Thursday, October 27, 2016

Horchata Latte? Echo Park coffee house courts customers with a Latino twist

Tierra Mia in Echo Park/Lucy Guanuna

By Lucy Guanuna

Owner Ulysses Romero at soon-to-open Lynwood cafe/Lucy Guanuna

One of Echo Park’s newest cafe, Tierra Mia,is on an horchata-latte high that has helped propel the small business on a rapid expansion throughout Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Tierra Mia has set itself apart from the rest in the artisan coffee scene by serving their java with a Latino flair. Baristas serve up the usual cups of coffee and espresso in addition to specialty drinks like the Coco Loco latte and the Rice and Beans frappe, made with a mix of coffee, horchata, a sweet, rice-based drink, and ground coffee beans. They are currently working on their newest addition, an horchata latte cupcake.

Tierra Mia, which first opened in South Gate in 2008, ventured out of its typically Latino neighborhood niche and into the Eastside earlier this year, opening a new location on Alvarado street in Echo Park. Tierra Mia leased the space that had previously housed the Downbeat Cafe for more than ten years.

Taking the place of a neighborhood favorite, a new cafe could be received with indifference and sometimes outright protest, but Tierra Mia is slowly gathering a solid following in Echo Park, as business begins to pick up and the lines start to get longer.

“People in the neighborhood are getting to know us and we are starting to get return customers,” said Ulysses Romero, founder and president of Tierra Mia. “[Creating quality coffee] became the core of what we do, which will help us have appeal in any neighborhood.”

Tierra Mia remains bakes their own pastries and use their own vintage Probat roasters to roast coffee beans that were handpicked by Romero on family owned farms in Central and South America.

“My intention was always to create the coffee house that a Latino person would want to go to by creating a menu that was appealing to them. We try to create something that people will like and that they will be excited about,” Romero said.

Tierra Mia in Echo Park

The idea for Tierra Mia came to Romero, in 2006, shortly after completing his MBA at Stanford. After working as a consultant within different corporate settings, the now 35-year-old, first-generation Mexican-American decided on starting his own business.

“In those jobs, I didn’t feel satisfied. It didn’t seem like it was what I wanted to do, and I felt that starting my own business made more sense,” Romero said.

In 2006, when brainstorming ideas for what would make a successful business, Romero considered the rapid growth of the specialty coffee market as well as the steady increase in the Latino population.

According to the Minority Business Development Agency, Latino-owned businesses have increased by 44% and Tierra Mia is an example of that. In the past 18 months, Tierra Mia has experienced a whirlwind expansion within the past 18 months, managing to open four new locations. Their eighth location in Lynwood is currently in the last leg of construction and although the pace has certainly picked up, Romero believes it is a healthy growth and they have not compromised quality for quantity.

“There’s a clear connection between coffee and Latin America and if we can bring them together a little more and cater to the Latino population, I think the Latino population would like that and prefer to have a coffee house like that,” Romero said.

Romero said one of his biggest motivators in wanting to expand the business is to create more jobs. Tierra Mia currently employs 120 full-time and part-time employees and plans to expand their workforce by 18 employees once their new location in Lynwood opens.

“Everytime we open a successful store we are creating one or two full time roles with folks that can help support their families. At a busy store we can create up to 20 jobs and it’s especially important when we go into neighborhoods where the economy has hit them a little harder,” Romero said.

Romero said they want to focus on growing their presence in Los Angeles and that there is opportunity to continue to grow in the Bay Area and the rest of California.

He said their social media is abuzz with requests from patrons who want a Tierra Mia on their side of town. The Inland Empire, Orange County and the Central Valley are all possible locations for the next Tierra Mia.

Lucy Guanuna,  a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.

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  1. This owner is very smart. I used to go to their original South Gate location and it was always delicious and frequently crowded. I was walking through downtown a few months back and saw they opened a tiny location there. Now with this location in North Central LA (EP) it seems like their success allows them to keep expanding, and fast.

    The horchata latte tastes exactly like Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a coffee drink! Really good but loaded with calories.

  2. It’s been a really enjoyable addition to the neighborhood. But I don’t get the whole rapid expansion thing. Why not stay small and strive? Don’t go overboard. I don’t want to walk down the block in a couple of years to find a going out business sign in the window.

  3. Im sorry, but this place blows. Ive gone 3 times and each time it took over 10 min just to get a regular coffee. The least expensive, regular coffee is over $3 for a SMALL.

    Certainly does not have the neighborhood feel of the Downbeat or even Echo Lake Coffee. They use the cheapest ingredients such as hormone/antibiotic filled milk. Come on, your going to charge $3 for a small plain coffee, and you use low quality ingredients. Give me a break.

    Each and every person I know in the neighborhood feels this way about the place and honestly – I hope they make some big changes or go somewhere else.

    • There are plenty of Starbucks to soothe your” soy, non fat almond milk, grass fed beans , in the shade of an organically grown field” to please you.
      I have my favorite neighborhood spot that I enjoy , Give all businesses a chance to do what hey do , you don’t have to go there.
      Furthermore, I am not “each and every neighbor” don’t speak for me.
      Echo PArk since 1963

  4. This is the only coffee house I feel comfortable in lately because the baristas are all nice, friendly, and don’t cop a snotty attitude. I work hard for my money and am happy to spend it on a three dollar cup of coffee and enjoy a sit down drink, but not by a barista who considers me LUCKY to have them serve me. The folks at this place are very nice and the coffee drinks are delicious, plus there’s a nice diversityof clientele you don’t find at other coffee houses.

  5. This sucks. I had thought of this over a year ago. As they say “you snooze you lose”. My loss I guess.

  6. or you can support Taza, small little coffee shop around the corner on sunset. love this place! coffee is great, tiny shop that has become my favorite spot in the area!

  7. Have to weigh in with a Taza vote. Not only did they serve Horchata Lattes before Tierra Mia even opened, Taza’s taste better too. Tierra Mia’s is way too sweet.

  8. i love the horchata latte! my pal who lives in south gate always brings me them when I’m feeling down….now I can get it myself. So glad to see this chain of cafes thrive!

  9. Cafe de Leche in HLP used to sell a similar drink: “Dirty Horchata” (horchata with espresso), they changed it to Horchata con espresso. Maybe it was because I would go in there and ask for a dirty whore.

  10. Visit their Echo Park location frequently, and love it! Their Coco Loco Frappe tastes just like chocolate Abuelita! (add a shot of espresso,..for an extra kick). Just wishe they had a biggesr selection of drinks.

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