Boulevard, the sidewalks crowded with people lined up for bars, shows, and restaurants; I’ll reminisce of days spent in my favorite cafés—how on some weekends they’d be so packed that I couldn’t find a place to sit. I’d often joke about how congested our city was, how I longed to live in a lonesome cabin somewhere far off in the woods. But deep down, I enjoyed Los Angeles in all of its full and thriving glory; I adored the diversity and vibrancy that colored every turn.

It’s been nine months since COVID-19 was first declared a global pandemic, and though Los Angeles is no longer the ghost town that it was back in March and April, it’s clear that things won’t be going back to “normal” any time soon. Rather, we’ve been embracing a new normal: a completely different way of socializing and going about the day-to-day. To get a sense of how coffee shops around the city are handling this new reality, I spoke to the owners of my go-to local spots.

According to Kumquat Coffee co-founder AJ Kim, the pandemic has brought an influx of customers looking to brew at home. To enhance the at-home brewing process, the café offers coffee from 12 different roasters. Photo by Haven Kim, courtesy of AJ Kim.

Kumquat Coffee

Located along the famed York Boulevard of Highland Park, Kumquat Coffee has implemented a series of new measures to ensure that both its customers and employees are safe. Known for its elegant drink presentation and zen interior, the café has closed off its indoor space and transitioned to a takeout-only system. In addition, the shop’s staff sanitizes the store frequently throughout the day and is currently only accepting contactless payments.

Andres Jinhan Kim, one of the café’s co-founders, informed us that L.A.’s stay-at-home order has brought an influx of home baristas looking to recreate the Kumquat experience in the comfort of their own abodes. To enhance the at-home brewing experience, the shop offers coffee from 12 different roasters and a wide selection of barista essentials, including electric kettles, coffee grinders, matcha whisks, and pourover equipment. Their YouTube channel also features a number of videos teaching barista basics, including how to make an iced pourover and how to brew loose-leaf tea.

“We’re so grateful for all of our supportive and patient customers during these difficult times,” Andres says, “and we’ll continue to do our best to keep our customers, staff, and community safe.” If you’re in the L.A. area, swing by to get one of their amazing drinks (try the iced hojicha latte!) or build your own arsenal of barista essentials. And, if you’re outside of L.A., you can visit the shop’s online store to explore their amazing selection of coffee, tea, and brewing equipment.

When COVID first hit, Coffee del Mundo began offering bottled cold brews: a safe, tamper-free alternative. Now, the bottled cold brews are some of the shop’s best-selling items. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kinnard.

Coffee del Mundo

Based in South L.A., Coffee del Mundo is known for its wide selection of delectable coffee from all over the world, all of which is roasted in-store by owner Jonathan Kinnard. Prior to the pandemic, the café was open six days a week, but the lockdown brought on unprecedented changes.

“Before COVID hit, we had a good amount of foot traffic,” Jonathan says. “But when the lockdown began, we could no longer afford to keep our doors open every day, and we had to limit our store hours to weekends. We’re just now easing our way back into our regular hours—now, we’re open Wednesday through Sunday. But it’s going to be a gradual process, getting back to ‘normal.’”

Currently, the café is still operating under a takeout-only system. The shop also offers delivery through DoorDash and has begun offering bottled cold brews, which customers can buy in-store on weekends. “We started offering bottled cold brews to adapt to the new safety precautions and to offer a safe, tamper-free alternative to customers,” Jonathan says. “But now, the bottled cold brews are actually one of our most popular items.”

Like Kumquat, Coffee del Mundo has been encouraging customers to explore options for home-brewing. The shop offers coffee pods, at-home cold brew kits, and whole beans from Nicaragua, Colombia, Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Coffee del Mundo’s online store offers shipping to anywhere in the U.S., but if you live in the L.A. area, be sure to visit the café in-person to try one of their unique drinks—including this month’s special, the Nicaragua cacao blanco.

The era of COVID-19 has proven to be a trying time for everyone, but Kumquat Coffee and Coffee del Mundo are just two examples of how resilient small businesses can be in the face of adversity. More than ever, we’re being shown the importance of empathy and care on both sides of the counter. So visit your local cafés, tip as much as you can, and leave good reviews! Let your favorite businesses know just how loved they are.

Based in Los Angeles, Emily Joy Meneses is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams. Explore her poetry, short stories, and soundscapes on her website.

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