The Seattle Weekly

Visit for coffee on Mondays, at The Seattle Weekly.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ristretto What?

An old, but entertaining article I happened across earlier today. The Coffeegeek archives, regarding reasons not to order "ristretto": Coffeegeek Etiquette & The Ristretto Shot.

I am now guilty of being one of those people who laughs out loud in a public place, while sitting alone and staring at my computer screen.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blogs Inside of Blogs

This morning, I woke up to find that the Seattle Weekly post I wrote about Cafe Javasti had been reviewed by ... much entertained, I am here linking to their link to my link, and feeling a little like M.C. Escher in the process.

Maple Leaf Life: Coffee and Crepes at Cafe Javasti

Or, for the original instead...

Seattle Weekly: Cold Brew Coffee at Cafe Javasti

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blogs and Cupcakes

New look for The Buzz!

First impressions of cold brew featured in tomorrow's SW post.

And an article I just found, about a coffee/cupcake pairing event... where there seems to have been an unfortunate amount of bacon involved.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seattle Coffee Works - Downtown

Seattle Weekly: "Local Coffee Drinker Confused by Hospitality" - In which, I finally make a recommendation for the downtown area, out of fear it might be feeling neglected.

Post-graduation, I am now trying to figure out a new "tag line" for this blog, and decide whether or not to reformat it to more summery colors and a layout that better incorporates the SW posts without giving the whole page over to them (yes, I've been a lazy blogger lately). Change is not my strength, so I certainly welcome suggestions from you who read this.

Suggest away.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trabant Coffee & Chai - U District

Last week's Seattle Weekly coffee moment: Tanzania, Brazil: Canadian Coffee in Seattle's U District. - In which, I learn to use PowerPoint, and am dubious toward people who think they are Where It's At.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I have been remiss in blogging.

Correction, technicality: I have been remiss in blogging here. I have, however, been blogging over at Seattle Weekly's Voracious website. So here's an update on the past three weeks in coffee over there.

May 10: Kope Luau: Chasing Sun, Finding Coffee (and Chickens) ... In which there is offered a rundown on my visit to the island of Kauai, the Kauai Coffee Estate, and grocery stores that sell Kona Coffee like it's no big deal.

May 17: Marine Biology, Retail Therapy, and the Allure of Espresso Vivace ... In which I narrowly escape the jaws of REI, and discover a new espresso drink.

May 24: Red Cup, White Beans, and Coffee 101 ... In which you will find an explanation of coffee growing and roasting, given by an overly caffeinated Rose.

June 12th is Graduation! Stand by, friends.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Airport Coffee - SeaTac

(Written for The Seattle Weekly.)

​This morning found me standing in line -- a regrettably long line -- in the quest for an americano at Sea-Tac Airport's N-terminal Starbucks. Airport coffee, if you don't know, is an experience all its own; a separate coffee subculture, consisting of epic lines, rushed people, and crazed baristas. Particularly before morning flights, people pile into lines by the dozens, already listening to their names being last-called at their gates, but so desperate for caffeine that they're willing to risk it. It is almost excusable that you can count on getting crappy coffee.

...Continue Reading: Spilling the Beans.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Victrola Roastery - Capitol Hill

(Written for The Seattle Weekly.)

I am a mug snob. There, I said it.

Coffee snob, no... I mean, I like to think not, but then somebody serves me an americano that tastes like compost slushy and I rethink my self-assessment. But as to whether or not I am a snob with regard to the vessel in which my coffee is delivered there can be no debate. I am. And that's that. Oh well.

This afternoon finds me taking up as much space as is physically possible at Victrola Roastery on Capitol Hill. I have strategically managed to spread all of the resources my writing requires (as well as one or two it does not) in such a way as to barricade 2.7 places at the giant center table into definite "Rose Space." And thus, relieved of any concern that someone might sit next to or near (or on) me (it's happened), I sit and watch people migrate between tables and bar.

For example, at the moment, I'm watching the man on the other side of the room walking his coffee back to his seat -- arms outstretched like Frankenstein, neck locked back, eyes glued to the cup in his hands as he takes baby-steps toward his chair. When will he spill? It's out of the question that he won't. ...Continue Reading: Spilling the Beans.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Citizen Coffee - Queen Anne

(Written for The Seattle Weekly.)

...The first cup of coffee I ever bought was a tall single ristretto nonfat extra chocolate mocha from Starbucks, the night of May 18, 1999. At least, that's the date that IMDB tells me I bought it, as the reason it sticks in my memory is that it preceded standing in line for the midnight showing of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. I couldn't tell you now whether it was the sense of accomplishment in my tentative break into the adult world of Coffee Drinking, or the fact that the boy I was completely enamored with at the time finally said hello to me that night which makes this memory stick with me. But for either reason, it does, and I recall that, in my mind the half shot of espresso I ordered would provide me with enough caffeine to get through the night, and the extra chocolate would mean I didn't have to pay the price of tasting it... Continue Reading: Spilling the Beans.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Revolutions - Greenlake

Here is The Great Quandary of Coffee faced by grad students all over the world: There is an appropriate ratio of coffee:food which must be carefully observed and coupled, by individual, with the prefigured ratio of time-of-day:hours-of-sleep in order to reach the full potential of coffee as a studying aid. If these formulas are ignored, or reorganized, or parts of them are discarded (the most common resulting formula being that one dimensional "coffee:hours-of-sleep"), coffee can actually become a studying hinderance. And so here I sit, an hour later, having achieved precisely ONE line of music transcription and ZERO lines of writing, jittery as anything, and unable to focus on one thought for more tha...

Greenlake is calling to me, I can hear it. It is saying, "Come on! It's not raining! You know you'd rather be walking in a giant circle to nowhere than sitting at a table accomplishing nothing." It's probably right. I probably would. But I am determined to pretend like I'm studying, in hopes that I might accidentally actually get something done. (It's likely this mentality grows out of my years of chorister's commitment to setting my music on the piano or table or desk nearest to me in order to absorb its contents without ever being forced to practice. To all my choir directors over the years: I'm sorry.)

Today's troublesome caffeine comes from Revolutions Espresso and Bakery in Greenlake. It is tucked away on Woodlawn, at 70th, between Title 9 and Road Runner, which seems like an odd place for a coffee shop, and I don't think the building was originally intended for this purpose. It's a funny, retail-store sort of shape. But it works. (Watch the steps on your way in.)

Revolutions is an independently owned coffee shop, serving Herkimer coffee. As far as studying goes, it isn't very well lit, most of the tables are really small, the chairs are about as inviting as the sort you'd find at Subway, and the bare concrete floor and open setting mean that conversations carry well. If you're over-caffeinated and under-fed, these sorts of factors can prove distracting. As can the abundance of Bob Marley, which makes me want to abandon school and go live life on the beach instead. There are armchairs, but I've commandeered one of the few larger tables and spread all of my studying materials across it, so I can't speak to the lounging quality of the other furniture.

