I’ve already espoused my love of Portola Coffee Lab over at the OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa. My visits there have become a daily ritual, effectively making it my own real-life Cheers, where everyone knows my name and they’re always glad I came. After being open over a year, co-owners Jeff and Christa Duggan have launched Theorem, a 6-seat coffee slow bar, right around the corner from Portola’s roasting counter.
Rule Number 1 of Theorem: No technology allowed. 7Deadly was allowed exclusive use of a single camera to document the drinks (thanks to owner Jeff Duggan for that), but if you choose to go, please do respect the rules and turn off your electronic devices (cell phones, cameras, light sabers, tablets, pagers, etc). It’s an extremely intimate atmosphere, with the dimly lit room, precision machinery, and LED lighting evoking the cafeteria on a doomed spaceship.
Your baristas are no more than an arms length away, ready to guide you along and answer any questions you may have. The intimacy and exclusivity are heightened by the fact that Theorem is reservation-only, a fact you’re reminded of by the personalized wax-embossed cards awaiting your party’s seats. The weekly menu contains 4-5 drinks, of which you choose three for a fixed price ranging from $15 to $25.
Truman Severson is the resident Walter White of this endeavor, seeking the simplest, purest flavors, coffee or otherwise, and then molding them into something unique and incredible. He starts us off with the Italiano, a quickly pulled, carefully measured shot of espresso, cut with filtered water and paired with a candied lemon. It had a bold, almost oaken flavor without being sharp or acidic. Truman explains that originally espresso was served with a bit of lemon peel to offset the bitter or tannic acids commonly present in incorrectly pulled shots. The candied peel offered here isn’t necessary, but pairs neatly, and is delicious enough that I make a mental note of where it’s stored in case a chance to steal some presented itself. Probably shouldn’t have written that.
We moved on to the Coffee Sour, a cold concoction prepared with the same technique and exactness as it’s alcoholic counterpart. This drink confuses but delights the senses, tasting like an alcoholic beverage infused with citrus syrups and nut-like flavors, a hint of coffee lingering after every sip. To quote our photographer Eunice, it was like “running through a field of unicorns in the summertime.” My favorite drink was definitely the Cappuccino, made with an extra rich 6% milk from the Straus Family Creamery. The extra fat in the milk coats your mouth with a velvety smoothness while providing a natural sweetness that carries the coffee. The milk is also steamed at a much lower temperature so as to avoid changes in flavor that occur during cooling while also making it immediately drinkable.
We ended our allotted time with an Enhanced Espresso, containing a mélange of herbs, fruits, and spices that was slow-brewed over siphon during most of our visit and mixed with a expertly pulled espresso. It was a refreshing palate cleanser, with no one flavor overpowering the other, yet each one distinguishable from the others. As I was leaving and instinctively turning on my phone to check what I had missed on the internet for 45 minutes, I found myself thinking more about the experience, glad to have surrendered my full attention to this caffeinated adventure.
At least until I remembered that I’d have to book my return visit online.
Mile-High Club First-Class Business Economy
3313 Hyland Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tu – Fri 1pm – 7pm
Sat – Sun 10am – 4pm
(Reservation online, max party size of 6)
Photography by Eunice Lee