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Ready, Set, Soy: A Foam-Off

September 04, 2002|Charles Perry

Why do people order latte? Because the richness of the milk apologizes for the bitterness of the coffee. It's tricky to make one with soy milk. When it's done just right, it gives an amazingly similar effect. But when it's off the mark, you get the worst possible coffee drink--bitter and vegetal at the same time.

We sampled soy lattes at six prominent coffeehouses around town and rated them on how close they came to a good dairy latte. We were looking for rich foam, convincing milk-like taste and good balance of richness and coffee flavor.

Los Angeles baristas, we discovered, still have a few things to learn about making soy latte. Here's what we found, rating them on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being barely drinkable).

Highland Grounds, 742 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood

*Music club by night, coffee purist's place by day, Highland Grounds seems to be trying to ignore the soy milk. The latte has scarcely any foam and no sweetening, making for distinctly bitter, coffee-dominated flavor.

*Small soy latte (12 ounces), $3.25(1)


Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, 11698 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood

*There's nothing to irk the fit, young, go-ahead crowd that flocks here, cell phones and portable PCs in hand: a mild, milky, sweetish latte with little foam and a faint vegetal aftertaste.

*Small soy latte (12 ounces), $2.80 (2 1/2)


Daily Grind, 7801 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

*Despite the slightly beleaguered tone set by the sign warning that the Grind's bathrooms are only for paying customers, this is a comfortable latte with rich foam and a convincing milky flavor.

*Small soy latte (12 ounces), $2.95 (3)


Urth Cafe, 8565 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood

*Imagine the cozy, sheltered atmosphere of a college town coffeehouse, only it's in West Hollywood, and at some hours there's valet parking. Urth's ecologically correct coffee is expensive, but the place does make an outstanding soy latte, with good creaminess and a rich, balanced coffee flavor. It's hard to believe you're drinking soy.

*Small soy latte (10 ounces), $3.50 (4)


Starbucks, 575 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena

*The leading espresso chain makes no false moves here: rich foam, milky, not too sweet, with moderate coffee flavor.

*Small soy latte(12 ounces), $2.90 (3)


Peet's Coffee & Tea, 605 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena

*Right across the street is the first Southland branch of the chain that rules Northern California. Despite Peet's strong focus on coffee beans, though, this barely sweetened latte is extremely creamy, with only a mild coffee flavor.

*Small soy latte (10 ounces), $2.80 (2 1/2)

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