The wifi, however, is great. There are six MacBooks (yes, really) up and running in here, and either not a single one is streaming Anime films, or there is a lot of extra bandwidth running around. Either way, all of the research information I am ignoring is downloading really fast, which makes me happy. (Downloading more information makes me feel like I've accomplished more, even when I haven't.)
Revolutions: 7012 Woodlawn Avenue NE

Because Revolutions is independently owned and associated with a bakery, they have a unique assortment of pastries, all of which look delicious. They also offer rice milk, even though they serve a coffee that doesn't usually come with a rice milk option. So I'm drinking a mocha today. I'm still not a fan of Herkimer's espresso, but I have to say that I'm impressed by the quality of coffee preparation here. (If anyone knows how to make rice milk foam like this without burning it, will you please share the secret with me?) This is a well-made, perfectly timed, ideally mixed little mocha. From a friendly, helpful, cheerful barista, who liked and encouraged all of my nosey questions.

I think, if I were inclined to study today, this wouldn't be a bad place to do it. But better than study, I'd say stop by for a cup of coffee and a board game with friends, since I just noticed that they have an excellent supply of games for customer use on a shelf near the bar. You may have to play them on the floor, since the tables really are that small, but hey... why not?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Break

In case you were at all curious where The Buzz Around Town has been lately, the answer (when it is not "too busy for coffee?! tragedy!") is "Joshua Tree, CA." Aside from loving coffee, and loving the idea of not being a student anymore, I also love to rock climb. A generically Northwesterner thing for me to say, I realize, but there you have it. Perhaps PEMCO will feature me in an ad, and then reward my trendy-plaid-wearing/rock-climbing/coffee-drinking/MacBook-wielding self with complimentary insurance coverage. Hey, I can dream.

At any rate, although I try to limit this blog to coffee coverage, several monumental things happened for me over spring break this year, and I'd like to share them. To begin with, I turned... older than I was the last time I had a birthday. I then made my first trip out of the Northwest specifically for climbing. I tried instant coffee for what was probably the first time in my life (and hopefully the last). I learned some funny things about the general population of Los Angeles. And I finally found the basis for understanding all those Wile E. Coyote cartoons I grew up watching... which is to say, I traveled to the desert for the first time, and I had an educational encounter with a cactus, taking me back to Saturday morning cartoons, Safeway donuts by the dozen, and wondering what ACME stood for.

As the incidental point, I went to visit one of my transplanted native Northwestern friends in LA while I was near there, and I learned from her the following things: outside of the Northwest, all people don't automatically know what REI and Northface are. This came as a small culture shock. Confronted by that and the information that recycling is not mandatory in all cities, and there are places where people think that walking (instead of driving) a couple of blocks between destinations is abnormal, I realized, again, just how much I like Seattle. Even if it does rain a lot, and dressing for the beach means layering up instead of down.

The most pertinent aspect of this post is that my climbing partner, realizing he had managed to isolate me from easily accessible coffee, woke up the first morning of our camping trip and "brewed" a cup of Via for me. Not only that, but he managed to get facebook up on his iPhone and force me to admit (in front of a lot of witnesses) what I was drinking. The review for that coffee shop (or, picnic table, I guess) went something like "Drinkable. Caffeinated. Tastes nothing like coffee. Barista is rude." Complain. I have one thing left to say on the matter, and that is this: Dear Mark, please pick up the February/March issue of Urban Climber Magazine, and flip over to page 64 for a list of better (alright, some are worse) options for next trip in Justin Roth's article about crag coffee.
Joshua Trees

Meanwhile, my sister, darling that she is, bailed me out with a thoughtful phone call to a local food shop called Ricochet just outside the park, where she ordered a gift certificate for me in honor of my birthday. Ricochet claims to have the best coffee around, and having poked around the town of Joshua Tree just a bit, I won't even bother questioning their claim. Should you be in Joshua Tree... go to Ricochet for your coffee. It undoubtedly outranks the coffee served at the gas station and saloon. Ricochet is not worth the trip to Joshua Tree, so just keep that in mind. It has really great breakfast food if you want to do some luxury camping, though.

Finally, regarding the trip, here is something I had never seen before, and actually hope not to ever see again (at least not up close):
This creepy looking specimen is a Cholla Cactus, known also by the moniker "teddy bear cactus," or more sinisterly, "leaping cactus." It is called a teddy bear because it looks all soft and cuddly and innocent. I'll leave you to guess why it's also dubbed leaping. Without boring you with details, allow me to skip the story and simply share the punchline.
Yes, that is my arm. No, I am not amused.

Since returning home, I have been trying to catch up, figure out where on earth all this camping gear came from so that I can put it back there, get back into the swing of topics writing, and remember how to blog. I visited several coffee shops prior to the Jewel Box, but couldn't find any inspiration to start writing again. Mostly, on account of... well, this just isn't what crema is supposed to look like.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Jewel Box - Northgate

Yesterday, out of pity for my woeful state (I was looking at the calendar, counting the weeks until finals), my roommate relented and revealed the name of a location she has been holding hostage for months now. Consequently, I am sitting at The Jewel Box Cafe today, studying.

The Jewel Box is not your average coffee shop. For one thing, it took me three baristas before I found the one who knew what brand their coffee was (they serve Zoka's coffee). For another, it smells fantastically of crepes and panini in here. They also have an extensive bubble tea menu (ew), and specially blend their chocolate for cocoa and mochas.

These things aside, the three winning features are: 1.) It's in Northgate. Somebody, please, correct me if I'm wrong, but there isn't coffee in Northgate. 2.) The decor is, as my roommate said along the way to cheering me up, "Like being in Beauty and the Beast." I see her point. All dark wood, chandeliers, and deep reds. (Kind of like the inside of a jewelry box. Imagine that.) And finally, 3.) A great assortment of mugs. I confess to considering putting this one in my backpack to take home. But I won't.
The Jewel Box Cafe: 321 NE Thornton Place

If you're in the Northgate area, then I say this one is worth a visit. Not to be unclear: it is definitely a cafe and not a coffee house, so don't show up expecting a cupping... for that matter, don't show up expecting your barista to know who their coffee supplier is. But order a mocha or something that includes (rather than features) coffee, and you're set. It's directly across from the theater, and open until 9:00, so perfect for pre-movie coffee or dinner, but there is ample room for study, and a reasonably good selection of music as well. And the tables seem pretty stable, so it's unlikely your beverage will end up included in your presentation.

Good study. Marginal coffee. Fun atmosphere. Certainly cornered the market on location.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Coffee, not Coffee Shop.

Today, I was invited for lunch by some friends, who thought I should meet their Nespresso machine (See Here: Swiss Shop). Hadn't heard of Nespresso before today, and was quite entertained by the concept, so thought I'd share. I know some on-campus coffee stands that might do well to "upgrade" this direction...

Just in case you had any questions about what a Nespresso machine was, or how it worked, here is a detailed tutorial. I do so love YouTube.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Herkimer - Phinney Ridge

I have officially found a coffee shop designed to be Rose-repellent. To begin with, it's in Phinney Ridge. Phinney Ridge gets its name from being a slim strip of a district set on the top of a hill. Parking on the main road is limited and unlikely, which means you'll probably end up parking down the hill a ways. I earned my coffee this morning with a hefty hike up 74th. It's good for me to get some exercise, I know, but I feel no guilt in complaining about it anyhow.

Alas, earning my coffee did not pay off. I did have cash on hand to buy a beverage from this cash-only establishment, but Herkimer's only non-dairy option is soy (which I am predictably allergic to). So I put aside my right to calories that could replace the ones I burned while walking up the hill, and ordered a single Americano. This earned me a serious side-eye from the barista, who informed me that all their drinks were doubles. Which I'd read on the sign, hence the specification of "single" in my order.

