Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Today Tim Wendelboe — World-Barista-Champion-turned-microroaster (and major influencer of the recently reviewed Espresso Lab Microroasters) — posted a rather thorough first-thoughts review of the new La Marzocco Strada on his official blog: Tim Wendelboe » Blog Archive » La Marzocco Strada – first thoughts. Of particular interest are some of his insights about the machine’s sensitivities and peculiarities regarding pressure profiling — the holy-grail-du-jour of cutting-edge espresso machine pushers and the people who fawn over them. To briefly quote him in the post:
“I think one needs to have a clear vision of what the espresso should taste like before one starts playing with profiles.”
Recent coffee industry drooling over pressure profiling is just one of the latest examples illustrating how much the industry currently values experimentation over standards and convention. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it comes with tradeoffs. And conventional wisdom of the quality coffee industry did not always lean this way.
For example, I use a manual lever espresso machine at home — and have for many years. And for many years, even going back to the 1990s, many respected experts at the time told you that your best espresso — whether made at home or in a professional coffeehouse — should be made with a semi-automatic machine that controlled the pressure of the pulled shots. Use a pump; set it and forget it. The conventional wisdom back then?: allowing the machine to fix the pressure made for one less variable where the barista could screw things up.
This wasn’t necessarily bad logic, considering that espresso is a notoriously fickle product of many steps where something can go terribly wrong at every turn. After all, it’s for this reason we made espresso our yardstick for judging retailers who make coffee.
But more control always seems like a good thing until you might step back and question the results. The California Initiative System may have seemed like an awesome idea until you look back and see how it’s made our state ungovernable. This philosophical flip-flop towards pressure control illustrates how much we’ve swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. Without question, at some point in the future, we will come full circle again.
Quick!: name a city that’s surrounded by the exquisite natural beauty of mountains and seas, with brightly painted houses that decorate quaint neighborhoods, with great food everywhere you turn, with a nearby wine country consisting of hundreds of vineyards and many nationally renowned restaurants, with hipsters who frequent farmers’ markets in transitional neighborhoods, with a diverse racial mix from black to white to Indian to Southeast Asian, with the nation’s most vibrant gay population, with a touristy waterfront featuring seals on piers and a ferry that takes you to a famous prison island, and with a whole lot of really good coffee.
Why, it could only be Cape Town, South Africa.
Alright, that was a trick question: San Francisco’s Pier 39 has sea lions, not seals per se. But the point being that for anyone from our fair city, many aspects of Cape Town will seem very familiar. But there are also significant differences.
If you’re talking liberal laws, it’s probably not a major surprise that gay marriage is legal in South Africa. What may be more of a surprise is that, for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South African constitution had to be temporarily suspended around the soccer stadiums for FIFA security purposes. (We can’t say enough good things for how festive the South Africans were as hosts to the World Cup, btw.) Years of abuses under Apartheid made many personal searches — ones we’re quite accustomed to in the U.S. — illegal. The 14-year-old South African constitution is one of the most liberal in the world.
On the other hand, there’s the old local joke that rock and roll never dies, it just tours South Africa. (“Hey, was that really Bryan Adams I just saw in town the other day?”) And given the nation’s history of economic disparity and its 25% unemployment rate, there are the major issues of poverty and security.
Some expected us to witness crushing poverty and aggressive homelessness in Cape Town, but it’s hard to say that it is any worse than SF. In the month we spent around Cape Town’s central business district (CBD) — a.k.a. the City Bowl — we were approached by all of one person for money. Yet security is a big concern among the locals and it’s an even bigger industry.
Even with all the truly great options in town to satisfy any SF food snob, food is handled a bit differently here. Some of the best sushi in town can be found in Italian restaurants — sushi being a decidedly California thing in Cape Town, and less of a Japanese thing. Which also explains why the grocery stores sell flour tortillas under the name “California wraps”. (To make matters worse, in turn, one of the more famous Italian restaurants in town has a German name.) This theme of playing a bit fast and loose with labels and names will again come up with coffee later in this post.
Speaking of coffee, like Italy or Australia or New Zealand, the baseline quality standards in South Africa are clearly better than in the U.S. You can walk into just about any random store and trust that you’ll get a rather acceptable espresso, whereas this practice is still ill-advised even in San Francisco. But, as in places such as Italy, examples of very good espresso are a rarer find — even in the biggest cosmopolitan cities. But with a little research and a few contacts, we were able to identify some of the best places in Cape Town.
