Surely we jest about Seattle’s coffee culture being as dated as reruns of Frasier. Coffee journalists and jargonists alike often suffer from a tragic affliction that confuses experience for irrelevance. Infatuation with the over-hyped and under-substantiated pursuit of the next big thing has created a bit of hyperopia: a far-sightedness that makes one blind to many good things right in front of their faces. It also makes people dismissive of the history and cultural roots that got them there in the first place.
Which brings us to a little Seattle coffee roasting history by way of the Old World. This roaster uses this location as its flagship retail store, and with good reason. In 1986, Ornello Bizzarri of Torrefazione Italia fame established this site as a family roastery. Today, his grandson Emanuele roasts for Caffè Umbria.
It’s an old brick storefront in Seattle’s historical Pioneer Square. They offer a bit of outdoor table seating along the “grand piazza” out front. Inside it’s grand café style — albeit a shade less ornate than SF’s Emporio Rulli. The interior is supported by reinforced brick with tall windows and stool seating at them. There are many tables inside the large space, each under decorative light fixtures. Old Italian black & white photographs from the Bizzarri family adorn the walls and a showcase Officine Vittoria roaster sits in the back near the big screen TV.
The place is generally quiet and light on crowds (it has a heavy tourist base). It has an extensive Italian-style espresso bar, where they also serve wine and gelato from Seattle’s Gelatiamo. Behind the bar are two-group and three-group Nuova Simonelli Aurelia machines, and they use their Gusto Crema blend to pull shots.
It’s served as a taller shot in a tall IPA logo cup — which are well-designed to accentuate the crema, a medium brown crema with darker flecks. It has a very subtle flavor — a soft chantilly cream or even marshmallow predominantly, with a hint of some of the spice, pepper, wood, and herbal notes of a typical espresso in the background. This is the direct opposite of a bitter espresso, but its thinner body and muted flavor keep it from standing out. Served with a Fondente (dark) chocolate on the side. The barista also creates some simple latte art.
Not the best espresso in town by any means, but it is a taste of history and is something of a classic. There’s something about an Old World espresso: they just know how to blend in a way that most North Americans haven’t come close to figuring out yet.
Read the review of Caffè Umbria in Seattle.
No Comments »