Of course, all of that stated, would you care to guess what they were dripping? Two coffees. A Sumatra, and a Honduras. HA! Two coffees I routinely dislike. It's like they were waiting for me!

Herkimer Coffee: 7320 Greenwood Ave. North

Why exactly Herkimer Coffee is called Herkimer Coffee is unknown to me, but I believe it is named after either the city, the village, or the county of Herkimer in New York, all of which are named after Nicholas Herkimer, a German American militia colonel killed (by wound infection and inexperienced surgeon) in the Revolutionary War. I think this ought to make it a heroic and honorable sort of coffee, so it's good to know that their buying centers on purchasing organic, shade grown coffees sold at higher prices which allow better pay for workers. They also take a great deal of pride in their coffee at a retail level: One of the baristas was kind enough to explain why they pull "double" shots (which, in volume, actually amount to about a regular shot and a half, but don't qualify as ristretto, due to a complicated process involving low-to-high water pressure introduction that I don't understand at all).

I sampled both the drip coffees, and had my sort-of single Americano, and here's what I've got to say:

The Honduras, for a Honduran coffee, was pretty mellow. It had an easy finish, smelled nicely floral, and tasted a little like tangelo to me. Not my favorite, but a nice Honduran coffee.

The Sumatra, I couldn't drink. Which brings me to why I dislike so many Sumatran coffees. Typically, you'll hear them described with words like "earthy" and "herbal," which I'm convinced is just a nice way of saying, "May have accidentally been cross-pollinated with a cannabis plant." Some Sumatras are more understated than others, and while Herkimer's Sumatra is by no means the strongest I've encountered, it was one of the most out-spoken in a while. The good of this is that it has prompted me, via Google, to find out that Cannabis is indigenous to South (not South East) Asia, and also that "cannabis curry" was ruled legal in Indonesia in 2007. So even though I thought the coffee was terrible, at least it turned out to be educational.

Last, but not least: the espresso possessed similar sweet citrus characteristics to the Honduras, but in my estimation, it was thin. (In body, not texture.) A friend of mine sent me to Herkimer because he loves their coffee, and was telling me how great the crema is, and since he knows his coffee, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to it and say that maybe my "sort of single" shot somehow destroyed their whole espresso system, because the crema on my coffee was fragile and boring.

So this coffee's not my cup of tea. And that's fine. I don't especially love the seating oddness of the location, or the musical background that may or may not have resulted from Amazon's "New Seattle Indie Bands" list, either. So I can pass.

I do love Phinney Ridge, though. It's charming. Even if it is all uphill.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fremont Coffee Company (Fremont)

As cities go, Seattle can be a little tough on those of us who drive these funny things called cars. I'm pretty sure this is part of a long-term scheme for turning us into a bikes-only city, but car drivers in Seattle spend approximately half their time fighting traffic between districts, and the other half driving around and around neighborhood blocks looking for parking. Searching out one parallel parking space on a street where half the cars have luxury parked and are taking up 1.5 spaces can drive a person to insanity. But every so often, when you've finally found a place far enough off the beaten path that you'll have to walk several blocks to your destination, traveling by way of the sketchiest street in the neighborhood and wondering if it might have made more sense to walk in the first place... every so often, it pays off.

Every so often, your walk takes you past a place like Theo Chocolate, on the corner of 34th and Phinney in Fremont, where chocolate samples abound and brilliantly flavored confections are arranged in a case as lovingly as if they were fine jewelry. Theo Chocolates' was one of the first local chocolates I discovered when I moved here, and I have yet to be disappointed with it. It's not coffee, but let me say: you should visit the factory. Even if you have before. Their line of specialty chocolates changes seasonally. It's worth checking up periodically on what they're sharing with the world.

But on to the coffee.

I spent my day yesterday on the porch of Fremont's historic Denny House, enjoying a perfect combination of sun and shade (ie, enough to stay warm, but not so much I couldn't see my computer screen) at the Fremont Coffee Company. I'm not sure that "Seattle's historic Denny House" is historic for any reason other than being old and needing new paint, but it's a fun location for a coffee shop as the original floor plan is still basically intact. This means there isn't any central indoor location to congregate, but are instead multiple smaller rooms with tables and chairs, cutting down on the age-old dilemma of "student cramming for finals" being trapped next to "three women who haven't seen each other in years and sound a little like a chicken coop as each tries to fit a word in edgewise about her husband and kids."
Fremont Coffee Company: 459 North 36th Street

This location wins, by far, the award for "most comfortable seating." The large wicker chairs and old, worn cushions evoke memories of summers spent in the South, and people flooding to their porches as soon as the sun disappeared, sweet tea in hand. It's homey, familiar, and relaxing. Excellent for sitting. Perhaps not as excellent for studying, but if you're going to sit somewhere for 5 hours trying to track down one source (some source, any source) for a paper you're writing, you may as well sit somewhere nice. Problematically, Fremont Coffee's WiFi requires a password, and the login is only valid for one time, one computer, and one 4-hour period, after which it expires. Not all bad, I guess, if you've been sitting for 4 hours and are forced to get up and walk to the front desk for a new password. But incredibly frustrating when you're 3/4 of the way through downloading a page through Google translator. So keep it in mind, watch the clock, and be prepared when you visit.

The Ethiopian Harrar, which they were brewing when I arrived, is actually really well summed up by FCC's description of it as "a distinctive nose of blueberry and raspberry, which gives way to a spicy, oaky body." The barista thought they were brewing Sumatra, so my first taste of the sample was a bit of a shock treatment. I can tell you with certainty that Ethiopian Harrar tastes nothing like a Sumatran coffee, and can also candidly tell you from my moment of surprise that it does have hints of raspberry. The Espresso, however, does not taste like nectarine. It's good, and I found some distinct citrus notes as my Americano drifted toward cold, but for the most part, I was aware of heavier "tobacco" and "black pepper" flavors (to continue borrowing terms from their labels.)

All in all: Fremont Coffee Company roasts locally, supports fair trade coffee producers internationally, uses solar energy, has comfy chairs, offers about an equal amount of outdoor and indoor seating, and features cheerful, friendly, accommodating baristas. And it's within easy walking distance of a number of great Fremont locations. Like Theo Chocolate.

Check out Coffee Tao, FCC Roastmaster Aric Annear's entertaining blog, and drop by for a visit on your way to buy truffles.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Caffe Vita (Fremont)

I hate poorly designed tables. I'm not sure why coffee shops seem so intent on specializing in them, but should you ever be in need of a table that is awkwardly shaped, brilliantly imbalanced, or in any other way hazardous to materials placed on it... just stroll down the street to your local coffee place and see if they'd be willing to let you buy one of theirs. Why yes, I did just spill coffee all over my essay. Good thing it missed the computer.

I've been enjoying watching the intersection of 43rd and Fremont for the past couple of hours. People do silly things at this intersection. And wear silly clothes. (I'm sorry, Ma'am. It's not that I'm judging you. I just think your hat is superfluous.) And have silly little dogs, prancing around on the ends of spindly little leashes. It's a good time. Fremont is one of my favorite Seattle districts, for its unique mix of people and eclectic blend of shops you can pass a hundred times before you realize that they're there. Among it all, Caffe Vita holds the distinct privilege of an obvious corner location, and a steady stream of patrons.

