If the thought of drinking coffee without cream and sugar leaves a burnt taste in your mouth, Muddy Paw Coffee may change your thinking. At their shop in Silver Lake, Darren and Natalia La Borie bring a coffee roasting artistry that makes their dark roast a top seller.
“Some people have never really had a good dark roast coffee black because they’ve gotten so used to adding stuff to it before they even taste it,” Darren said. “We joke that we’re bringing people back to the dark side.”
The other side of Muddy Paw Coffee is implied in its name. The shop not only welcomes coffee lovers and their pets, but also actively gives back to support local animal causes.
While the dog-friendly patio and frequent on-site pet adoption and fundraising events draw many customers who come for the animals, just as many are lured in by the quality brews.
“The majority of customers who return are coming back for the coffee,” Darren said.
Darren’s coffee journey began 25 years ago in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he and his brother Derek La Borie acquired a roaster and facility that became Port City Coffee Roasters. Derek continues to run their East Coast roastery and shop, which offers small-batch sustainable coffee in the New England area and online. Derek also supplies freshly roasted beans for Muddy Paw Coffee, which Darren and wife Natalia oversee along with all West Coast operations.
While cultivating their family business, the La Borie brothers picked up the nuances of the coffee craft from Italians who held generations of roasting experience.
“We learned how to roast by sight, sound, and smell,” Darren said.
With this intuitive hands-on approach, they’re able to achieve a dark roast that brings out the rich, smoky flavors of the beans without the strong bitterness and notes of ashtray associated with many commercial roasts.
For Muddy Paw, the Growler blend of beans is most popular—an Italian dark roast with a deep unified color and a sheen of oil. When smashed with a thumb, the bean cracks easily with no husk fragments, releasing a chocolaty fragrance.
The specialty of the house is the cold brew espresso. For many caffeine outlets, cold brew coffee is often made overnight with a solid 12-hour soaking. However, Muddy Paw Coffee takes its time with the process, brewing their espresso over a three-day incubation period at room temperature, hidden away from light.
This espresso is used in the shop’s signature iced drink, Wag The Tail, blended with coconut water and a splash of milk. The combination energizes and hydrates the body, making it the preferred beverage for some customers before a workout.
“It’s also a great hangover cure,” Darren suggested.
In the shop and online, Muddy Paw sells several blends of regular coffee, espresso, and decaf, plus a few organic and fair trade single origin beans. They also offer teas selected by a local supplier, Convergence Health Teas. To flavor the drinks, Darren orders spices from Spice Station and bitters from Bar Keeper, both Silver Lake establishments.
To pair with your java experience at the shop, Muddy Paw Coffee also partners with Los Angeles area businesses for their selection of treats.
The sticky buns are a top seller, which come from Breakaway Bakery on Mid Wilshire, along with other vegan, organic, and gluten free options. At the front entry, the display case greets you with a dozen tempting varieties of Nonna’s Empanadas. Several cookies, pop tarts, and other baked goodies are sourced from She Baked Me in Los Angeles. Croissants are made by Cafe Los Feliz.
And, of course, you’ll find treats for dogs! Dog cookies are provided by downtown LA pet retailer Pussy and Pooch.
Between the dog and cat-themed beverages, the pet portraits on the walls, and the patio full of patrons with their furry companions, Muddy Paw effectively blends the love of coffee with a love for animals. Occasionally, this atmosphere can give first-time customers a mixed up impression.
“Some people come in thinking we sell coffee for dogs,” Darren admits with a chuckle.
Since opening its doors in 2013, Muddy Paw Coffee has worked with animal rescues and nonprofit organizations to raise funds and awareness within local communities and neighborhoods. The brand’s motto is “Have a Cup, Save a Pup,” and portion of everything sold — from coffee to empanadas, and from tea to t-shirts — goes to local nonprofits supporting worthy animal causes.
Muddy Paw has also created a means for nonprofits to raise additional funds through coffee bean sales. With the La Borie family’s coffee roasting resources, they can white label wholesale bags of beans for organizations to sell themselves, with $2 for every bag going directly to the nonprofit. To make this process even easier, Darren is working to build a customizable online sales platform that provides a stronger web presence for nonprofits.
The Muddy Paw mission extends well beyond the Silver Lake storefront. At this year’s annual CoffeeCon in downtown LA, the La Bories invited neighborhood cat rescue group Luxe Paws to join them at their Muddy Paw Coffee booth, along with two adoptable kittens. While the coffee crowd sampled Muddy Paw’s cold brew espresso drinks, the irresistibly playful kitties put a spotlight on Luxe Paws’ volunteer efforts to save, spay and neuter homeless animals.
Though Muddy Paw supports many different animal causes and organizations, Darren sees a particular need to address the overwhelming number of stray animals in LA resulting from high sterilization costs, unregulated breeders, cultural barriers, and lack of awareness.
While he admits that seeing cats and dogs get rescued from shelters attracts more attention, he believes that educating people on why and how to get pets spayed and neutered can have a greater impact by reducing the potential for more strays in the first place. He points out examples including Spay4LA, a mobile spay-neuter clinic, and FixNation, a low-cost and free spay-neuter program that sterilizes as many as 100 cats per day. “We need more people doing the dirty work,” he said.
10 years ago when Darren started Muddy Paw, he was heavily inspired by the people he saw working to rescue animals and each other after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“My mind went to all those animals that needed our help…and the unsung local heroes who were putting their lives at risk that needed our help as well.” He asked himself, “How do I help their cause?”
Selling Muddy Paw Coffee online was the first step he took to help to raise money for local heroes at a national level. Opening the storefront in Silver Lake was the next step to establish a physical presence and give more direct support to causes at a local level. Natalia has also been instrumental in expanding the brand and getting the word out.
In September, the couple will open a second Muddy Paw Coffee location in Eagle Rock, near the thriving business junction of Colorado Blvd. and Eagle Rock Blvd. Darren said they’re still finalizing plans, but the territory will be significantly larger than the Silver Lake shop. Rest assured, the new digs will first have to pass inspection by their own three rescue dogs: Abby (a pug-beagle mix), Santana (a Shar Pei labrador mix), and Maple (a pitbull-boxer mix).
“It’s going to be an oasis for dogs and coffee,” he said.