The Seattle Weekly

Visit for coffee on Mondays, at The Seattle Weekly.

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.