You are not required to be writing a story about Aquarela cafe in order to receive a master class in Brazilian coffee from the cafe’s owners. All you have to do is approach and introduce yourself. Alex Eliscu Kipling and Otávio Shih are as effusive as they come, extolling the virtues of their Brazilian beans and the farmers who cultivate them with an evangelical zeal.
They have a legitimate reason for proselytising. Aquarela, which translates as watercolour in Portuguese, introduced a rainbow of unique beans from small, independent farmers to the United States — many for the first time.
Aquarela is a small shop located on an unclaimed stretch of road near the intersection of Figueroa and the 110. It’s not quite Chinatown, not quite Downtown Los Angeles, and is located between Mexicali and the Kim Sing Theatre, just a few blocks from Dodger Stadium. There are a few tables on the sidewalk in front, and they recently reopened the interior with drinks, bags of beans, and pastries, including some Brazilian specialities like po de queijo cheese bread.
Kipling is a seasoned coffee professional who began his career at renowned speciality coffee shops Coava and Stumptown before moving to So Paulo in 2015 to assist a friend in opening a cafe. He began visiting local coffee farms on weekends, assisting in the picking and processing of coffee cherries.
“I was experimenting with coffees that I had never tried before, and my perceptions were altered. Why aren’t these incredible coffees available in the United States?” According to Kipling.
When he returned to his hometown of Los Angeles, he opened his own shop specialising in coffee from Brazilian roasters, which he named SPLA in honour of his frequent trips between So Paulo and Los Angeles. Shih began as a customer, a Brazilian neighbour who happened to walk by and notice the menu’s Portuguese section. He paid frequent visits to Kipling, conversing with him about coffee techniques, Brazil, and soccer. Eventually, it became apparent that the two of them were a match made in heaven. Shih joined in February 2021, and the company changed its name to Aquarela to better reflect the breadth of the Brazilian coffees they were bringing to Los Angeles.