Caffe Vita: 4301 Fremont Avenue North

When I arrived this afternoon, they were brewing their Gayo River Sumatra, so I sipped on a sample of that while waiting for my americano. My opinion on Sumatra has now been put on hold. I would formerly, hands down, have said I didn't like Sumatran coffee. But I am forced to say that I like this one, and consequently, will now be forced to taste others and see how I feel about them as well. Bother. Typically, a Sumatra will have more "earth" and "herb" than I like in a coffee. This one has subtler, sweeter undertones while still maintaining, as they say, a "swaggering" body.

By contrast, the americano was ok, but I would say over-sweet. Their espresso is mild enough that pulling ristretto shots almost leaves it tasting undeveloped. Although, it might not be a bad thing that I didn't put any sugar in it. We can say this coffee is undoubtedly better for your teeth!

Overall, this location gets my vote. As long as you're only one person. I'm here studying with a friend, and we found two tables to put together, but for the most part it is strictly "two people meeting" or "one person studying" space. People on Urbanspoon wrote many nasty things about the baristas being mean, and the service being slow, but I contest both. The barista seems quite personable, and I haven't seen anyone have to wait long for their coffee.

It's worth stopping in. For the Coffee, for the Theo Chocolate (which Vita has a partnership with... look!), and for the very artistic informational postcards about the coffee.

Careful with the tables, though. You've been warned.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Aster Coffee Lounge (Ballard)

Somehow, this juxtaposition of Verdi's "Requiem" (current ear-bud selection) and Modest Mouse's "Float On" (current in-house music) seems wrong. If nothing else, it is at least extremely odd.

Saturday finds me sitting at the Aster Coffee Lounge again, discovering how spacious their tables aren't. My 8 oz. cup of Clover fresh brew Brazilian Agua Preta is just barely within reach, and perched precariously on the edge of a little round table I've cluttered with a computer and so many books that I've had to spread out to an extra chair as well. I object. But less to the lack of space than to the descriptors given for this coffee, which bills itself as milk chocolate, but is most definitely a jewel-toned blackberry flavor. The barista thinks I'm crazy, but I won't be swayed. Unless it's to say "huckleberry" instead of "blackberry." I'd settle for that. I like the coffee a lot. Taste no chocolate, though, milk or otherwise.

In spite of the book/coffee-balancing act, I really do love this place. The tables are small, but the room makes up for that. The pastries look good, the coffee is good, and as long as you can find a chair-table combo to put all your research material on, this is a perfect place to write. Of the numerous times I've been here, the music has never once been annoying... except when it's clashing with what I'm trying to study. But the fact that I chose to major in music is not Aster's fault, and I will happily put up with conflicting music if it means I get homemade syrups in my flavored coffee, and almost-foam art in my rice-milk latte.

I also discovered today (for the rest of the population) that the food menu here includes giant waffles until 4:00 pm every day. I discovered this because a little girl about the age of 5 or 6 went by me a while ago, carrying one across the room on her way to curl up in an armchair with the day's paper, and it was nearly as big as she was.

Wine. Waffles. Homemade Syrups. Eco-Friendly business...

As we say in the facebook world: "Like."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Neptune Coffee (Greenwood)

I wish two things.

First and foremost, I wish I'd worn socks today. Seattle has been sneak-attacking its citizens with weather for the past few weeks, and my wardrobe is confused. I refuse to conform to the Northwest stereotype of wearing sandals and socks, and I don't even own a pair of Birkenstocks so it really wouldn't work out for me anyhow. My Seattle Spring (which I hereby rename, "Sumwinter") Compromise is usually a semi-trendy pair of ballet flats that are technically shoes, but don't allow for proper socks. As long as it is summer, it's great. But today, it was only summer for a few minutes (the ones while I was choosing my outfit), and it's been edging back toward winter ever since, and my feet have no appreciation for how cute my shoes are. They are cold.

Secondly, and considerably more apropos, I wish I could drink more coffee. For those who do not know me: most ingestible substances and I keep a complicated relationship status. I am technically allergic or "sensitive" to the bulk of normal ingredients, from whathaveyou to thattoo. Coffee falls into this mix, creating a passionate sentiment between it and myself somewhere on the order of Dominick Argento's song cycle, "I Hate and I Love." I adore coffee, but am unquestionably confined to single shot beverages. One per day. And some days, fewer.

This makes coffee blogging fun. Tricky, but fun. I look forward to a coffee adventure most of the day when I know I'm going to go out, get a cup of joe, and enjoy coffee shop culture while I slog my way through whatever I happen to be reading or writing about that day. Unfortunately, it also makes me easy to disappoint, and a single americano that lacks crema results in a crestfallen Rose. It can be a challenge to recover, contemplate, and consider the rest of the situation, unless the environment is really doing well for itself. Or unless a conversation with a roaster leads to free samples of other coffee. Then I will drink more than my allotted single shot, forgive almost anything... and the next day, regret my very existence.

Today, I am at Neptune Coffee in Greenwood. Neptune is fun. Entertaining art, smart use of space, great sense of humor and community... and creatively serving "vintage" pastries where most would serve "day old." It's an ideal location for studying, with lots of light, good music selection, and the appropriate spacing between tables to allow you to sit down next to a stranger without sitting with or on them. It's open, with breezy, calming colors. And the coffee's alright.

I've been here for four hours, and think the baristas (so far, three) are a little hit and miss in terms of their friendliness and willingness to talk about coffee. Their website doesn't list a lot of information, and the barista who floated a shot in water for my americano didn't want to be chatty, so it took a lot of fruitless wondering as to why the espresso was such an intriguingly dark and one-dimensional color before I found the needed informational source in owner Dan Baumfeld. Frustrating, because it means I can only sound as knowledgeable as I am, and say "Um, it tastes lighter than it looks?" But one short conversation later, I can hold forth about how the espresso blend is Guatemalan, Brazilian, Honduran, and Sumatran, and start putting my own opinion to work.

Blanketly speaking, Latin American coffees are considered more mild in flavor (by comparison, say, to an African coffee) and Indonesian coffees trend toward descriptors such as "nutty" or "herbal." The Honduras is a younger, less common coffee producing region than many others, and has a distinct flavor that I have yet to develop a good vocabulary for, frequently hearing described unhelpfully as "really different." In my limited experience, I am not a fan of either Sumatran or Honduran coffee, and since both are strong flavor components, I don't especially love the Neptune Espresso blend.

On the other hand, however, is the single origin Sulawesi shot I was given to taste. It was incredibly familiar, but unidentifiable. Until I left, and, in walking up the street, spied the Chocolati Cafe. "Oh hey! I know what it is!" I thought to myself, and, taking that excuse (as I will take any excuse) to buy a truffle, I ducked into the cafe and purchased a dark chocolate Grand Marnier truffle. Cognac. Cognac, and chocolate. Hello, Sulawesi. Rich, bright, and forward to the taste, with an exceptionally long finish. Long enough to walk down the street and buy comparison chocolate.

Back to the topic: I've enjoyed my stay at Neptune; if I weren't allergic to sandwiches I would be ecstatic about their sandwich menu, which looks phenomenal. They do serve Pear Cider alongside their selection of beer, so next time I'm out at a coffee shop looking for alcohol (less sarcastic than it sounds when you're a frustrated grad student), I just might give that a go.

