popbites

Espresso, music and other bits of pop culture.

Jan 2

Espresso as Spiritual Experience

This TM needs to be updated after the legalization of marijuana but the fact is that caffeine, besides being able to help you land a job, get a date, and win a race, can open the Doors of Perception.

Drugs have been traditionally used by some cultures to achieve an expanded state of mind and allow the individual to become one with the Creator and the Universe.

I’ve seen hipster disciples dutifully worshiping barista priests across the coffee bar altar.

 

Some times I have an out of body experience. I leave the coffee shop happy and floating on the taste notes. I’m not myself anymore, but someone in communion with other espresso appreciators.


Jan 1

Response: 192 Espressos – The Best of Seattle Coffee 2012

This is a response to MAS’s post that can be found here.

Every time I see a Best Coffee list I think about that scene in the movie Elf. Best in what? Although I’m not sure if taste can be an objective measure of quality, I love the fact that MAS introduced a systematic methodology to quantify the best - or favorite - espressos and coffee places.

So much so that I’ve been using his coffee rating system since 2011 and entered all 121 espressos I had in 2012 in a spreadsheet. I also couldn’t care less about the hours, WIFI signal and seating. I do care about interior design and service, but that doesn’t influence the rating:

  1. undrinkable
  2. disappointing
  3. what I expect from specialty coffee in 2012
  4. pleasant surprise
  5. God shot (didn’t happen this year)

For the places I visited more than 5 times in Seattle, here is the ranking.

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MAS didn’t visit Empire and I didn’t visit Trabant in 2012, but we seem to have come to the same conclusion that Kuma is doing an excellent job with their roasting and accounts.

The other 49 espressos distributed over 37 Seattle places don’t give enough data for a differentiated ranking. However, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel and try 41 espressos in 28 coffee shops in Edmonton, Vancouver, Tacoma, Olympia, Ridgefield, Portland, Ashland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego.

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Of course every Seattleite wants to see his town in the first place, but this result is easy to explain: in other cities I only went for those places I new would be really good (according to recommendations from Sprudge, teh coffee, espresso.map and Twitter), while locally I was still exploring all possible coffee shops in the hope of finding a hidden gem. I intend to change this in 2013. The good news is that today it is possible to find specialty coffee in more and more locations around the country and the world.

I didn’t realize I had tried 47 different roasters until I ran the statistics! For those with more than 5 espressos, here is the ranking.

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Thank you MAS for the inspiration!


Dec 31

Coffee thoughts on New Year’s Eve

Seattle has no hidden gems for espresso, but it has 10 places that are amazing over and over again: Analog, Delia, Empire, Milstead, Stumptown, Tougo, Victrola, Vita, Vivace.

Some people keep saying how yummy burned coffee is while others complain they can only find bright acidity offerings and no balance anymore.

Taste is not a measurement of quality because it is subjective. Quality food is the one which has the most nutrients from seed to plate. Rich soil and appropriate climate, no harmful fertilizers, quick transport from origin, no harmful additions during processing, no destructive preparation. Same with coffee from seed to cup. Assuming all the rest was done and properly, TDS, extraction yield, brew ratio might be a measurement of quality on the preparation end because they ensure that all flavors that could be extracted really have been. On the other side, numbers are no guarantee of how good anything will taste.

Water is 95% of the coffee, so you better get your water right.

Baristas become bartenders as soon as their craft cocktail careers take off, what I’m sure is much more rewarding.

Minimum wage is OK for baristas who work part-time to pay their college, but those who want to have a career for the rest of their lives should be able earn much more than that. Coffee shop owners should pay more the more certifications a barista has and the SCAA/BGA should offer continued learning opportunities to those who have all certifications.

Of course coffee shop owners can and should only pay proportionally to the revenue an employee brings in. Some stars do attract a lot of fashion victims and barista groupies with their hipster talk, but is that all?

The idea of a differentiated experience is taking form. There are $1 burgers for when your broke and hungry and $25 burgers for once in a lifetime special occasions. Customers who think that it’s only coffee should be able to pay less and customers who think it’s more than that should be willing to pay more. It doesn’t need to be a circus performance with liquid nitrogen by appointment only, so I’m looking forward to what the creative minds will come up with in 2013.

In the end, there are only two things that matter: knowledge and love. If you know what you’re doing and do it with enthusiasm and care, there will be happy customers.

