Any coffee aficionado has probably enjoyed the certified organic coffee at Venice’s Groundwork neighborhood hangouts on Rose Avenue and Westminster Avenue in Venice.
Groundwork owner Richard Karno, a culinary artist in his own right, decided something was needed to give the ice-blended mochas more flavor. He didn’t want to use hot espresso because of wear and tear on the machine and the fact that the heat would melt the ice and dilute the flavor.
So what to do? Richard mailed away for a little machine that actually extracts coffee with a pressure system that enables him to maximize the flavor and get a smoother, creamier blend in an extract.
Did you read in the March 14th Los Angeles Times that the downtown location of Groundwork is the first in Los Angeles to operate the Clover, a machine that turns drip-grind coffee into a cup of coffee with flavor and clarity not experienced with other brewing methods?
Richard likes to be innovative.
A natural progression with the extract grew into providing coffee on a “to go” type basis in little packs.
Thus was born, in Venice, Java Juice, a registered trademark for the new coffee extract product. He says that what sets this product apart from other extracts is that it is made using coffee of the same quality as the certified organic coffee sold in the Groundwork coffee houses.
“Most extracts, like most instant coffees, are usually the very low end of the spectrum as far as quality,” says Richard. Not Java Juice.
The beans are from tropical coffee regions that have an organic element to them, such as Sumatra, Indonesia, Java, Mexico, Columbia, Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica. And they are all shade-grown.
You might wonder why it’s important for beans to be grown in the shade. There’s a good reason and Richard can tell you exactly why.
“Coffee was originally grown in bushes that get to be 20 to 30 feet tall,” he says. “Above them is a canopy of indigenous trees in the forest-like setting that provide shade and habitat for birds and animals.
“On top of that, the shade is good because coffee beans and trees love shade. They develop more slowly, they develop more flavor.
“When they started mechanizing and doing agricultural high-yield practices back in the ’40s and ’50s, they leveled all the indigenous trees so they could plant more coffee trees. The coffee trees were no longer in the shade. They got more yield, but the coffee wasn’t as good.”
The first packets of Java Juice were produced early last year. Since they were new and hadn’t been tested for shelf life, they were stamped with a “sell by” date that turned out to be earlier than necessary. Initially it was thought that after six months the Java Juice wouldn’t be as good. But by the time Richard and his wife and partner Arlene were ready to market their product, they were left with about 10,000 excess packets that had already almost reached their expiration date.
“They were perfectly good, so we decided to donate them to the Blue Star Mothers,” Richard says.
Blue Star Mothers are mothers who now have, or have had, children serving in the military. It is a nonprofit service organization whose members support each other and their children while promoting patriotism.
The Blue Star Mothers also have a program called Goodies for the Good Guys Program, which allows businesses to donate specific products to troops overseas to show their support. and they sent some of the Java Juice packets to troops in Afghanistan.
“On January 1st, 2007 I got really like a love letter from a soldier in Afghanistan, talking about how cold it was there and how there’s nothing better than a hot cup of coffee,” says Arlene. “It made me well up a little. He also said when he gets home he will definitely be looking for this.
“The fan base is growing in the military. It’s nice to think that you can give a little luxury to someone who is risking their life for us.”
The armed forces aren’t the only ones who appreciate the flavor and convenience of Java Juice. Two of the largest accounts that sell Java Juice are camping stores — REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) and Adventure 16.
“It’s such a portable ‘green’ product that’s very durable, doesn’t puff up at an altitude, easy to use, doesn’t require extra equipment; you just mix it with hot or cold water,” says Richard. “When you’re hiking you take the fuel source with you. It’s either gas or kerosene.
“Because this is already a brewed product you don’t need to rebrew it. You’d scorch it if you used boiling water. You just need to heat the water up to the temperature you want to drink it at. In some cases, especially in altitudes where it takes a long time to get the water to boil, it saves you a lot of fuel. That’s a real nice convenience. If you’re on a two week trek and you want to save your gas, this does it.”
The Karnos are amazed at the different uses people have thought up for Java Juice.
“What’s interesting is that customers have shown us ways to use it that Richard never intended in the beginning,” says Arlene. “People are creative.”
It’s being used in skin products, cooking — chili, sauces, marinades, desserts to name a few — and even dyeing clothes.
Jason Stroh, owner of Stroh’s Gourmet on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, is a fan of Java Juice. He has used it on meats and in desserts.
“All that’s really available is coffee liqueur and a lot of people can’t have alcohol,” Stroh says. “So the Java Juice works good.”
The main idea for Jason is to use it for iced coffee smoothies, which he will start making again once the weather gets warmer. Jason doesn’t drink coffee, but he appreciates its flavor and will have it in a cold coffee drink.
“Java Juice is a kick-ass product and it’s cool that it’s right here from Venice,” he says.
In addition to all its other attributes, Java Juice is also “sustainable” — the thousands of pounds of spent coffee grounds that result from the manufacturing process are squeezed, 95 percent of the moisture is taken out and they’re used to burn as energy in an electricity plant.
“So even the grounds are recyclable, in addition to the test batches we use as compost,” says Richard.
When available, the compost can be picked up at the Rose Avenue location by anyone needing it for their gardening.
And the Java Juice packaging is designed for minimum waste. There are no filters or coffee grounds to dispose of. The small packet can go into a pocket or into the trash.
Java Juice has been discovered by the Food Channel and will be featured in April or May on the Unwrapped show.
“It’s an under-the-hood look at how things get made,” says Arlene. “Like Hershey’s Kisses — how do they get in the foil. It’s about the machinery and packaging.”
Java Juice has never been exposed to oxygen. It is sealed in individual packets that have a psi (pounds per square inch) rating of 190, so they won’t break or open until you’re ready to use them. Each packet is nitrogen-gas-purged in a state-of-the-art process that locks in coffee flavor and allows Java Juice to be taken to the highest altitudes without puffing up or spoiling.
Richard and Arlene, both Los Angeles natives, have lived in Venice for over 20 years. Groundwork, the parent company, was started in 1990 and now has six cafÈs, including the two in Venice.
“It’s nice to have few enough stores that we’re not a large corporate chain,” says Richard. “We’re not so cookie-cutter. Every one of the stores we open, we make sure that they’ll be fairly organic in their look and feel — the building, the space they occupy and the neighborhood that they’re in.
“The bottom line is to deliver a really good cup of coffee.”
He says they’re not “trying to build some sort of brand where everything has to look the same and shout out at you the name of the brand so you can open up two stores a day across the world.”
“We don’t have to do that here in Venice. I’d say that 50 percent of our customers walk or bike to our stores.”
Check out www.javajuiceex tract.com for testimonials, recipes and more information.