A few things come to mind specifically about the espresso here. WEGA machines are ubiquitous. The coffees tend to emphasize more rich-bodied flavor than the wilder, bright coffees you may come to expect from Africa, but there are exceptions. And the cappuccino here almost always comes with a very Portuguese dusting of cocoa powder; you quite literally ask to have for one without it.
And somewhat contrary to an earlier post of ours, you can find the cappuccino quite often on café menus — even perhaps moreso than flat whites, and especially at the cafés that are a little less obsessed about their coffee. However, most places do treat the cappuccino and flat white interchangeably. Which leads us to our next topic of discussion…
After spending a month in South Africa, it made sense that this is the nation that gave us “red espresso” — or Roobios tea. Even if you like the tea, as we do, the term “red espresso” comes off as unnecessarily deceptive and has never sat well with us. Just because you can stick something into an espresso machine does not make it espresso. Which reminds us a little of eggspresso — or should that be “yellow espresso”? And yet “Red Cappuccino” is also a registered trademark.
Now if you thought coffee’s wine analogy was a bit over the top, over the past several years South Africa has developed something of a niche market for coffee-flavored wine. They’ve been growing wine grapes around Cape Town since 1655, but it wasn’t until 1925 that a Stellenbosch professor crossed the fragile pinot noir grape with the heartier cinsault (known locally as hermitage) to create a local cultivar called pinotage.
In 2001, noted pinotage maker Diemersfontein Wines came out with the original “coffee chocolate pinotage”, and they’ve popularly released one every year since. Meanwhile, imitators came to the fore in the form of Cappupinoccinotage from Boland Cellars, Café Culture from KWV, the Vrede en Lust Mocholate (a malbec), etc. The original Diemersfontein coffee pinotage wine maker, Bertus Fourie — literally nicknamed “Starbucks” for that reason — has moved on to Café Culture and now Barista Wine (we are not making this up), where he holds the title of “Head Barista” and their Web site offers a Nespresso Le Cube D180 sweepstakes.
Coffee pinotage is sometimes called the red wine for coffee addicts, and it certainly doesn’t come without some controversy from the purists, but it’s really more the red wine for coffee drinkers who don’t like red wine. That said, there’s room for everybody’s tastes. We’ve long stated that Starbucks’ stroke of genius was in convincing millions of customers who don’t like the taste of coffee that they actually do. While coffee pinotage doesn’t use any actual coffee for flavoring, the taste aims for the consumer are the same.
Now despite all the wine-growing activity around Cape Town and a number of its very good wines, many South African wines are still (IMO) global underachievers and/or acquired tastes. Having tried a 2007 Diemersfontein coffee pinotage and a 2009 Barista pinotage, we were reminded of all the beer + coffee combinations that have failed over the years … the “coffee stouts” where the results were second-rate as a beer and second-rate as coffee, rather than something better than the sum of its parts.
Of course, we live in a diverse, global culture that sometimes wants their wine (or beer) to taste like coffee, their coffee to taste like chocolate and hazelnuts, and their chocolate to taste like bacon. So why not skip the middleman and market bacon wine? Sure, it might be a curious novelty to hear Céline Dion perform an album of songs by fellow Canadians Death from Above 1979, but it’s no stretch to presume that it will optimally satisfy neither fans of Céline nor Death from Above 1979.
As Oscar Wilde famously once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” This South African dimension to the coffee-wine analogy largely fails coming from a different angle.
A little more towards the authentic in the African continent, in the category of “now why don’t we do that in America?”, we did enjoy the occasional Ethiopian coffee ceremony — even if it originates on the continent’s opposite side of the equator. At a restaurant such as Cape Town’s Addis in Cape, we enjoyed an odd mix of Frankincense, popcorn (?!), and coffee served from a Jabena pot.
While the coffee undergoes some of the oldest and crudest handling and brewing known to man, the resulting cup is quite flavorful. Perhaps more importantly, the ceremony uniquely resonates with coffee culture, capturing much of the wonder that’s truly native to coffee without the creatively lazy marketing contortionists who squeeze coffee’s square peg into wine tasting’s round hole through the mutant coffee cupping fad in America. But alas, Californication applies to coffee cupping here just as it does to sushi and flour tortillas in South Africa.
At the coffee chain level, Vida e Caffè serves as an example of how Starbucks and even Peet’s fall short. Even Woolworths W Café serves both espresso and cappuccino in a paper cup that run circles around Starbucks.