Honestly, I have to say that I wouldn't come back for the coffee alone. I would come back for the atmosphere. And probably for the owner, who is currently playing air-piano behind the bar, and shooting the breeze with anyone and everyone who gets within conversational range.

But you know, in sitting and staring up at their menu board, I have to say that the thing I will most definitely be returning for, as soon as Sumwinter makes up its mind which way to go, will be the ice cream. Three words: Molly Moon, Affogato. Enough said.

Meanwhile, if you, like me, have had too much coffee for your day, I suggest stopping in at Chocolati for some hot cocoa. You'll be hard pressed to find a better selection anywhere around town.

8415 Greenwood Avenue North

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Caffè Appassionato (Wallingford)

If something can be impressively generic, I feel that Caffè Appassionato: Wallingford should win that award. You, being a fan of the place, may take offense at this, but first: read on. When I say "impressively generic," I mean it was so generic I actually was impressed.

Located at the corner of N 45th Street and Stone Way N, Caffè Appassionato is a fairly recent addition to a handful of places bearing the name around the Seattle area (and... one store in Massachusetts?). They all serve their "passionate coffee" from Magnolia, taking the name from the roasting company, but from what I've been told, each location is independently owned and operated. I point this out for one important reason. I visited Caffè Appassionato in Wallingford due to the recommendation of a friend (familiar with their Shoreline location) who informed me it was one of the best places around Seattle to get coffee. And I want to say that I don't disbelieve you, friend. I just haven't been to Shoreline yet.

As far as Wallingford goes, though, here are my thoughts:
This is not a location set up for coffee. The area existing between bar, register, and pastry case, the inconveniently placed pillar (between the bar and register), and an overall arrangement disallowing any consistent direction to flow of traffic on either the customer or employee side of things makes the situation flat-out uncomfortable for anyone who has worked in coffee and has to stand and look at the setup without being able to do a thing to fix it. What acts as a saving grace, in my limited observation, is that this isn't likely to turn into a high-volume store. It lives on the corner of the least pedestrian intersection in a district where businesses all rely on pedestrian traffic. A lot of people drive by, but I doubt that many walk in. At least, not in the couple hours I was sitting there. It stayed neither empty nor full; not dead, but also not busy. Right in the middle, much like the rest of it.

I was unimpressed by the coffee. They were brewing their "morning passion" roast, which I am told is one of their most popular. And while it was fine, it wasn't interesting. I can see it being a good morning coffee, as there isn't anything threatening or thought-provoking about it. (A morning coffee for not-morning-people!) The barista on duty was great, friendly and accommodating and conversational, but thoroughly burned the rice milk for my latte, and the espresso hadn't retained enough flavor to help it out. Additionally, sadly, the mugs were only about as cool as the ones you get at a complimentary average-hotel breakfast.

On the flip side, this is a great location for studying. There is nothing distracting about it, and it's fairly pleasant. It feels like a coffee shop that ought to be attached to a bookstore, with its heavy furniture, occasional arm chairs, wood paneling, and very academic lamps. The music is all Ben Gibbard-esque, and there isn't much to look at outside the windows. It is perfect for reading, if uninspiring for writing, and I got through the bulk of Whitman's "Drump Taps" with no interruption. (I am reading "Drum Taps" in an effort to grasp some greater context for Ralph Vaughan William's "Dona Nobis Pacem," paper #5 on the march toward All Done.)

Unfortunately, my creative spirit got bored and wandered off, which means I didn't even remember to get a picture. So you'll have to take my word for it (unless you visit) that the terrace is very like a lot of the newer strip mall architecture of Atlanta, which can't make up its mind what exactly it would like to be, and so tends to make all its patterns out of squares. Those of you who have been to Atlanta might know what I mean. The rest of you... I'm sorry. If you post a complaint, I'll try to get a friend to take a picture for you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Street Bean Espresso (Belltown)

The word "hospitality" comes to mind. An open, sparsely decorated, reverberating space that sounds about three times as busy as it is (oh, and it is busy), where there is an abiding air of friendliness and an eagerness to please. The server allowing credit card transactions was down when I ordered, and because I had no cash, they handed me my coffee and waved me through: "It's on us. Sorry for the inconvenience!" Wait, sorry for the inconvenience of not being able to pay you? ... Thanks for the free coffee! (I caught up with them later, when the server came back online and I ordered hot cocoa, but they actually refused to charge me for the previous americano.)

Street Bean Espresso opened in November, in partnership with New Horizons Ministry right across the street from it. I am, I freely admit, swayed by the purpose of the work here: "Reclaiming young adult lives through empowering employment and providing them with hope for a new and successful future." Street Bean is the non-profit result of a vision for creating hope: a place of employment for young adults who have formerly lived on the streets of Seattle, and who are now trying on a new life. "Your coffee makes a difference," say all their signs. And it feels that way in here, as if you're a partner in the business, and they are honored that you've dropped in to say hi.

Street Bean Espresso: 2702 Third Avenue

Street Bean serves Caffe Lusso Coffee, a roaster in Redmond, WA, that believes in direct trade of organic coffee. It's the first time I've encountered this one. I find the espresso interesting in that, while I like it, it doesn't taste like any other Seattle area coffee to me. The primary characteristics of my americano were "mellow," and "warm," and "hospitable"... which some people probably like to call "inviting," but I prefer "hospitable," since coffee and hospitality go hand-in-hand to my mind. Put another way, whereas a lot of espresso says, "HELLO!" I would give the contrast that this one says, "You're welcome."

Now, I like my "hello!" coffee, so I am on the fence about this. I think it would make an excellent 8:00 pm accompaniment to post-dinner dessert. Very gentle on the palate, enjoyable to drink, and unobtrusive. And definitely requiring continued contemplation, which means that I will be back and there will be another post. But here's what I like, right off: This is a place full of passion and purpose. And you can't miss that. It is fueled by a community of people who care, not just about the coffee, but about the coffee growers, the coffee makers, and the coffee drinkers.

Beware the hot cocoa, though. It's like ganache. You need a spoon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stumptown (Capitol Hill)

Dear Mom,

Your insistence during my formative years that "slurping" was absolutely improper and unladylike, and your consistent correction of this habit whenever I was eating soup or trying to get the last of the soda out of a glass has resulted in a serious set-back for my coffee writing career. I hope you're pleased with yourself.

This post is a few days tardy, but last Saturday I attended a "cupping" at Stumptown. Surprisingly enough, in light of how many cuppings are available to attend on a weekly basis, my first. And I'll tell you, it's more difficult than people make it look.

Cupping is quite the process, in which you get the opportunity to evaluate a coffee, smelling the grounds before (dry aroma) and after (wet aroma) they have been saturated with hot water, and eventually - after proceeding through a multiplicity of steps with caution and precision (and people watching you) - tasting the brew. All the rest of the cupping aside, the process for the actual tasting goes like this: you are handed a spoon, which you dip into the coffee until it is about half full. You then slurp the coffee off the spoon into your mouth, consider it while intentionally look thoughtful, then spit it out into a separate cup. And repeat.

