Roast of the Town

West Coast–Original Verve Coffee Roasters Brews Up Fresh L.A. Style


Whether you are there to sip, study, or socialize, there is one unifying reason to while away the hours in a favorite coffee shop: the ambience. From the smell of the coffee to the sounds of the beans being ground, there is something about a coffee shop that impels one to take a breath, savor the sensory experience, and allow the moment to revivify a busy day or stressful project. These things are certainly true of Verve Coffee Roasters, based in Santa Cruz and spreading through L.A. like expertly poured latte art. We wanted to look beyond this award-winning roaster’s success to extract every last drop there is to love for our readers.

When it comes to colorful cafes and a caring culture, Verve’s cup is overflowing. What we found when we took a closer look at Verve Coffee’s multiple California locations was this: an utterly L.A. aesthetic—current yet laid-back—and smiling faces that were as sunny as each cafe’s interior. Verve is cozy and intimate, fresh and bright, and the overall brand image has inspired us to develop our latest palette. We chose Pratt & Lambert paints in dusky deeps and daylight neutrals, and freshened the palette with the colors of nature. But to do the Verve aesthetic justice, we turned to one of the cofounders to find out how it all began.

The Key Ingredient

Verve cofounder Colby Barr, along with partner Ryan O’Donovan, has successfully established a lifestyle brand with an emphasis on living. The name itself is a perfect fit for the company’s aesthetic and outlook: one of spirit and vigor. When asked about the central component of Verve’s sterling reputation—its friendly and approachable customer service—Barr told us that he’s “always been very proud of the fact that our team stands out as something unique and something that people really connect with. I of course care about the quality of our coffees, but without the right people onboard it is all for naught.” And Barr and O’Donovan’s enthusiasm for selling quality coffee is matched only by their enthusiasm for building quality relationships.

Verve Coffee
Images provided by Verve Coffee Roasters.

Verve’s story began with one such relationship. The cofounders, who met in college, were musicians, vintage-keyboard players, and quality-coffee enthusiasts. “He was the first coffee geek I ever knew,” Barr said of his business partner, “so he was the first person I thought of when it came to starting a coffee business. From there we really just did a handshake deal and went for it, giving it everything we had and never compromising our ideals.”

A perk of their partnership was a mutual interest in the effort to source coffee responsibly. Words like “sustainability,” “fair trade,” and “organic” are hot topics in the current climate, and people in the coffee industry—reliant as it is on ingredients imported from far-flung countries—are constantly considering the implications. Verve Coffee is firmly lodged in the camp that cares. Barr acknowledged that a commitment to quality is a commitment to care—care for the customer, care for the product, and care for the provider.

Coming from a farming family himself, Barr understands the struggles facing farmers today. In an effort to begin a conversation with consumers about these struggles, Verve takes the first step toward making customers feel at home, both in the store and with its product, and then educates them on coffee quality and sustainability. “Bridging that connection between the farm level and the street level, and vice versa, is a driving force in our mission,” Barr said. On one end, this is achieved by keeping open lines of honest communication with suppliers. On the other is where the storefronts of Verve Coffee come in.

A Bright Spot

All three locations in Los Angeles—Downtown, Melrose, and Mid-City—have a comfortable, homey feel. But like the neighborhoods surrounding them, each store has its own distinct personality.

“We always approach our stores individually,” Barr said. He told us that creating cohesion is more about a singular design philosophy than a specific visual look. “We design for the building and the neighborhood, and also where we happen to be creatively at that time.” Barr also spoke to the distinct quality that gives each Verve cafe the residential feel we love. “We want them to have a feeling of their own, yet also feel like Verve. Hopefully the uniqueness becomes part of the brand identity.”

To be true to what Verve stands for, we selected a handful of Pratt & Lambert paints that were inspired by this landmark coffee brand for a sleek, sunny, and relaxed palette. The aroma of freshly roasted beans permeating the air of each cafe is heavenly and invigorating, and that inspired us to select a color as delicious as the beverages Verve serves. Oxford Deep 11-17 is the perfect representation of coffee’s rich hue.

Verve Coffee
This Pratt & Lambert color palette, inspired by the fresh look of Verve Coffee Roasters’ shops, includes (top–bottom): Heron 27-18, Dovefeather 28-30, Gold-in-Shadow 13-13, Airway 24-5, Oxford Deep 11-17, and Hemlock Bud 17-23. Images provided by Verve Coffee Roasters.

The Downtown L.A. cafe, designed by neighboring firm Studio MAI, weaves accents of blue into the braided denim of its custom benches, and the vertical gardens on the patio bring a flourish of greenery to the alfresco space. For our Verve-inspired palette, we chose Heron 27-18 and Airway 24-5 to represent these bucolic blues, and the whisper of green takes the form of Hemlock Bud 17-23. These colors are also reflected in the picturesque patio of the Melrose location, where L.A.-based design studio Commune used azure, gold, and charcoal tiles in geometric patterns to provide a beautiful backdrop for a calming coffee break.

Barr told us that creating cohesion is more about a singular design philosophy than a specific visual look.

Dovefeather 28-30 perfectly exemplifies the blanched neutrals of Verve’s bright walls, blond-oak flooring, and minimalist furnishings. We added honey-colored Gold-in-Shadow 13-13 to mimic the glow of the natural light and metallic glimmers that can be found in all three L.A. locations. From the brass-topped counter and cafe tables in the Melrose shop, to the Downtown location’s mirrored bar base, to the statement-making menus and gilded horseshoe bar in the Third Street cafe, a sunny California radiance emanates from each Verve interior. The end result is a wonderfully West Coast aesthetic that fits right in with each neighborhood.

Coffee Across Cultures

This sense of fitting in is not surprising. According to Barr, the decision to expand operations to L.A. from Santa Cruz was a “natural progression.” Asked what made the founders take the leap, Barr answered, “We were getting some strong traction in wholesale from amazing like-minded businesses, and we realized that Los Angeles actually has a very similar California-lifestyle focus, which plays a big part in our own identity.”

And so the first Los Angeles location opened downtown in early 2015, with the Melrose and Third Street locations soon to follow. Verve quickly won over L.A. coffee fans with weekly free samplings, delicious brews, and an inviting atmosphere. A symbiotic partnership with Juice Served Here helped to launch the L.A. branch of the espresso enterprise, and a common cause and sense of style rocketed Verve to the top of coffee-loving Angelenos’ lists.

Verve Coffee
Images provided by Verve Coffee.

In fact, Verve is such a standout lifestyle-coffee brand that it caught the attention of planners for the newest wing of the Shinjuku train station in Tokyo, one of the busiest transit hubs in the world. After scouting several US coffee roasters in search of the perfect new addition to their revitalization project, Shinjuku-station developers reached out to Verve. Barr and O’Donovan jumped at the opportunity to share West Coast culture in the Land of the Rising Sun, and their undertaking bore fruit following the station’s opening, in April. So if you find yourself in Tokyo, you’ll be able to find a taste of home in the compact Verve outpost there (especially if you’re craving a cold brew, since nitro infusion is one brewing method that Verve introduced to Japan).

The Verve venture has combined equal parts quality and care, edifying the masses on what good coffee is and where it comes from, and cultivating a casual aesthetic that inspires us to attempt its recreation in our next residential project. If you’re looking to enjoy a hot beverage in a cool atmosphere, look no further than Verve Coffee, in Los Angeles, the coffee brand that is Californian to the core.