In The Kitchen

Meet the Coffee Wizard of LA

By Tara Redfield

With a calm and steady hand, Jaime Hernandez, creates beautiful pours of coffee at some of LA’s greatest dining institutions.  He never would have guessed that moving to the United States ten years ago, working in construction to support himself and his family in Guatemala, would have lead to his life’s greatest passion: coffee. He is currently a barista at Osteria Mozza, Providence, Messhall and New School of Cooking Café.  He wants nothing more than to make you the most perfect cup of coffee. 

Like many people his age, Hernandez left his small hometown of Pachalum, Guatemala to provide for himself and his family.  In Pachalum, every family has at least one member of their family that migrates to the United States, usually a father or a brother.  There is very little work in Guatemala and many of the country’s young people are just trying to survive.

When Hernandez moved to Los Angeles, he didn’t know what his talent was, he didn’t even know the English language.  He just wanted to start working.  Through odd jobs here and there and studying at an ESL school at night, he eventually got steady work in construction.  He had developed a relationship with the owner of the soon-to-open Italian restaurant that he was helping to build. The owner, impressed with his work ethic—offered him a job as a busser.  Six months later he had his first job as a barista.  He has been working with coffee ever since.

While at Riva Bella, he developed a deep appreciation for espresso. 

“Espresso comes from Italy, they take it very seriously.  When true Italians order my coffee and say it is good, it excites me.”

After Riva Bella closed, Hernandez found himself auditioning for the top barista at Osteria Mozza.  She was leaving and needed a replacement.  Chef Nancy Silverton told him that if he impressed her out-going barista, he had the job.  Later that day he got the call, “Jaime, when can you start?”

Even after getting great barista jobs, he wasn’t satisfied, he wanted to keep improving and learning.  He headed downtown for training sessions with top roasters such as Stumptown and Intelligentsia and watched hours of youtube videos absorbing everything he could about technique.

“So many people work in restaurants with no passion, but for me, this is something I love.  I’ve never gone to school to learn about coffee, but I learn a lot about it just talking to the experts.  The coffee business is a big, never ending story.”

Not only do his cups taste delicious, but his latte art is stunning.  With steamed milk as his paint, he creates everything from unicorns to dragons floating along the espresso surface.  Most of his masterpieces are documented on his instagram feed (@thecoffeewizard10). He recently served Jennifer Lopez a unicorn latte that resulted in her asking to take a selfie with him. Hernandez has become so well known for his latte art that customers visit him specifically to request his designs.

“It can be a normal person or a celebrity, but every time I make a drink for them and they have a good reaction, that means I’m doing a good job.”

Hernandez loves all of the restaurants he works at for different reasons.  At New School of Cooking Café it’s the customers and environment, “We have great Stumptown Coffee, good food, the customers are regulars and it’s not too big of a place, but not too small.  Great atmosphere for people to enjoy their coffee.”  At Osteria Mozza he has been able to take his knowledge to the next level and grow–working with a supportive staff that encourages him to get better and better.

“Jaime is a great employee and makes incredible latte art.” – Sarah Clarke, GM Osteria Mozza. 

When asked where he would like to be in five years, Hernandez softly laughs. “The Owner of Providence asks me the same question.  I want to continue in the coffee business, maybe I could be a trainer or I can save money and open my own café.”

One of his favorite coffee memories was when he was served a french press for the first time.  He was at LAX waiting for a delayed flight and decided to get some coffee at one of the terminal cafés.  Despite it’s simplicity compared to the cappuccinos and lattes he’s used to serving, it’s still one of the best cups of coffee he’s ever had.

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