While at the “artisan” end, there are places like TRUTH. that seem to go through the Third Wave motions, but with much success. And then there are places like Origin Coffee Roasting, who not only broke quality coffee ground in Africa in 2006, but they established a roasting and training operation that most American coffee entrepreneurs have only talked about. And then there’s Espresso Lab Microroasters, who show some of the most cohesive and comprehensive vision for what a quality coffee operation could be — while making espresso as good as anything in SF.
The wine may have room for improvement compared to what San Franciscans are used to, but everything else about Cape Town makes it a fantastic and compelling place to be — including the coffee.
|Name||Address||Neighborhood||Espresso [info]||Cafe [info]||Overall [info]|
|95 Keerom||95 Keerom St.||Gardens||6.40||7.00||6.700|
|Blue Cat Cafe||Shop 10a, Gardens Shopping Centre, Mill St.||Gardens||6.60||5.00||5.800|
|Bread Milk & Honey||10 Spin St.||Gardens||7.30||7.50||7.400|
|Café Chic||7 Breda St.||Gardens||3.40||4.50||3.950|
|Cookshop||117 Hatfield St.||Gardens||7.10||7.80||7.450|
|Crème Café & Espresso Bar||Shop 11, Gardens Shopping Centre, Mill St.||Gardens||4.60||5.00||4.800|
|Deluxe Coffeeworks||25 Church St.||City Bowl||7.40||7.80||7.600|
|Depasco Café Bakery||Shop 5, Buitenkloof Studios, 8 Kloof St.||Gardens||6.80||7.00||6.900|
|Espressamente||Shop number F&B1, Cape Town International Airport||Cape Town Intl Airport||6.90||7.20||7.050|
|Espresso Lab Microroasters||373-375 Albert Rd.||Woodstock||8.60||8.80||8.700|
|Fego Caffé||Shop No. 6160, Lower Level, Victoria Wharf||V&A Waterfront||5.80||6.00||5.900|
|Jardine Bakery||185 Bree St.||City Bowl||6.70||6.80||6.750|
|Jardine Restaurant||185 Bree St.||City Bowl||6.90||7.00||6.950|
|Melissa’s The Food Shop||Shop 6195, Lower Level, Victoria Wharf||V&A Waterfront||5.20||5.50||5.350|
|Mugged Style Cafe (aka “Mugged on Roeland”)||Shop 1, Perspectives Building, 37 Roeland St.||East City||6.70||7.00||6.850|
|Origin Coffee Roasting||28 Hudson St.||De Waterkant||8.20||8.00||8.100|
|Osumo||49 Kloof St.||Gardens||6.80||7.00||6.900|
|Saeco Caffè||15 Orange St.||Gardens||6.70||7.50||7.100|
|Sevruga Restaurant||Shop 4, Quay 5, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront||V&A Waterfront||6.80||7.00||7.200|
|Tribeca Bakery||106 Main Rd.||Kalk Bay||7.40||8.00||7.700|
|TRUTH.coffeecult Depot||Dock Rd., V&A Waterfront||V&A Waterfront||7.60||5.50||6.550|
|TRUTH.coffeecult Roasterspace||1 Somerset Rd.||Green Point||7.40||7.20||7.300|
|Vida e Caffè||Wembley Square||Gardens||7.00||7.50||7.250|
|Vida e Caffè||Shop 6100, V&A Waterfront||V&A Waterfront||7.00||6.80||6.900|
|Vida e Caffè||Shop 1, Mooikloof, 34 Kloof St.||Gardens||7.00||6.80||6.900|
|W Café||72 Longmarket St.||City Bowl||8.00||6.20||7.100|
This unusual, two-story café resides at the base of the ultra modern, five-star 15 on Orange Hotel. On the upper floor, it has a serving area with a two-group Saeco Steel SE 200 at a bar, a number of black tables and chairs, a branded lit display, a couple of Saeco home machines on display, a fashionable clothing and jewelry shop, and a few baked goods under glass. Outside there’s a patio with three plastic chairs and café tables under parasols advertising Saeco. Downstairs there’s more black tables and chairs and an array of several home Saeco machines for demonstration.
Together the place is wrapped heavily in Saeco red & black branding, giving it a Segafredo Zanetti-like feel. But this café, currently unique in the world, is Saeco’s showcase for their machines and coffee — a sort of counter to the Nespresso showrooms planted all over the world.
Despite the hip, modern feel of the place, the friendly barista leaves the portafilter handles cooling in the drip tray. But when the machine is in service (there are few customers ever in here), they pull shots of Saeco coffee (also sold here in kilo-sized bags) into plastic, transparent, double-walled Bodum cups. You can see a good 2mm layer of even, medium brown crema.
