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.