Local Flavor: Portola Coffee Lab

Preface: New feature alert! For people who don't live in Southern California (specifically Orange County) you might find that these posts  don't really pertain to you and I guess you'd be right, so sorry 'bout that. For those of you who DO live in SoCal this is for you! I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite restaurants, shops, off the beaten path attractions, etc. I want to support all of the great small businesses in the county (and I've always wanted an excuse to write about places a la Yelp but am too lazy to actually make a Yelp account  so here's my chance to kill two birds with one stone).

Portola Coffee Lab
Portola Coffee Lab OC Mart Mix
Portola Coffee Lab Costa Mesa
Portola Coffee Lab Orange County
Portola Coffee Lab mocha

For the longest time, all throughout high school and college, I was not a coffee drinker. Sure it smelled alright and I liked hanging out with friends at coffee places, but when it came time to order I usually opted for a hot chocolate or a hot earl gray (with some ice thrown in there, a half hearted attempt to try to minimize the inevitable third degree burns that were sure to follow). Coffee didn't appeal to me because I disliked how crazy dependent people seemed to be to it. "Don't even THINK about talking to me before I've had my coffee" is a phrase I feel like I've heard a million times. A favorite used by many  stressed out suburban yoga moms, it's often followed by a chorus of "tell me about it"s , sympathetic nods, and "MMHHHmm"s with knowing glances exchanged all around.

Well fast forward a bit and while I'm still not a habitual coffee drinker by any means, I am proud to announce that my taste buds have matured enough that I now enjoy mochas!!

I know, I know. For most, mochas barely qualify as a coffee drink, and I get that. But getting a mocha from Portola is a whole 'nother experience.

But first, a little bit about Portola Coffee. At first glance, the place definitely seems like something out of an episode of Portlandia. The barristas wear white lab coats (because it's a "coffee lab", duh), there are vaguely steam punky looking contraptions that brew or filter the coffee,  and for those blessed with a heightened sense of taste you should be able to detect notes of citrus, floral, fog, paprika, spicy cheddar, etc. etc. in your coffee. It's a place that would be really easy to make fun of EXCEPT that it absolutely delivers on its product.

Back to the mocha. There is one size and you can get it either hot or iced. I usually opt for hot. It can take between 5-15 minutes to get depending on how busy they are (and they can get really busy). They do the cute steamed milk art or whatever and once you take your first sip it is straight heaven. Calling it rich is an understatement. It's thick and velvety and each sip coats the inside of your mouth with milky-coffee-dark chocolatey goodness. I know that they make their own dark chocolate ganache which is used in the drink but aside from that I'm not too sure what else is in it. Probably crack.

Also, a note about friendliness: the barristas are super nice! I mention this because from what I've heard, the often self proclaimed coffee snobs that work at artisenal places can be downright condescending about your cup of coffee. I know there are some joints in LA and SF that either don't offer things like cream and sugar because it's like a slap in the face to the God of coffee or they try to strongly dissuade you from using it. No joke I was behind a lady at Portola who essentially wanted to order a caramel macchiatto from Starbucks and surprisingly, the barrista didn't give her a withering glance and yell "get out  GET out GET OUT" which I assume would be normal at similar places.

Portola Coffee Lab 
Located inside the OC Mart
3313 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa
Mocha: $4.50


  1. this place sounds fun! I love anything steampunk:) I haven't ever been a huge coffee drinker either (mormon, so....) but I've always LOVED the smell sooohoho much. I've always been drawn to dark, roasty flavours (coffee, caramel, toasted grain, etc) mmm. I've found Pero or Postum are great because they smell and taste a ton like coffee, but there's no caffeine to make it addictive. I always make wildly unhealthy caramel cocoa pero frappes all fall and winter. I'm too scared of the snotty new york coffee snobs to venture into a local cafe..

  2. Oh so excited about your new feature!
    We live in San Diego and the few times that we have driven up we just had no idea where to go whatsoever and just ended up going to the Santa Monica pier by default. So it's going to be nice to have a little list of must see places :) thanks!
    Personally I've always hated coffee, but in recent years I've found myself drinking it just to be able to stay awake, the only way I can do it though is if it's smothered in hazelnut creamer...I can already hear someone at such places you were talking about yelling "NO COFFEE (soup) FOR YOU!!"

  3. Mmm definitely feeling some Portola right now!

  4. Looks like a wicked place! Pity I'm over 10,000 miles away haaha.

    x Michelle | thefeatherden.net

  5. this is my best friend's favorite spot to get work done. she owns her own greeting card business. :) i wish i liked coffee. it smells great but i can't take the taste.

  6. I'm not sure what to say about Portola. I went there with my brothers since we're all coffee drinkers. My oldest brother strictly only drinks plain espresso, my second oldest drinks plain black coffee, and me, I enjoy steamed milk/sweetened drinks like mocha.

    I tried the mocha at Portola and it was great, but the espresso and regular coffee was straight up the worst coffee we all have ever had! They were both incredibly sour and that's something good coffee should not be. I'm pretty sure we're not coming back ever again. My brother took one of his friends there and he agreed it was an awful cup of coffee as well.

    Honestly, I also couldn't get over their pretend lab coats. There's nothing I hate more than snobby coffee people. Excuse me while I side-eye! I can't get myself to praise this place if they can't make basic coffee and espresso.

    1. Ahh oh no!! You know, one time my boyfriend did get the fancy "kyoto" iced coffee, the kind that they allegedly sell out of really fast that's in the glass and metal contraption and we both agreed that if this supposed to be "the best coffee ever" then we must really be coffee noobs because we both agreed it was SO SOUR! Like crazy sour! And even when we dumped a lot of cream in it was still sour?? I chalked it up to not having a true coffee lovers palate. The "regular" coffee that they have tasted more normal and was fine but I do still wonder about that sour fancy schmanct kyoto coffee. Definitely back the mochas 100%, though! And yeah, the lab coats are gimmicky but as far as snobbiness I've never seen a barrista be condescending to anyone so I can't really comment on that. If you've ever been to Bruxie (the waffle place in Orange) I will talk your ear off about condescending fake ass employees! Ugh!!

  7. Yay for this feature! I love your blog. I agree the mom jean thing is weird and the 90's were awesome in almost every other way. Maybe I'll see you around. We're practically neighbors. Ps the bruxie people seem nice to me! ;) haha!

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