Step into Costa Mesa's Portola Coffee Lab for a coffee experience.
I drove 30 miles to get here,” says the man behind me, his wife looking impatient, at best, to get her hands around a cup of freshly brewed coffee from Portola Coffee Lab, OC’s mad scientist-like coffeehouse at Costa Mesa’s OC Mart Mix.
This statement could strike one as surprising, but not me. I’ve often heard assertions nearly identical to this one while waiting in line here. Opened less than a year ago, Portola has garnered a near-religious following (count me among them) due to its wholehearted dedication to what can only be described as the scientifically perfect coffee. That means independent sourcing of beans (owner Jeff Duggan just got back from a coffee bean scouting trip to Ethiopia), the use of obscure machines with even more obscure names (Hario halogen siphon, anyone?) and a near-maniacal devotion to textbook coffee roasting and preparation.
But what’s truly remarkable about Portola isn’t just its silky espresso; it’s also the baristas, who approach their work with the passion of true aficionados. You can hear it in their patient explanations time and again to customers who are clueless about the difference between a Gaspar and a Flat White (me), or who have never been to a coffee shop that doesn’t include vanilla syrup among its accoutrements. And they do all of this enthusiastically, as if they delight in sharing the art and science of coffee to the masses – because they do. For them, coffee is a lifestyle, not just a job, which is a big part of the reason why Portola is so successful – and why I’m glad I live eight miles away, and not 30.
Meet the Baristas
When they’re not brewing V60 pour-overs at work, Portola’s baristas go forth and spread coffee in the community. Here’s how.
1. Samantha Alberson Volunteers at her church’s café on Sunday nights
2. Jeff Clinard Writes articles about coffee, home roasts his own beans and works on turning his family into coffee devotees
3. Skyler Richter Manages a coffee shop at his church, where he makes Hario pour-overs to Portola standards
4. Demart Denaro Uses coffee as a medium for his artwork
5. Andrew Ogden Consults for an in-house coffee bar at Huntington Beach-based The AoSA Project, a socially-minded, nonprofit retail store
6. Truman Severson Recently competed in the U.S. Barista Championships’ southwest division; signature drink: espresso and water, floated with a layer of aromatic spice- and fruit-infused argon gas
7. Joe Harrison Self-described coffee nerd who uses an arsenal of coffee gadgets and brew methods to experiment in his downtime
8. Alan Gomez Recently competed in the U.S. Barista Championships’ southwest division; signature drink: chilled espresso and water with hibiscus-, cinnamon-, lemon-, and orange zest-infused ice cubes
9. Amanda Petrocelly Works on converting her friends into coffee believers and recently painted her nails with the letters for “coffee”
10. Annie Miller Visits as many other coffee shops as she can and pours coffee at Santa Ana wünder-restaurant, The Playground, on Sundays
11. Josh Bonner Exposes as many people as he can to coffee and makes his own Portola-inspired brews at home
12. Nicholas Brewer Experiments at home with the farthest reaches of coffee’s flavors and never travels without his preferred brew method in tow