Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
As we warned you last month, this is the first of what should be a series of espresso-related trip reports from Cape Town, South Africa.
Opening in Nov. 2009, this tiny breakfast and lunch eatery is owned and operated by Ammy Cope & Tom Sheehy, who are major food enthusiasts. They have a few tables and benches under a small, covered patio, and they specialize in fresh baked goods and good coffee from Deluxe Coffeeworks, one of the more notable roasters in South Africa.
Using a stainless two-group WEGA, they pull shots with a medium and darker brown spotted crema. The crema may be thin in thickness, but it is visually rich. The resulting cup may run a bit thinner on body, but it has a flavor profile that’s smooth, earthy, and more body-forward.
Their milk frothing is also rather impressive, as they blend the microfoam well with the espresso crema – often producing latte art. Served in delicate Crown Professional porcelain cups. With the espresso standards in town starting to evolve beyond the routine, this cup is one of the better options around town. But there are many higher-profile places yet to try…so stay tuned.
Read the review of Cookshop in Cape Town, South Africa.
A blogger in New Jersey posted an interview with Carlo Odello of the Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano, or the Italian National Espresso Institute: Espresso Italiano, Talking Coffee the Italian Way with Carlo Odello – Serge the Concierge. Mr. Odello (a friend of this Web site) was recently working Caffè Italia at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York.
Talk of Italian espresso standards have recently ruffled a lot of feathers this side of the Atlantic. Especially for those who bang their heads against their knockboxes with the zombie-like mantra, “Third Wave is Best Wave“. But this brief Q&A with Mr. Odello touches on good and bad coffee odors and the differences between coffee blends roasted in Rome, Sicily, and Liguria.
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.
Another installment in SF’s series of “espresso bars in strange places,” this one — open since 2009 — is located in a sort of gift shop. It’s a very small space identified by its bright green exterior, and there are a couple of small chairs for sidewalk seating. Inside there are mirrors, planters, birdcages, bath oils, glassware, candle holders, and other odd home gifts — with two small tables in front and an espresso bar in back.
Here they use a two-group La Marzocco Linea to pull shots of Ritual Roasters coffee. They were pulling shots of Ritual’s anniversary Five Candles blend when we visited — recently replacing months of their Evil Twin seasonal blend. The barista identified their Evil Twin blend as being much more forgiving than the two-second extraction range that the Five Candles could tolerate. And they do time their shots here: she sank (as in sink shot) a 17-second shot before letting a 24-second shot pass.
The espresso had a mottled medium and darker brown crema, poured rather short in white Nuova Point cups. It was bright, fruity (sour green apple fruity), and a touch thin – likely reflecting the new espresso blend more than anything else. Regarding the fruity descriptor, Ritual even uses the phrase “golden apple” – though it was more green apple. And that kind of sourness just doesn’t have a place in the flavor profile of espresso shots we like very much. Perhaps others will find it interesting.
Hollow is generally known for making some of the best espresso in the Inner Sunset, but the Five Candles blend didn’t let them shine. This is a case where a coffee bean roaster/supplier changes up their blends with the growing seasons and sometimes gets too clever — producing underwhelming results for the retail café.
Read the review of Hollow.
Coincidentally, this afternoon we were looking for a decent espresso in Yountville following the fantastic release party of a winemaker friend of ours. Walking up to the nearby Yountville Coffee Caboose, we asked what Ritual blend they used for their espresso pulls. When they answered “Five Candles,” we instead walked over to Bardessono.
The woman working the Caboose’s register may have been surprised at our reaction, but the Five Candles blend really is that disappointing. It carries many of the signature problems we’ve created when we’ve overweighted more lightly roasted Central American beans in our own home-roasted espresso blends.
We wrap up our brief series on Seattle’s espresso and coffee culture with a few observations.
First, it had been way, way too long since our last visit. Twelve years in fact. Which is all the more ridiculous given the kind of coffee tourists we’ve become. It was 15 years ago that I attended graduate summer classes on the UW campus (in the U District), and for the occasion I grew a goatee to mock many a stereotyped Starbucks barista in its birthplace. (Ultimately the joke was on me, as 15 years later I still sport that goatee.)
Back in 1995, despite its availability elsewhere at the time, espresso and espresso drinks (lattes, etc.) were a quintessential Seattle thing. Espresso Vivace already had 7 years of experimentation and innovation under its belt, and Starbucks had opened its first East Coast outlet just two years prior in Washington, D.C.
But just a decade later, people started looking to cities such as Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for the next shiny new thing in coffee — with Seattle suddenly treated like some quaint, outdated reminder of coffee’s past. Interest in good coffee mutated into something that today looks more like interest in the next gimmick or fad for making good coffee: single origin espressos, the Clover, naked portafilters, cuppings, toys and gadgets, etc.
Today it isn’t enough to make good coffee. You have to invent something, or be new to the market, to get noticed — which isn’t something always equated with Seattle’s coffee culture. Restaurants suffer the same fate, as a quality stalwart like Masa’s is almost always passed up for the hot new place that opened last month or for a kitchen that starts cooking with liquid nitrogen and lasers. (Though given Masa’s espresso quality, perhaps lasers and liquid nitrogen might improve their coffee service.)