Favorite coffee personalities of the year: Llewellyn Sinclair, James Hoffmann, Tim Wendelboe, Colin Harmon, Steve Leighton, Nick Cho, Mark Prince.

New Year’s Update on Taste and Quality

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From Nick Cho’s Top-5 Coffee Trend Predictions for 2013:

Human perception is relative and fundamentally flawed because someone might disagree with us, so the only way to taste coffee in the way it was meant to be tasted is to taste it with a machine. Machines are perfect, and by using proprietary algorithms we can finally unlock the mystery that has plagued humanity since that Ethiopian goat-herder kid first slacked-off on the job: is my coffee good?


Nov 27

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is again asking for money this week. I have the impression they are doing this more and more often.

Since I don’t want to contribute, I believe I should not use it anymore. It is fair that they get their costs covered because they do provide a valuable service. Although some articles are pretty confusing, most of them are helpful and quickly provide the information I’m looking for. I know I can’t believe everything and it is enough for the daily use.

Children learn at school that they should not trust what is written there and are not allowed to use Wikipedia for schoolwork. It is important to research and cross check several sources of information. However this is getting more difficult.

Wikipedia comes out on top of every web search. It is so convenient to look there first. It is becoming harder to find alternative sources. And monopoly is dangerous, especially information monopoly.


Nov 18

Hear My Train A Comin’: The Concert

Celebrating the opening of the Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London exhibition at the EMP in Seattle, November 17, 2012.

Billy Cox, Mike Musburger: Question #1: who is this guitarist?

Eric Gales, Billy Cox:

Mike Musburger, Jason Staczek, Jeff Fielder with … 

… Ian Moore:

Audley Freed, Jeff Fielder:

Highlight #1: Audley Freed, Eric Gales performing Waterfall:

Ernie Isley, Mike Musburger:

Highlight #2: Jeff Fielder, Jason Staczek, Vernon Reid performing a song that “nobody every does”: Question #2: what is the name of the song?

Question #3: what is the name of this singer?

Everybody in Seattle loves Duff McKagan:

Highlight #3: Brandi Carlile, Barret Martin (and Mike McCready, Duff McKagan) performing Machine Gun:

At the end of the National Anthem, Mike McCready sticks the guitar head in the Marshall amplifier:

Every single guitarist gets to do a 12 bar solo in the last song: Question #4: who was the drummer?

Highlight #4: Paul G. Allen guitar solo.

Thanks to Andrew McKeag for putting this show together!


Jul 27

Marshal Kim Jong-un and Comrade Ri Sol-ju


May 26

Eastlake coffee landmarks 2012

#1 Allegedly the last coffee cart in Seattle

Serving Caffe Vita in front of the the 14 Carrot Cafe (2305 Eastlake Avenue East). On this picture, it looks like this restaurant served Hines Public Market Coffee in 2004.

The Hines Public Market building was once Eastlake’s version of Pike Place and has historically housed both grocers and taverns.

The Hines Public Market Coffee roaster and coffee shop itself, where Brownen Serna worked when she won the 2004 US Barista Championship, was located on 2243 Eastlake Avenue East across E Lynn Street to the South. The building was torn down in 2005 and the new condominium built on its place now houses Voxx Coffee (2245 Eastlake Avenue East). The roaster moved to Vancouver BC but the planned move of the Hines Public Market Coffee to Belltown didn’t happen.

#2 Brian Fairbrother Ghost Bike Memorial

There in 2011, now removed.


Feb 15

Portland

The opportunity to spend four days in Portland finally arrived. I had compiled from reliable sources a list of 37 coffee shops that would be worth visiting (but I haven’t made them all this time).

Where to start? Eventually I realized that Portland is divided in unequal quadrants by the Willamette River and the Burnside Street and plotted almost all of the addresses in a way that would build four circular routes. I found that it is possible to cover the west side in a nice urban hike and a car is needed between the clusters on the east side.

Portland has several former industrial and deteriorated areas that have been re-urbanized and where coffee shops flourish. Some neighborhoods look hippie-artistic, others yuppie-clean. Some coffee shops were crowded with laptops, others were crowded with coffee geeks, but it was always difficult to find a spot to sit down. No recession in the coffee market.

In my eagerness to know everything as if there was no tomorrow, I exaggerated, got coffee drunk, sick of coffee and saturated to the point I need to take a long break until I drink any again. But I didn’t leave with the feeling that I missed out something and I have a clear (although obvious) list of places I want to visit next time and can recommend if somebody asks: Coava, Barista, Heart, Public Domain, Water Avenue.