But despite the rich aroma and good looks, the flavor is a bit of a disappointment: flat, a little tarry, but otherwise pungent cloves. Served on a silver platter with a large glass of water. R12, or about $1.55.
Read the review of Saeco Caffè in Cape Town, South Africa.
Whereas we’ve written an SF-oriented post on the common cues for recognizing a good or bad espresso, today’s WAtoday (Western Australia) features an article on how to spot a dodgy coffee: Perth’s Best and Worst Coffee.
We’ll simply quote it here:
Mooba Subiaco manager Hannah Cameron told WAtoday.com.au the top five ways customers can see that the coffee you are about to buy is not going to be top quality:
1) Beans are not ground on demand. Good baristas only grind the beans when they are needed. Ground coffee goes off in no time at all, if ground coffee is sitting in the coffee beans dispenser walk away now.
2) The shot is poured out of the machine too fast. A quick coffee is not a good coffee. Don’t be impatient. If your shot gets poured into the cup from the machine in under 10 seconds it won’t be good. The best take 20-40 seconds to filter through the coffee.
3) Don’t buy it if the barista does not use a clean milk jug, if they re-heat milk, add cold milk onto already heated milk and heat again or have a massive milk jug to heat heaps at a time.
4) If the bench is not clean, there are coffee grounds everywhere, the milk wand is caked in milk or anything looks unclean get out now.
5) If their machine looks like you could buy it for $100 don’t bother. Most top-quality Perth baristas use Synessos, the best machines in the world. If your barista used one of these you have a good chance that the final product will be tasty.
We pretty much agree with all of these points. However, we’d like to add a qualifier to the last one. Using a machine that looks worth about $100 is less of the cause and more of the symptom.
In the right barista hands, we’ve had very good espresso shots pulled from older refurbs or even cheaper machines. The real cue is a place that cares so little about their espresso quality that they cut as many corners as possible. This explains SF’s problem with La Spaziale machines: it’s not the machine that’s the problem, it’s the people who are buying them.
Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald published a curious fad-contrarian article under the subhed of “Espresso lovers are fighting the siphon and filter revolution”: Shots fired in retaliation.
Now the idea of a “siphon and filter revolution” is still a bit silly to us, given that siphon brewing has been around since the 1830s and filter coffee for even longer. For example, we’ve lost count how many times we’ve seen people “ooh” and “ahh” geek-out over recent Chemex brewer coffee references as if they we witnessing something revolutionary. This despite the fact that I have several uncles-by-marriage who have been using Chemex brewers for longer than most of today’s baristas have been alive.
However, filter coffee has undergone something of a public interest revolution. This has been another dimension to our theory about exploratory coffee fads, such as an obsession with single-origin coffees and medium roasts. What’s old becomes new again as coffee lovers experience the natural progression when seeking out the next “new” thing: something to learn from and to be stimulated by, even if it’s your immigrant uncle’s coffee.
So we have things like London’s Penny University, who are focusing on the new faddish thing (for UK standards) by offering only filter coffee and not espresso. This makes as much sense to us as the concept behind Scott Rao’s Everything But Espresso book. Instead of defining what you are, you define yourself by what you are not.
Now don’t get us wrong. We love filter coffee in its various trend-friendly forms. But if the Third Wave was supposed to be about enjoying coffee for its own sake, why are we setting up so many rules about what not to offer and what not to do? The traps of single-origins-only, medium-roasts-only, or filter-coffee-only are just as badly restrictive and closed-minded as having only blends, dark roasts, and espresso at our disposal.
Back to yesterday’s article, unfortunately it doesn’t express that “backlash” very well — instead favoring its own, counter-fads such as the Strada, the Slayer, etc. More to the point, we need more people speaking out saying, “But I like my espresso. Why is it suddenly passé?”
Two curious, seemingly unrelated posts appeared simultaneously in the news yesterday. One on La Marzocco‘s new Strada machine and all its variable-pressure-control glory: Ristretto | Strada – T Magazine Blog – NYTimes.com. The other, Esquire installment #3 from Todd Carmichael, about the ridiculous MSRP/retail prices for professional espresso machines and what most people in the industry actually pay for them: Espresso Machine Advice – Do I Need an Espresso Machine? – Esquire. What both articles speak to is the gadgetization of coffee. In fact, the Times‘ series, “Ristretto,” is dedicated to the gadgetization of coffee.