Ironically, it was Trish Rothgeb (née Skeie) roasting over at Seattle’s Zoka who first coined the term “Third Wave“. But within just a few years, the coffee industry largely hijacked its meaning for marketing purposes, shoving Seattle out of any potential spotlight once again. Meanwhile, Seattle found its coffee relevancy publicly questioned as “second waver” Starbucks convinced more and more reluctant believers that it became just another mass-production fast food chain.
Sure, Seattle as a city earned a reputation for coffee quality that was not commensurate with the typical place down the street. Because, let’s face it, most of the coffee served in Seattle is godawful. But this is essentially true for any city outside of, say, Italy and Portugal. What matters for our reviewing purposes is what’s available at the top end.
And from what little we recently tested, Seattle isn’t missing a beat. With the exception of maybe Zoka and, understandably, Caffè Umbria, most of the espresso shots we had exhibited a rather “modern” New World flavor profile. Oddly, it was the local invasion of Portland’s Stumptown that was a no show — with a larger, weaker shot that didn’t quite make the grade, given expectations.
Synesso machines were all the rage in town — not surprising, given that Synesso is a Seattle-based manufacturer. And Melitta/pour-over bars were quite common. However, single origin espresso shots — and even the option for different roasts for your shot — seemed underrepresented in Seattle compared to what you find at the top end in San Francisco.
The quality at the top end is on par with SF. Yet Seattle still has the coffee culture down in spades by comparison: baristas regularly know their customers by name (and more importantly: know their preferences), and so many of the top places in town roast their own. And Seattle has Vivace, which is truly a cultural treasure for the American espresso lover.
We wish we could have reviewed many more places in our short time in Seattle, but long ago we made it a policy to never sample more than four espresso shots in one given morning or afternoon. Anything more than that, and the flavor profiles start blending together and we stop trusting our senses. Not to mention the caffeine jitters. But Seattle was so tempting that we had to bend our rules a bit, reviewing shots in two separate “shifts” on the same day.
Readers may be surprised that I typically consume an average of only about two espresso shots per day. So after the first shift, I literally developed an eye twitch. But it was nothing like my first visit to the (long gone) Café Organica in 2005, where I downed four successive shots to sample all their blends and paid dearly the rest of the day. This time, after a few hours and some hydration therapy, I was rather proud of my caffeine tolerance after being so out of practice.
|Name||Address||Neighborhood||Espresso [info]||Cafe [info]||Overall [info]|
|Cafe Juanita||9702 NE 120th Pl.||Kirkland, WA||7.30||7.20||7.250|
|Caffè Umbria||320 Occidental Ave. S||Pioneer Square||7.10||8.20||7.650|
|Caffé Vita||1005 E Pike St.||Capitol Hill||8.30||8.00||8.150|
|Espresso Vivace Brix||532 Broadway Ave. E||Capitol Hill||8.60||8.80||8.700|
|Espresso Vivace Sidewalk Bar||321 Broadway Ave. E||Capitol Hill||8.80||7.00||7.900|
|Stumptown Coffee Roasters||616 E Pine St.||Capitol Hill||7.40||8.00||7.700|
|Trabant Coffee & Chai||602 2nd Ave.||Pioneer Square||8.10||7.50||7.800|
|Victrola Coffee and Art||411 15th Ave. E||Capitol Hill||8.20||8.20||8.200|
|Zoka Coffee Roasters & Tea||129 Central Way||Kirkland, WA||8.10||8.20||8.150|
After David Schomer lost the original Espresso Vivace Roasteria location on Denny Way to an eminent domain seizure in 2006, when the city of Seattle decided to place a new rail line station at its location, Espresso Vivace needed a new home where they could showcase their coffee and techniques.
This Espresso Vivace location opened up in 2008 as the “Brix” location to help fill that void. It is located just a couple blocks up Broadway Ave. from their Sidewalk Bar, past many cheap phở shops. Inside it is decorated quite fully: high ceilings, nice wood counters, window-facing faux marble countertops, and even a special meeting room in back (supposedly open to all, but locked when we visited).
There is some limited outdoor sidewalk seating among metal chairs along Broadway Ave. as well. The café is quite busy, but not so busy that the barista staff doesn’t engage with many of their customers and knows their life stories, let alone their names.
Using a three-group Synesso (they have two of them), they pull short shots with their trademark highly bubbled, dark-to-medium-brown crema that dissipates quickly. It’s unmistakable Vivace — just on sight alone.
While it is an excellent shot, we found it slightly weaker (surprisingly) than their nearby Sidewalk Bar: the flavor profile was a bit more narrow (but still focused on the herbal notes with some sweetness), and it wasn’t as potently bright either. It is a bit more of a straight-ahead potent, syrupy shot of with a moderately thin crema. But still one of the finest shots in all Seattle. That would also be true for San Francisco.
Read the review of Espresso Vivace Brix in Seattle.
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.
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.
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.