This is sleek, hipster-infused minimalism at its best. Even from the outside of its Waikiki storefront, Gorilla In The Café strikes a passerby as unquestionably modern. Inside, exposed wood trim, a chalkboard menu and high-rise ceilings continue the theme, but the true highlight finds itself perched along a towering wall of hand-packaged coffee bags up for sale at Gorilla, with every option 100 percent locally grown, sourced and roasted.
Gorilla In The Café’s primary claim to fame is its owner–Bae Yong Joon, a longtime K-pop star who also happens to be a foodie and coffee enthusiast. Bae owns a sister establishment, a health-conscious restaurant in Korea named Gorilla In The Kitchen, thus the name here. Fans from all over the world visit there.
The local star, however, is manager Tim Lee, who knows his beans. Deeply passionate and knowledgeable about local coffees, Lee is no trend-tracking hipster. “We’re not your run-of-the-mill café,” he says, expertly illustrating the pour-over method (boiling water over freshly fine-ground coffee. Gorilla’s gold standard employs bamboo filters and a special funnel.
We sampled various coffees, all pure Hawaii-grown coffee; no 10 percent blends here. Among the roasts we tried: Kona Maragogype, Maui Mokka Peaberry, Kau Washed Typica and Maui Red Catuai. Even as a coffee amateur, I could taste the multi-leveled notes unique to each bean–an experience only heightened by Lee’s exceptional guidance.
Turns out, many of the roasts offered at Gorilla boast Coffee Review scores of over 90 points. In barista talk, that’s serious business.
Keeping things fresh is at utmost importance to Lee and the rest of the staff, so continually bringing in small batches of beans is key. “All of our coffees, we get 2-3 times a week,” Lee explains. Larger coffee chains have to purchase their beans in bulk and roasted dark, in order to keep up with corporation demands and to ensure longer shelf life. Gorilla does the opposite, implementing frequent turnover and purchasing lighter roasts.
For the foodies, Gorilla follows its dedication to sourcing local by with fresh pastries from La Tour Bakehouse or JJ Bistro & French Pastry (including, yes, the famous chocolate pyramids!).
Lee says that Bae and he hope to expand to another location soon, somewhere closer to town or in the Kakaako area. But for now, this 3-month old café is still getting their name and high-caliber reputation out. Now that’s beyond the hipster hype.