Tohm Ifergan is an artist in many ways.
When he isn’t pulling Portola’s espresso shots, or concocting the next innovation for the Theorem Menu, he is drumming for the band, From Indian Lakes.
And whatever notions you may have about a boisterous drummer, you can just set those aside when meeting Tohm.
Moving subtly behind the Theorem bar, he carefully wipes down the espresso machine, and begins to craft another beverage: from your standard cappuccino, to a Theorem Stout (chocolate malt milk stout made with Portola's Terra Icognita espreso, pulled on Nitro). His October, craft beer-inspired menu, is well in the past for Tohm as he begins preparing for November. He carefully assorts unique, original ingredients in beakers and tools that look much like that of a mad scientist in an experimental lab.
And really, to the core, that is what Theorem is. Yes, it is about taking a different angle on coffee; to be understood as both a beverage and an ingredient. But truly, when a barista pulls a shot or brews a batch, the entire coffee process is down to chemistry. But here, in the small darkened and intimate walk-up bar, both science and creativity flourish.
Tohm has been responsible for creating the Theorem Menu for months now, alongside a few collaborations from other Portola baristas.
But Tohm, a native-Chicagoan, should not only be credited for the innovative drinks created monthly, but the revival of Theorem. There was a period of time where Theorem, for the lack of better words, was the forgotten child.
“I just wanted to bring back the level of innovation that I think we are capable of,” explains Tohm. “I just wanted to be as creative as possible and so far it’s been rewarding."
The Theorem lab sits directly to the right of the roaster. It’s separated by just one small wall, but passers-by may not give it a second look, or immediately accept it as part of the Portola Establishment. But it’s there, sitting humbly and quietly, and producing some magical stuff.
Yes folks, there's coffee and plenty of caffeine in the drinks above.
“This idea, distilled coffee, came to me because I wanted to be innovated and have them be cocktail eccentric rather than coffee eccentric,” he says.
His go-to cocktails are whiskey and gin based and so - voila, the November Menu was born.
"Whenever I have to plan a menu, I usually find certain aspects within that menu to make other drinks,” he pauses and then adds, “everything is an evolution of itself.”
I think to myself, well, I just will never be profound as this guy.
He shows me the menu, which as of the time for the interview, is a scratch piece of paper with scribbles here and there. He tells me is almost certain the listed items are what we can expect from Theorem in November, but I wouldn't consider the following official until it hits the chalkboard at the bar.
Coffee Cocktails - $7
GIN & TONIC
Juniper, cucumber, fever tree tonic
Juniper, unripened grapes, dandelion bitters, grapefruit
Lime, mint, fever tree ginger beer
Juniper, unripened grapes, lemon soaked olives
Unripened grapes, angostura, maraschino cherry
Lemon, eggs white, Maraschino cherry
Maple, angostura, cherry bark, orange
Agave, cinnamon bark, lemon, hot water
11am-5pm Monday - Sunday
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
While the beverages do not contain alcohol, they do retain a high level of caffeine and with that I shall add, drink responsibly folks ;)
I first tried the Gin Gin Mule and found it incredibly refreshing. I then tried on the Old Fashioned because I am a Whiskey girl and loved it. It's interesting to start a beverage out looking and tasting like a favorite cocktail, and then having a coffee finish. And yes, my descriptions could be better, but I have seemed to lost my notes on my personal interpretation of the drinks. Either way, it's an experience you need to check out for yourself ;)
Now, there is something to say for drinkers who drink their coffee black and for drinkers who drinker their coffee with mochas, vanillas, etc. Theorem is neither of the two. Whichever coffee drinker you are, you are just going to have to put aside everything you think coffee is and be open to what coffee can be. Again, it is more than a beverage; it's an ingredient, it's a catalyst for invention.
"I guess my favorite part is when I have an idea that seems pretty unrealistic and then I try it out and it then it actually works," says Tohm.
Towards the end of the interview Tohm added he had also been working on a Hot Toddy. I already knew it was going to be my personal favorite.
While whiskey and gin can say Fall, in the way whiskey warms the soul, this beverage was the closest to the Fall category in my book. And dammit, I don't care what those pumpkin patch haters say, I. love. fall. And this drink truly tasted like Fall in a mug. The beverage was served warm and had a subtle amount of sweetness with enticing spices. Now whether it's on the official menu or not - you will just have to see for yourself.
But I am sure if you ask Tohm nicely, and make a Chicago reference with a kind smile, he'd be happy to pour you one anyway.
The Coffee Nomad