Problematically, slurping is a big part of the process. Slurping is supposed to enable you to taste fully, washing a flavor most evenly over your tastebuds while also incorporating the aromatic element of taste. I think this may be partly true, but I also think it is designed to make people who can't slurp look funny when they end up choking. I went to the cupping with my friend Kyle, who I'd forgotten spent some time in Japan where slurping during a meal is considered a compliment to the cook. Consequently, whereas I appear doomed to sip in muted whispers, Kyle has the near-sonic slurp down to an art form. I felt so out of place.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters: 1115 12th Avenue/Seattle
Visit the daily cupping at 3:00 pm.

As ill-suited to the event as I may be, I'll be back because it is an educational event. And because practice makes perfect. And because I never would have tasted coffees from Burundi otherwise... or known where Burundi was, in all likelihood.

Here are my top three "valuable facts" from Saturday's cupping:

1. I like Stumptown's "Burundi Bwayi" pretty well.
2. Burundi is a tiny country, about the sizer of Maryland, landlocked between The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.
3. Water in Portland, OR, lacks one specific mineral necessary to create an "ideal" or "perfect" coffee roast. Don't ask me what the mineral is, but coffee roasted in Portland, as a result, usually lacks a subtle element on the flavor scale. This is probably what makes Stumptown:Portland taste different to me from Stumptown:Seattle, and, although I personally prefer Stumptown:Portland, it turns out that Stumptown:Seattle may actually be closer, technically speaking, to "perfect coffee." Interesting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bauhaus Books + Coffee (Capitol Hill)

In 1919, Walter Gropius founded a school of design in Weimar, Germany, that aimed to bring together art and functionality on the theory (as best I can tell) that art could embrace the industrial movement without losing its artistic integrity. It was called the Staatliches Bauhaus, the "house of building," initially having nothing to do with architecture or building much at all. I am no art historian, but I can google search every bit well as the next person, and my School of Googwiki educational tidbit for Friday is that the Bauhaus school, which did eventually become an architectural movement, greatly impacted... furniture design.

Try this. Go to -> Image Search -> Bauhaus furniture. "Oh look!" you will say to yourself, if you are anything like me, "It's Ikea!" So now I associate these two; my friends who are art historians will probably cringe, as I'm sure there must be more to the matter than that. But I digress.

Today's coffee house is Bauhaus Books + Coffee - 301 E Pike. My computer is on a counter belonging to one of the many floor-to-ceiling windows (all of which are surprisingly see-through), and if I tilt my head to the left, I have a decent view of the Space Needle peeking out behind a parking-lot pine tree. The area around Seattle Central Community College houses an erratic few blocks of Seattle, a convergence point between downtown and Capitol Hill, where all the old buildings have been reclaimed by new businesses, the drivers have given up on trying to get around the cyclists, and the row of people sitting in front of this window represent a wide sampling of lifestyles. There is also what may be the only palm tree in Seattle living at this corner. Poor stunted, climate-challenged little thing.

Bauhaus Coffee (pronounced [baʊˌhaʊs], or "bow-house" for those who never had to take VocalPed with Nancy Olson-Chatalas) is not striking me as a very Bauhaus. So I guess it belongs on this corner, as it may be the convergence of an idea with reality, where theory looks nothing like practice. Observe:
I like it in here. But those are not Bauhaus paintings. I'm kind of sure.

The "pros" on this location are plentiful: Bauhaus Books + Coffee has great ambience. It's two floors of seating, with an open loft, a great mix of people, a view of downtown, floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and floor-to-ceiling books on the other. The seating is brilliantly arranged, and though the furniture looks like it's all seen better days, there's almost something charming to that. I'm a big fan of the decor, with its artful graduation from deep wood colors to light-reflecting greens. The pastry case provided my laugh for the day, as it featured Ding Dongs. But more than anything, I was impressed with the lay of the building, and the fact that as I was walking through it I kept discovering unexpected seating, tucked away in cute little alcoves that gave a really-big-room the option to feel quaint and secluded.

Unfortunately, the "cons" list isn't short here either. First, as with anywhere on Capitol Hill, parking is impossible, and costly. I lucked out and found parking on the same block today, but couldn't get more than 2 hours, meaning my 4 hours worth of studying got cut short by a fear of receiving two Seattle-priced parking tickets in the same month.

Second (and emphatically more so), the music, at least today, was enough to drive a person crazy. And I like techno. But I like it when it eventually moves on, and doesn't spend 8 minutes being one unvaried track with industrial percussion akin to a shifting Transformer. Worse than the music, however, was the door. Bauhaus is in an old building, with heavy wood doors that are impossible to close quietly (I know, because I tested it on my way out). iTunes successfully drowned out the music, but did nothing for the frequent "ka-THUD-rattlerattle" of the door. Not as annoying as if every customer coming in and out triggered a bell, but annoying nonetheless on such a high-traffic door.

Finally, this being the personal one, Bauhaus serves Lighthouse Coffee, which I remain unimpressed by. They serve it because, "we think it's absolutely the best coffee in Seattle," says their barista, but I differ on that point. In their favor, here's what I will say: Finding out that they served an espresso I don't love, I decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves by ordering something with rice milk (very benevolent of me, I know). For those who have never tried steaming rice milk before - it's a pain. It burns easily, and is tricky to get any texture other than "flat" out of before it gets too hot.

One small rice milk light vanilla latte later, however, I can happily recommend the barista on duty today at Bauhaus. Not too hot, not too cold, and delicately frothed. (... the rice milk. See? this is why they warn you in middle school about the perils of punctuation.)

As an aside, returning to the matter of furniture and functionality, an elderly man just walked past the window using a metal folding chair as a walker. Perhaps this place is aptly named after all.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Canal Street Coffee (Fremont)

I have my feet up on an end table, and am fully ensconced in a worn, faux-leather couch, staring out a window at the constant drizzle running between a grey sky and the Fremont Canal. I hate couches like this. They are phenomenally comfortable, but carry with them a nagging sense of unrest wondering which one of these sweaty Burke Gilman athletes sat here last. Ew.

Canal Street Coffee has an interesting flavor. But as I say that, I think it comes across entirely wrong... Canal Street Coffee, the place, has an interesting flavor. Canal Street Coffee, the espresso, is actually just Tony's, and doesn't taste anything like one would imagine coffee from a canal to taste. Allow me to try this from a different angle.

One of my favorite "restaurants" in the Portland area is The Galley at Harbor 1, a tiny deli at the end of a dock, literally a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Portland Sailing Center. It's the best place to be on a summer day, watching the ducks beg for bits of whatever you're eating as boats sail by and jets practice drills overhead. There is nothing profound about it, the food isn't particularly good, the service is non-existent, but it's a floating deli, with sailboats moored to it, and that makes it charming.

Canal Street Coffee is not a floating coffee shop, but I think it would feel awfully at home if the canal suddenly flooded and it were. I can't think of a better way to define it. Everything, as at The Galley, is slightly askew. None of the furniture matches itself. There are framed maps on the walls, and various pictures of the canal (and construction along the canal), and a faded "flags from around the world" chart. And though I just noted my love of chalkboard menus, I now know that I only love them if they've been well cleaned, and organized to make sense.
I don't dislike this. It's just... like sitting in someone's living room. In their houseboat. Which needs a good deck-swabbing. But has a great view. And a really comfy couch. And no sense of hurry-up whatsoever. And doesn't accept your company after 5:00 pm. Let's say: less of a place to go, and more of a place to end up if you're already out and about. And perhaps, in the mood for checkers or something.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Victrola Coffee (Roastery)

Here are a few of the arbitrary, non-coffee things that make me smile when visiting a new coffee place (in no particular, nor exhaustive order): Space. Tables big enough to put both my computer and books on at the same time. Exposed brick. Chalkboard menus. Intriguing art. Working wifi. Gluten-free pastries. Comfy chairs. A broad selection of hip, ambient music, none of which sounds like it belongs in a massage clinic. Windows for "people watching." Baristas who bother to care.

