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Café Ipé

970 North Coast Highway 101, Leucadia

Despite the fact that Lofty gets all the credit for fancy North County java, Café Ipé (970 North Coast Highway, 760-436-2233, rhymes with eBay) is equally serious about coffee production. The coffee shop has partnered with Encinitas-based Revolution Roasters, who man the in-house coffee roasting operations, providing Ipé with exclusive beans that carry cool names, like Surfing Madonna and Smooth Operator.

So many of what we might call the “avant-garde” coffee roasters are creating espresso blends that emphasize acidity and bright notes in the coffee, or so it seems. Whether by virtue of bean selection or the roasting process, fruity, almost effervescent shots of espresso show up in demitasse cups all over town. Ipé’s espresso provided a stark counterexample. The dark, syrupy shot there had a layer of crema scarcely lighter than the underlying espresso. Nutty, rich flavors dominated the coffee, which had more in common with old-school Italian espresso than, say, a single origin ristretto from a trendy, nouvelle vague coffee bar.

Similarly, when mixed into a latte, Ipé’s espresso injected an unfamiliar, though not unwelcome, bitterness into the drink. That rich bitterness gave the coffee a degree of strength that’s absent in more delicate brews. It’s the idea of coffee “black as night, hot as hell, and strong as love,” a quotation that exists in various forms and evokes a sentimentality for coffee as an elixir of late-night fortitude instead of a delicate expression of some beans’ origin or the cleverness of a roaster.

So, how to choose between the two? Lofty Bean, with its elegant Turkish lattes and dusky, complicated Kyoto drips? Or Ipé, with strong coffee that could find a home in a Roman corner market?

Depends on what you’re looking for. The drinks at Lofty (or other such places) are objectively more interesting, but they’re also more expensive. Also, one thing that new wave coffee shops have yet to learn is how to stock a good pastry case. Ipé fills the glass display with fresh croissants, strudels, and donuts from VG Bakery!

The fact of the matter is, our culture is probably better with both café’s operating within spitting distance of each other. More delicious things is always good, and there’s no shortage of support for both spots. Smart coffee drinkers will develop a taste for both and expand their horizons. And that’s never a bad thing.

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