Following several years of roasting for wholesale and direct-to-consumer buyers, Los Angeles-based Heavy Water Coffee Roasters recently waded into retail coffee service.
The coffee company opened shop last month inside a former two-car garage, where the salmon exterior gives way to a cheery blue and off-white interior that recalls the colors of the nearby Dodger Stadium.
“Some of my early, core memories are my grandpa wearing all the Dodgers gear, the hat and the warm-up jacket, and he would sit in the kitchen and drink hot coffee in the middle of summer. I always thought it was so weird,” Heavy Water Founder Tim Riley recently told Daily Coffee News. “He used to carry around this little blue Dodgers bat and swing it at us when we would come in the kitchen, like, ‘No ensucies la cocina! Don’t get the kitchen dirty.'”
The layout of the 170-square-foot former car garage in central L.A.’s Victor Heights district draws inspiration from similarly tight coffee spaces of Japan that Riley visited during recent travels.
“The efficiency in square footage usage was so impressive,” said Riley. “It made me feel like 170 square feet was plenty of space.”
Locally handmade ceramic cups and pendant lights match the colors of the shop. A floating white oak bar and shelving are designed to give the space an elevated look without feeling sterile.
The shop is nestled within a burgeoning culinary hub, where multiple restaurants will soon share seating in a common interior courtyard. A burger joint and a bakery are among the businesses moving into the block, where Heavy Water and Korean restaurant Perilla are already up and running.
While the shop is a first for Heavy Water, it’s also a return to form for Riley, who honed his coffee palate over several years as a barista at former L.A. coffee hot spot Handsome Coffee Roasters. Riley stayed aboard with Handsome as it transitioned into a Blue Bottle location, and later worked at a Coffee Commissary location prior to entering roasting.
The Dodger blue Slayer Steam EP espresso machine, high-end prosumer single-dose grinder by Kafatek and other equipment on the Heavy Water bar reflect a balance of quality with a fun and engaging workplace.
“Whatever barista is working when a customer comes through Heavy Water, they are the face of Heavy Water, so I am trying to make sure that that person is taken care of, that we’re paying them a fair wage and providing an environment where they’re comfortable,” said Riley. “I am trying to do right by the people that I work with in that capacity, because I wish somebody did that for me.”
The focus on people is complemented by a deep focus on the product at hand, beginning with the roasted coffee.
“I noticed a trend in the Los Angeles coffee scene: When some multiroaster shops switched to roasting their own coffee, the quality of their drinks inevitably dipped,” said Riley. “That happened multiple times with different shops all over the city. That really struck a chord with me, to be like, ‘Okay, if I ever do a cafe, I’m going to focus on the product first, and make sure that I have this thing dialed in before I try to open up a storefront.'”
Riley roasts for Heavy Water on a Probat L12 machine owned by Black Stallion Coffee in nearby San Gabriel. Green coffees are purchased either directly from growers, or through importers such as Falcon Coffees, Paramo Trading, Hacea Coffee Source and others.
“One of my favorite things about being a roaster is the connection to the working class of other countries,” said Riley. “My philosophy when roasting is to showcase the work the producer has done. Honestly, I would like to have as little fingerprint on the coffee as possible.”
Heavy Water held a grand opening on July 1, with live music, food prepared on site by L.A. chef Jesse Furman and a steady stream of new customers.
“I’m so grateful and thankful for everyone who’s been coming out. It’s terrifying opening up a business, and on top of that my wife and I just had our first child in March,” said Riley. “I have some big plans to open up a roastery somewhere in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area one day, but right now I’m just going to focus on serving the community good coffee and being a good dad.”