The Seattle Weekly

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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


Laurel F said...

Ever had a frozen custard affogato?

Anonymous said...

A very fun read! You can take me to Chocolati for some hot cocoa when I come to visit. Since I don't drink coffee. :)

Love, Mom

Rose Tosti said...

Laurel - I haven't, but now I need to! Where do you find it in Seattle?

Anonymous said...

I find this article unfair and difficult for two reasons.
The first being, you admit to not being knowledgeable about coffee, despite writing a blog on the topic. A challenge, I'm sure, in a town brimming with educated cafelites. So being that you're not an aficionado (which by itself reeks of no negativity) how is it you have the courage to criticize a shop as having "alright" coffee? You kindly admit that you cannot distinguish one bean profile from the next, but then you dismiss a business solely because they have an espresso blend *you* don't love. This angle lacks appreciation and understanding in coffee.
Secondly, I find it interesting that baristas or check-out people at your local grocery store are expected to perpetuate a conversation beyond a polite exchange with every individual who approaches them. I think that is a high-standard from the consumer's perspective. Imagine standing for eight-hours, tap-dancing and listening and being interested in every person you saw for an extended period of time. It's irrational as the consumer to want anything other than the task said employee is hired to do. I take issue with the seattleite expectation of the stand-up comedian/philosopher/life-coach barista standard. I think it's unfair the demands we put on minimum wage employees. So, being that an employee doesn't want to rave and explain to you or the fifteen other people curious about peach profile of a Honduran makes sense to me.
I'm not necessarily defending The Neptune, or pushing some agenda for them. I do, however, think local business should be supported and not attacked as long as they're contributing to the neighborhood -- which this place clearly is.

Rose Tosti said...

To the opinionated Anonymous - Thanks for the feedback. I'm not sure why you think I dismissed or attacked the shop. I actually quite enjoy Neptune. They do not serve my *favorite* espresso. So what? Pretty sure I'm entitled to my opinion... my blog, after all! The thing that is important about coffee is that different people like different flavors. I can ONLY give my opinion. I can't give you yours.

Consequently, with the blog, my intent is to bring attention to the fact that there is coffee other than Starbucks in Seattle, and to get people to go out and try something new. It actually is NOT here to destroy the small business model. Rather, to bridge the gap between the coffee elite and the average coffee drinker, and encourage the latter to go rub elbows with the former, to have their opinions and to feel entitled to them, and to learn more about coffee even though it isn't their life.

If I don't like something, I'll say so. I love it when people push back and say that they do love it, and why. It means we're all thinking!

As to minimum wage friendliness... Hey, I hear ya. I was a barista for quite some time. I think I keep pretty fair expectations.