As far as coffee goes, I'm a sucker for organic, fair or direct trade coffees, of single origin - because it's like a mini-taste-vacation to the land it comes from, and locally roasted whenever possible - because my entrepreneurial family and Portland identity both promote the belief that "local" is better.

At present, I'm sitting at the Victrola Coffee Roastery: 310 E Pike: Capitol Hill, admiring how many of these elements are brought together here. Granted, not all of them. But many of them. For one thing, I can see where the coffee is roasted in the room next to me. (And you can't get any more local than that.) There are no gluten free pastries, but the uncluttered chalkboard menu is hanging on a brick wall, amidst a captivatingly odd blend of vintage and industrial decor. There are lots of tables, and there is a lot of space (I was forced to cuddle with no one when I arrived). Capitol Hill is notorious for its people watching potential. And! the wifi works. As in, it's worked since I got here. Which is unusual, because Casey-the-Computer, all his other fine attributes aside, can be a touch persnickety about his wifi preferences.

But all this, even working together to make the coffee-and-studying experience a pleasant one, pales in comparison to one little thing: the barista cared whether or not he made me a good cup of coffee. Even though it was a single, decaf americano... a sort of throw-away drink to a lot of baristas who don't quite respect decaf coffee drinkers. I think it must be inevitable, what with roasting only ten feet away, that these folks feel fresh coffee is a must. But it surprised me still, and made me immensely happy to see my barista (Greg) discard the first shot he served because he thought I wanted a solo espresso, rather than putting it in water to be an americano when I explained that a single shot of decaf espresso was not at all what I had in mind. It pleased me even more that, as he made the americano, he took time to explain why he'd started over. Coffee beverages ought to be crafted, not just slung in a mug and handed off. And while I recognize that a lot of companies do want to invest high standards for quality in their espresso, frankly, a number of places I've been recently would have turned around and added water to the shot. Which would have been easier. But wouldn't have made the blog.

If I had to name a first impression complaint, it would be that the combination of slightly tipsy tables and shallow coffee cups results in a lot of unintentional sloshing and spilling. I might have complained that I didn't understand the lamps, but after being formally introduced to them as "Mortimer" and "Maybe Brigham," I actually got quite attached, and will refer my readers over to Christopher Gronbeck's site:
Dear Victrola: You have a different sense of what art is, and your music makes me feel like a character in an RPG... but your coffee is just dandy. Also, I like that you have your own blog, too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cafe Cuzco: Thursday Nights!

Somewhere along the past hour, I was obliviously sucked into a community. As if I've drifted into an episode of Cheers, everyone in this establishment now knows my name. I came in to study, read a couple articles, have a cup of coffee, and get home again. But then people showed up with instruments, asked if I'd mind if they started a community music jam session in the corner, and I haven't been able to leave since. I am surrounded by so many of the best things in life: good jazz, reckless creativity, a singing Latino, dancing, coffee, the smell of South American food, and really, really friendly people.

For the moment, I am elsewhere. Not Seattle, where it's cold and rainy and nobody makes eye contact. I am somewhere where people teach cross-cultural strangers their dance steps, where someone won't think twice about walking over to offer a hand in introduction, and the only word that really comes to mind is "comfortable." Shoes are optional, there's a chess board available, and I just had an impromptu heart-to-heart with a friend-I'd-never-met.

Thursday nights at Cafe Cuzco will be worth checking out. Drop by! - 5701 15th Ave NW in Ballard. - I hope they get a lot of positive response on this venture. It's delightful.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Caffe Fiore (Sunset Hill)

After going out to breakfast and accidentally drinking my weight in some nameless coffee, hot chocolate was the order of the day. It didn't seem right to review a coffee shop without drinking any coffee, and having some actual-book research to get done, I didn't feel I could justify being online while studying. So I took the opportunity to go drink cocoa at a place I love but never visit due to its internetlessness.

Should you be in need of a quiet little table to read at... or a big table to hold a small meeting around... or an outdoor seating arrangement to accommodate your canine companion and a sunny day... or a cup of coffee to complete your stroll to the beach, Caffe Fiore's Sunset Hill location is the place to go.
Also good if you, like I, miss Portland.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blue Saucer

As if studying weren't difficult enough, there is an adorable little girl, wearing a bright pink dress and rubber boots, holding hot chocolate, and sitting with a french bulldog on a bench outside the window. Can you get any more distracting than that? I think not. This serves me right for studying in a neighborhood, where small children and puppies are likely to be out and about. Ah well. Since I'm not getting research done anyhow, here are notes on the current location (not just on its distractions, I promise).

By an unplanned sequence of events, I have ended up sitting on the outskirts of Seattle's Maple Leaf neighborhood today. This is the result of answering a craigslist ad, which meant going to Lake City. (Clarification: to purchase a camping tent.) When I set out for Lake City, I thought I'd try out a coffee shop in Lake City. But then I got there, and remembered that it's Lake City. And as I am, in this experiment, avoiding both Starbucks and Chickalatte, I've been forced to try a different district. Maple Leaf happened to be between Lake City and my next destination, so here I sit, drinking Stumptown at the Blue Saucer.

Anyone who knows me well - in fact, anyone who has met me once can probably tell you how I feel about Stumptown Coffee. (I love it.) But I will give you this: Stumptown in Seattle and Stumptown in its native Portland, OR are different beasts. I don't know why this is, but a conversation with another Stumptown fan just the other day confirmed that I'm not out of my mind (or at least, that if I am, I'm not by myself): Stumptown in Portland is fantastic. Stumptown in Seattle is usually pretty good. There is something less well-rounded about the Seattle roast.

12 oz. Mocha, made with Tuccelli's chocolate. Tuccelli's chocolate, I think, might be a great idea, but this first experience with it says it doesn't hold its own against espresso. As far as mocha's go, this one is pretty, with a homemade marshmallow floating on top of it, but lacking any sort of flavor complexity or compatibility.

This could be the coffee's fault. It could be the chocolate's fault. It could, I suppose, be the marshmallow's fault. Or it could be the barista's... who provided me with a great deal of amusement by holding forth to her boyfriend while she was making drinks about how frustrated she gets watching the baristas at [insert name of coffee chain here] make their drinks, and how she wants to yell at them for doing it wrong. Meanwhile, I was watching her and thinking exactly the same thing. It's not like I have a Master's degree in coffee making, but I do feel it's at least polite not to let your customer's espresso get cold while you go find, measure, and steam the milk for it. Just a thought.

