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TRENDS : The Early-Morning Grind : Fresh-brewed concoctions help patrons--from studio executives to stay-at-home moms--greet the day at local coffeehouses. Each cafe has its own unique character.

August 18, 1995|ROSLYN ROZBRUCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Roslyn Rozbruch writes frequently for The Times

There's a line of people up to the front door; the espresso machine is on full throttle, foaming up milk, and the tables on both patios on either side of the coffee bar are filling up with customers. It's 7:30 a.m., and Aroma Coffee & Tea Co. in Studio City is just one of the many coffeehouses that open around sunrise.

Since the 1980s, drinking coffee and hanging out at the local coffeehouse has been a popular nighttime activity.

And over the past several years, the morning coffee scene has become part of another trend. Starbucks is the best known, and considering there's one every few miles, it's easy to see why.

There are plenty of coffeehouses other than Starbucks, and these places are more than just small coffee shops pouring Folgers and dishing out toast.

The coffee beans come from all over the world and are brewed and served in a multitude of ways. The morning fare varies from large gooey cinnamon rolls to fat-free muffins.

These places cater to everyone: from 9-to-5ers taking their cappuccinos and scones with them on their drive to work, to moms who want to drink their lattes at tables with their kids and other moms.

Ambience is part of the attraction for those who decide to pull up a chair. And each cafe has its own character.

Savannah, A Coffee Oasis, in Calabasas, is a historic house built in the early 1900s. It is surrounded by century-old oak trees that shade the outdoor patio.

The interior is decorated with a hodgepodge of antique tables and chairs.

Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts, in Toluca Lake, is a large store that is open and airy.

Big windows let in a flood of natural light, and a European country-and-sky scene is hand painted on the walls and ceilings.

But it's the food and drinks that attract people the most.

Cafe des Gourmets, in Encino, is known for its morning coffee and light breakfast.

Owners John and Susie Forrest also roast coffee and sell their roasts to customers and many San Fernando Valley restaurants. Among a variety of pastries offered, a favorite is the fat-free cinnamon twist, which has 170 calories.

"Seventy-five percent of our customers are diet-conscious and want to know what's in the product," Susie Forrest said. "There are a lot of fat-free items out there, but not all of them are tasty. We try to find the ones that have good mouth appeal."

Coffee Junction, in Tarzana, tries to cater to every dietary need by selling sugar-free, wheat-free and egg-free items along with the more common nonfat and low-fat products.

It also sells a variety of gifts, ranging from coffee cups to one-of-a-kind items such as spiritual rattles. Co-owner Sharon Benson said that if you need to buy a last-minute present, a gift basket can be made up while you drink your java.

The youngsters also can enjoy these cafes.

"We have a lot of moms that come in with their kids," said Susie Forrest, who has three children--the youngest not yet 1 and a regular at the store. "We have toys and tolerance for kids." They also have hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Crystal Lessard enjoys taking her 2-year-old son, Taylor, to Savannah on Saturday mornings to meet her mom and two sisters. "He likes the muffins and playing by the sandbox table," Lessard said.

Moms and kids are not the only ones who like to hang out. Some make it their destination after a workout or walk, and some working people wake up a little earlier to spend time at their favorite place.

"I work long hours, and I like to drink my coffee, eat my muffin and read the paper here before I start my day," said David Hastell, a financial planner who visits Savannah several mornings a week.

Some even have their morning business meetings at the coffeehouse.

Priscilla's, within walking distance of Warner Bros. and Disney studios, attracts actors and people from behind the scenes.

Owners Mark and Shannon Hartman said they often see industry people discussing movie and television projects over coffee.

"The other day, 25 executives from Disney had a meeting out in front," said Mark Hartman.

Benson said open discussions are what's happening at Coffee Junction.

"Many times people sit around the tables and talk about current issues, like the O.J. trial."

The morning coffeehouse is more than just a place to get a good cup of coffee.

"There's the banter that goes on between the regulars, and knowing someone when you walk in," said Dana Brown, manager at Aroma. "This is the 'Cheers' of the '90s--the coffee 'Cheers.' "


Eye-Opening Hours at Local Shops

* Aroma Coffee & Tea Co., 4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 508-6505. Opens at 7 a.m. Monday to Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday.

* Cafe des Gourmets, Coffee Roasters, 17233 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 907-8486. Opens at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. Monday.

* Coffee Junction, 19221 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 342-3405. Opens at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.

* Priscilla's Gourmet Coffee, Tea & Gifts, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake, (818) 843-5707. Opens at 6 a.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday.

* Savannah, A Coffee Oasis, 4835 El Canon, Calabasas, (818) 222-5508. Opens at 7 a.m. Monday to Saturday.

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