Written by Jordan Michelman.

Photos by Kevin Rousso.

For many of us working in and around the American specialty coffee industry, Christopher “Nicely” Abel Alameda needs no introduction. But in case you happen to be unfamiliar, Nicely’s work reads like a resume builder template for modern West Coast coffee culture. Beginning as a barista at 16 working for Starbucks—”they fired me for making my mom a hot chocolate”—Alameda has served time at legendary coffee destinations, including Vivace, Intelligentsia Venice, Handsome Coffee Roasters, Menotti’s, and Dayglow. Now he helms the program at Hooked, a daytime coffee service inside of Dudley Market, a charming beachside fish-and-burgers restaurant in Venice, Los Angeles, with a serious natural wine program and epic ocean air vibes. 

Alameda has a serious following as a latte artist—check his Instagram @nicely85 for serious pours—but he’s also something like a coffee beverage trends analyst, open-minded and experimental yet deeply allegiant to the classic ideals of third-wave culture. There’s nobody else in America who will pour you a natural Gesha goat’s milk cappuccino *and* a 2005 Vivace-style orange cocoa Cafe Nico in the same 15-minute service. 

Some know him as the latte art #GOAT—and it’s hard to disagree—but for those of us who have known him for a decade or more, we simply call him Nicely. 

How would you describe the program at Hooked for folks who haven’t been in yet? 

We’re the coffee bar inside of Dudley Market, which is a seafood-famous, burger-popular restaurant on Venice Beach with a focus on lin-caught fish. The restaurant is actually owned by a fisherman, and 80% of what we sell is stuff we actually catch. We also pour a lot of cool natural wine here, with a crazy rotation of bottles.  

Inspired by that idea, I’ve created a coffee program with a huge focus on natural or experimental processed coffees. Most of the coffees I care about are naturals, or otherwise a crazy fun process that can deliver “aha” moments. I want to be a gateway that makes people say, “Wow”. I feel like I used to be kind of programmed to spit out hate for naturals once upon a time, but now I own a space that lets me put any coffee I want on the shelf, and it’s really exciting for me to deliver something great to the people who come here. Folks get hit with experiences here that are pretty profound. 

We call it Hooked because we’re all hooked on good music, good vibes, good coffee. 

You’re somebody who is very well known for working with milk textures and latte art. How do natural coffees play into that? Is there still a stigma around this? 

Maybe there is, but it’s outdated. Listen—our understanding of natural coffees should start from the producer level. Farms around the world are looking at the cost of production and water costs and water crisis issues. Farms are trying to use less water. At a baseline level, I want to say hell yes to supporting coffee producers and to help find ways for producers to get more coffees to market. 

But it’s also outdated because today we have cleaner, better examples of natural processed coffees that taste great with milk. I can deliver natural espresso drinks with milk that taste profound, chocolatey, yummy, and sometimes even blueberry-like. A huge part of that is also thinking about milk, honestly. Freeze-distilling milk to highlight natural sweetness. Considering alternative dairy milks, like goat. Thinking about seasonality in milk. Buying from small, high-quality dairies. We serve stuff in our cafe that you might only see at a competition level. And it’s more expensive because of it, too. We sell our drinks at a premium here. But we are offering natural coffees that pair with milk, honestly better than I’ve ever had before. 

It also means I work harder on the espresso side. Sometimes, I’m pulling 45 or 50-gram shots. I’m sacrificing a little bit of ego to make a better espresso to pair with milk and thinking hard about the milk pairing at the same time. 

You’re working on a Linea PB at the shop—how does that help support your work at Hooked?

Honestly, it’s huge. I have worked on La Marzocco machines since I was 16 years old at Starbucks. La Marzocco is my roots as a barista. Today at Hooked, I’m working here solo, and honestly, I can rely on the Linea PB being a super consistent machine for me. I do preventative maintenance, I keep it in check, and in turn, this machine performs like a great instrument. It also allows me to mess around a little bit—I keep two different ratios programmed for pretty much all my coffees, which allows me to highlight how a coffee is tasting on a given day, or if the milk tastes a little different. It’s nice being able to have that amount of room to play with on each group head. 

Visit Hooked Venice’s official website and follow them on Instagram