Here are the pros: This place is small, and quiet, and cute, and very well kept inside. Lots of non-zoned parking options (it's Maple Leaf, after all). Easy to find. Great art, murals, lots of windows, and the sandwich menu looks tasty. Substituting Soy/Rice is no extra charge to a beverage. Plus, in the hour or so I've been here, I've appreciated the music selection. Oh, and it has homemade marshmallows. Which taste... about like marshmallows, but they're homemade. So that's fun and different, right?

The little girl and her inexplicably winning french bulldog have now wandered off elsewhere, and I have guilt for using Blue Saucer's free wifi to write anything less than a rave review about Blue Saucer. It seems wrong. So. Back to the research I go.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Don't bother asking goo-gl.

Today, I finally accomplished two goals I've been struggling with for a couple of weeks now. First, I finished the initial draft of my paper on the history of the motet. Second, I found Java Bean Espresso. More on the paper later. For now, coffee:

It's not that Java Bean is particularly difficult to find. It's just that I didn't know where it was. I'd seen it in passing, and I knew which side of the street it was on, but not which street it was on the side of. In an attempt to visit the location last week, I shot a text to Google with the name and zip code, and it (as it ought to) sent me back an address. But it wasn't the address I was looking for... or the address of anything, as it turns out, except maybe a private residence on a one-way street I'd never driven down before. It certainly wasn't a coffee shop. So, after multiple trips down both of the streets I thought it might be on, I gave up and went home. Turns out, I was u-turning about a block shy of where I wanted to go. Java Bean Espresso is located at 5819 24th Ave NW in Seattle, and I'd only driven between 59th and 75th on 24th, though I'd been driving 50th to 65th on 15th. Obviously, neither was a productive use of my time.

Having been betrayed by Google Text, as will happen from time to time, I consulted Google-proper today before leaving the house. And, I'm happy to say, it sent me to the correct location. Here's my un-requested review:

This was a particularly inarticulate and indecisive day for me, which is a fantastic test of barista patience, and I can (gratefully) say that this crew passed with flying colors. Going so far as to humor me with a lengthy explanation of why "shade grown" makes a difference to the coffee bean. (Curious? Start here: Shade Grown Coffee) They serve organic, fair trade coffee, which is ideal... but it's also Tony's Coffee, which exists somehow on the order of Turkish coffee (ie, you can't see through a single americano if you hold it up to the light), and doesn't win prizes for originality. I do like the Elephant logo, though.

On the negative side: It's busy. Not in terms of customer volume (although, that too) so much as in reference to the way things are displayed. Whether I was actually feeling inarticulate and indecisive, or merely overwhelmed by an excessive number of cookie jars is difficult to say. Musical selections didn't always help. And they do not offer wifi, but as it can easily be... borrowed from surrounding establishments, that made no difference to my student-driven coffee-shop-haunting.

On the positive side: I sat there for 5 hours, studying, and was not glared at a single time by the staff. They turned the fireplace on for me when I remarked, 3 hours in, that it was cold. And the espresso mole is different from the average mexican mocha. In a good way. So if you're getting bored with mocha-land, I fully recommend checking that out. Also, I admit that the ski-lodge decor is charming. (Which is what they were going for, I'm pretty sure.)

Now, about the paper: I've decided that getting a Master-of-anything degree is a ridiculous idea. The purpose behind the papers is to demonstrate mastery of the subjects. But let's be serious here: when was the last time you actually mastered a subject? Let alone, say, ten? I'll be ecstatic if I walk away with working knowledge of the ten topics I have to write about. I think I'll be shocked if I've mastered any of them. We need to think of a new title. Preferably, one that can go before my name, like Doctor would, if I were getting a doctoral degree. Master Rose gives entirely the wrong impression.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

and I'd had too much caffeine

Four-odd centuries worth of motets later, 9:00 on a Saturday night finds me sitting in a little coffee establishment in the Queen Anne neighborhood, listening to a room full of people, who have materialized out of nowhere and apparently all know each other, loudly sing Marcy Playground. Today was an interesting day in coffee.

I started out at Lighthouse Coffee in Fremont, which I'd heard good things about. While I'm forced to admit that a persistent sinus infection seems to be interfering with my sense of taste, I was unimpressed. Aside from an unforgivable lack of wifi, an awkwardly arranged room, and a distracting selection of bebop jazz... I just didn't find their coffee (or their options for in-house mugs) interesting. It is worth noting, I suppose, that fellow coffee-lover (with more training than I) Kyle showed up to have a cappuccino with me and says my assessment of the situation is overly harsh. But there you have it.

Wandering on from there, I have been, since about five and half hours ago, sitting at a little table in a little place called "El Diablo" on upper Queen Anne Avenue. It's bright. It's full of people studying. It's got decent coffee. And before the band showed up, I actually got quite a bit of work done. The selling feature here, though, is not the (Cuban origin) espresso, not the abundance of exuberant art, not the live music, not the wifi, and not even the mango salsa. No, it is the mug in which my orange-ginger-mint tea resides. A good mug is essential to a good beverage experience, and yet good mugs are few and far between.

This particular one is shaped exactly right to fit in hand, cheerfully blue and yellow, and an ideal thickness for insulating the drink without being cumbersome for drinking. I'm not sure what it says about the coffee shop that this is what I'm taking away from the day, but... it can't be a bad thing.

Hmm. Now off to see if I can remember where I parked my car.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A plant. In the daisy family.

After several hours of Baroque motets, and one excellent single americano with house-made vanilla, I am sitting at the Aster Coffee Lounge with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese, watching the lady across from me knit a hat, listening to the album of some obscure band whose vocalist thinks he is John Mayer, hoping that my brain revives soon.

Since I have to study, I think I've decided to do a coffee-shop tour of the area here. I don't know how long this will last, but here is my number two pick for this week (and no, it's not the second coffee shop I've visited... this habit is going to get expensive).

In other news, I attempted a yoga "Crane Pose" today. If you need a laugh, look it up, and imagine the catastrophic results that ensued. So sad there was no audience.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I also feel very Seattle.

Wearing plaid, playing Owl City on my Mac computer, watching the rain come down on a local/sustainable/organic market, sitting in an independent coffee shop, vaguely listening to the conversations going on around me in Spanish, and studying textbooks as I retrieve them from my REI backpack. Wow.

This makes me feel like Yelp.

I am sitting at a narrow granite counter facing windows that look out over the intersection of NW 57th St and 15th Ave NW in Ballard. I have in front of me my computer (obviously), a notebook and pen, and a 12 ounce mug of vacuum-pot coffee, made from single origin coffee: brought from Peru, roasted locally in Seattle by a small roaster.

Because I've been on this "I want to write something about Peru" kick lately, I've become more attuned to things that look like they might have an encouraging flavor. I noticed Cafe Cuzco yesterday when I went to the Ballard Market for groceries, and knowing I needed a coffee shop to work in today, I made a mental note to try it out. I approve.

Apparently, they only opened two days ago. So it's still very quiet and there's plenty of room to find a seat, and they are very proud of their little shop, their coffee, their food, and their customer service. I am drinking vacuum-pot coffee, because I expressed interest and said I didn't know about it, and Dario (the guy making my coffee, who went to the trouble of asking my name and introducing himself) wanted to show me how it worked.

If you're in the area, you should check it out. The decor is delightful, the coffee is great, and it smells good in here. If you're not a coffee drinker, I say try the passion-fruit juice, which is what I'm moving on to at the end of the coffee, as I have more studying to do than one beverage will sustain.