Sure, CoffeeGeek.com has been around for ages, and there’s plenty of shop talk in there about this or that device. The difference now is that the New York Times is writing about pressure profiling in professional espresso machines, and Esquire is talking about the logistics and financials of installing a Synesso for home use.
What happened? Why does a layman consumer reading the Times or Esquire need to know about the pre-infusion of a Slayer machine? Particularly given that these details seem to be of far greater interest to bored baristas and their armchair brethren than to consumers who cannot discern any noticeable improvement in the resulting retail cup.
Gadgetization — a fetish for devices and technology within a hobby — has infiltrated everything from golf to home cooking. But its more than consumer markets being created for suspect products such as electric garlic peelers. (Think the unwashed product-hawker SCAA conference floorshow bearing down directly on consumers.) It’s the blogosphere committed to paradoxes like “high-tech [sic] Chemex brewers” — things my in-laws have been using since before 99% of America’s baristas had even been born.
Earlier this year, when some writers bandied about the hyperbole that “fourth wave coffee has arrived” with the release of the Slayer machine, we wrote about the true origins of the term “Third Wave coffee.” In hindsight, our ridicule of this “fourth wave coffee” claim may have been premature. Because if coffee’s Third Wave is about appreciating coffee for its own sake, perhaps any Fourth Wave is about appreciating the devices and technology behind making coffee for their own sake. That is: no coffee required.
In other words, coffee’s waves seem to have evolved enough to render any actual coffee irrelevant to its enjoyment.
If the title of this post seems like the product of a copy-editor undergoing a seizure, it is intentional. It echoes the title of a new article on Esquire‘s Web site verbatim: Worst Coffee Trends – Bad Coffee Trends – Esquire. To thicken the plot, do note that this is the second article in a series written by La Colombe‘s Todd Carmichael. His first was titled: Coffee Revolution – New Ways to Roast Cofee [sic] – Esquire. ([sic] added by us.)
What’s going on here? Esquire is usually doing battle with GQ for who’s male readers have more money, power, and women (in that Scarface order). What do they care about hipster doofuses drinking beverages that cost 0.000016% the price of a new Maserati GranTurismo? Why do they list it under the strange blog topic named “food-for-men”? And if they can afford that GranTurismo, why can’t they afford a spell-checker?
Those questions remain unanswered. What also remains unanswered is, “What’s with Todd Carmichael’s stream of consciousness in these pieces?” The original post reads like not-quite-lucid reflection that should be funny and entertaining. It used phrases like “cork sniffers” and “rock star barista”, plus it made an homage to the Torrefazione Italia of old — what’s not to like? But instead, it came off like an unfocused and incoherent rant. Amp up the language a bit, give the man a shopping basket to push, and he could pass for Gary Busey cruising the Tenderloin on his way to Glide Memorial for the night. We didn’t cite his piece the first time around because, well, it didn’t make any more sense than a Frank Chu sign.
In Mr. Carmichael’s latest rant — with the subtitle of 7 Steps to Survive the Horrible Hipster Coffee Trend — he takes on $17,000 coffee machines, roasters who fawn over elitist bean crops, and baristas who don’t conform to his ideals of appearance or speech. In other words: all the stupid crap we write about. Except we’re perhaps the craziest ones of all. Because when we do it, we honestly think we’re trying to make a focused, logical point somewhere along the way.
Mr. Carmichael: we honestly like what you’re trying to say. We even like your coffee — despite the occasional coffee Nazi who wants to publicly urinate on you out of a sense of superiority combined with good-press envy. So take this as benevolently as possible: don’t give up the day job. Stick to making good coffee or crossing the Antarctic, because expressing yourself in writing just isn’t your strong suit … and Lost no longer needs writers.
This Stumptown outlet opened in 2007. It arguably first represented the Portland chain’s global ambitions. At the time, there was much consternation among Seattlites about an interloper in their heart of their Capitol Hill coffee culture (not to mention the Northwest rivalry that ensued). Stumptown even opened up roasting operations in town. But things haven’t quite worked out so badly for the Emerald City, despite the chatter.
This small storefront can be identified by the glowing neon Stumptown sign that wraps around — so you never can see more than half of it at a time. Outside there are a couple of sidewalk chairs. Inside there are a few tables and a tall ceiling, walls decorated with coffee-growing scenes, and a 1980s component stereo tuner playing music from the back.
While they offer cold brew coffee, the store focus is on their three-group Mistral (with a Stumptown label). With it, they pull rather large shots — one of the fullest demitasses we’ve had in our trip to Seattle. It’s more like a true doppio served in a classic brown logo ACF cup.
