The Seattle Weekly

Visit for coffee on Mondays, at The Seattle Weekly.

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.