To its credit, it has a thicker, medium-and-darker-brown-striped crema. But given the pour size, the body runs a bit thin. It also has a tame and tepid flavor of mellow spices, pepper, and wood — and it lacks the stereotypical Hairbender brightness, except at the very finish/bottom of the cup.
In short, the shot here was disappointingly weak: this wouldn’t cut it as one of the best shots in most coffee cities. Of course, we have every reason to believe that Stumptown is capable of something better than this, so a revisit is required. But as it stands from our one visit, it wasn’t much better than the shots we had at Caffè Umbria — and wasn’t much different in the timidity of its flavor profile. Based on this limited experience, local Seattle coffee shops have little to worry about from “invasive species.”
Read the review of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district.
We continue our series on Seattle cafés with a visit to another another of the three V’s in town: this time it’s Caffé Vita in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. This combination café and roaster is one of the bigger entities in this coffee-rich neighborhood. It has the bold Caffé Vita neon signage out front — with a row of metal chairs along the E Pike St. sidewalk.
The interior is generally dark downstairs, with old wood floors and more examples of their Harlequin theme. The downstairs also sports several quiet tables, burlap sacks of coffee, and a worldwide collection of logo espresso cups in a lighted glass and wood case. This alone was a highlight of our visit, having established our own personal collection of espresso cups from cafés around the world ourselves. (Bonus points for playing T. Rex’s Electric Warrior album on our visit.) Upstairs is brighter but more library-like, and in back are the roasting operations.
The staff seem pretty good here, though we encountered one employee who actually lived up to the (fortunately rather rare) pain-in-the-ass negative stereotypes often unfairly bestowed upon employees at elite coffee shops. For equipment, they use an elaborate glass Japanese slow-drip coffee maker (as seen at SF’s Blue Bottle Cafe) and a (surprise!) three-group Synesso.
With their Synesso, they pull a short shot with a darker brown, even crema and a robust aroma. It has a flavor of muted pungency compared to the other V’s in town (Victrola and the soon-to-be-reviewed Espresso Vivace), but it still caries some potency. Just with more balanced flavors of wood, cinnamon, and cloves. Definitely a solid shot and an excellent place to experience it. Served in brown logo ACF cups.
Now that we’ve been told Seattle espresso is passé — with self-proclaimed Third Wave aficionados holding their nose at the (former) Queen City’s “Oh So Last Wave” reputation — we recently visited a variety of Seattle espresso bars. This is the first post of a coming series on Seattle cafés. We hope this series will provide some basic insight into Seattle’s coffee culture and how it is currently measuring up next to the rest of the coffee world. (More on that later.)
Oddly enough, our first installment comes from Kirkland, WA. Most of you are probably familiar with Kirkland only through Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand — named after this town that served as Costco’s headquarters from 1987 to 1996. Located on the shores of Lake Washington, northeast of Seattle, Kirkland is a quiet suburb of old homes and sprawling new condo development … and it’s home to the only Zoka Coffee outside of Seattle and Japan.
This is a large corner café in “downtown” Kirkland with a lot of seating inside on various tables and chairs, including a giant communal long wooden table and even the sawed-up midsection of a giant tree stump. Outside there is a lone metal table along Central Way near bronze public sculptures of wrestling rabbits in front.
The laptop zombie factor is heavy here, as even this spacious café with its tall ceilings is packed with people who don’t appear to work for a living. (Not unlike, say, SF’s original Ritual Roasters.) They use Mazzer grinders, a Hario Buono drip kettle with Bonmac drippers, and the wall sells everything from beans to Bodums to Chemex.
They had a two-group Slayer machine when we visited, but they were packing it up to ship to an alternate Seattle location because of “underuse” here. Sorry, folks, but you’re “stuck” with a three-group La Marzocco GB/5 instead. The signage proclaims “19g of espresso extracted for all espresso drinks,” and they use their Espresso Paladino for pulling shots (ours was from a five-day old roast).
The shot has a mottled medium brown crema of average thickness. It has a smooth and simple flavor of blended spices, herbs, a touch of molasses, and runs very fruity (stone fruit). Combined with a little bit of chocolate on the finish, there’s a bit of chocolate-covered cherries going on. But clearly this is no brightness bomb.
The flavor is blended well and somewhat understated — almost too understated compared to the shots of Paladino we used to have at SF’s defunct Cafe Organica. There is definitely an Old World dimension to the working espresso blend here. While a good, solid effort, there’s room for improvement and there’s better Seattle espresso to come.