Olympia

Every trip from Seattle to Portland starts with a stop in Olympia (or Tacoma, but I had already been there a week before).

Batdorf & Bronson

Very elegant shop and excellent espresso. I forgot to ask which blend they were using.

Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.

Their second location was already closed. At least I know where it is and how it looks like. The outside seating must be fun.

SW Portland (downtown)

Click on the picture to edit the map.

Public Domain

I was skeptic to go to this place because nobody talks about it anymore but it is simply beau-ti-ful and their Prometheus espresso blend is excellent. The printed menu in a glass case outside the door explains their current offerings. This was a fantastic start!

Spella

This was in fact the last place I visited before leaving town because it closes on weekends. It has an old Italian feel and the espresso machine is a manual lever three group Rancilio. Regular customers go there to lean on the counter and spend a long time chatting.

Stumptown Downtown

After some touristic sightseeing I stopped here to order a macchiato because I was hungry and thought the milk might provide some nourishment. (Pastries? Never!) Serious baristas, large magazine rack, loud music from vinyl and the macchiato was delicious - “perfect balance between the milk sweetness and the taste of espresso coming through”.

Courier Coffee

Great espresso, “roasted on the other side of the river”. Lots of fun with scales. Pickle jars for everything. Poster of the Perfect Pickle competition on the door. The Howlin’ Wolf Album playing on vinyl. Very close to Powell’s City of Books (everybody please buy a physical book there).

Stumptown Ace

Didn’t expect anything less then perfect from the service to the espresso and it was even better!

NW Portland (Pearl and Nob Hill)

This could be a continuation of the downtown hike.

Barista

Large variety of coffee beans from different roasters, nice to see Seattle’s Kuma on the shelf. Three options for espresso: Coava El Salvador La Guachoca, Stumptown Ethiopia Yukro, 49th Parallel Esmerin Enamorado. Coava was recommended and excellent.

Sterling

I’m glad I came to this landmark before they move to a different location later this year. Everything is so elegant, from the ties to the black gift boxes. The small roaster is used for 10% of the coffee, the rest is roasted “on the other side of the river”. I knew from the NWRBC that each barista at Sterling gets to roast some coffee. The recommended Costa Rica espresso was great.

Coffeehouse Northwest

Here I got the Sterling Ethiopian espresso, also great. Adam McGovern in person came from behind the bar to explain they have always two options of coffee beans that change seasonally.

NE Portland (Mississippi, Alberta)

Well, looking at the map now, it seems it would be possible to do this in a day hike by leaving out the non-essential stops. I split it in two parts and did it by car.

Ristretto

Very clean and new. I spent some time here drinking water and imagining the event described in Caffeinated PDX.

Fresh Pot

I guess this came into the list because it’s a place you can get good Stumptown if you are in the Mississippi neighborhood.

Albina Press

Legendary shop serving Stumptown. I believe some barista champions used to work here.

Red e

I had to decide between Red e and Coffeehouse Five one block ahead. Only when I was back in Seattle did I learn that they roast their own coffee.

Coffeehouse Five

This was higher in the recommendation list. Great espresso from PT’s (Topeka, Kansas).

Woodlawn

Stumptown neighborhood cafe.

Barista 2

This was the only place I had been to in a previous visit to Portland. Now I had more time to appreciate the pub-style decoration. Excellent Stumptown Gatemala Antigua Buena Vista espresso.

Extracto

Great espresso from this on-site roaster.

Motivasi

Another Stumptown neighborhood cafe.

Ristretto

Saw the double R logo but didn’t have the energy to stop or take a picture.

SE Portland

Feel free to click on the map.

Water Avenue

Started the morning in this brand new commercial center in the industrial district. Chose the single origin over the blend. It was excellent.

Coava

I was still enjoying my previous espresso when I arrived here, so I spent some time admiring this immense jaw dropping space. The decision between a Guatemala San Rafael COE and an El Salvador Santa Sofia Peaberry presented on a small clipboard with tasting notes was tough. I chose the first and humble Devin Chapman himself made me a fantastic espresso.

Cellar Door

Again, I was still walking in the clouds from the previous experience when I got here. I couldn’t try out this roaster but was greeted by the friendliest barista in town. He was simply sincerely happy.

Oui Presse

Stumptown and baguette inside a doll house.

Coffee Division

This part of town is definitely Stumptown territory.

Stumptown Division

This is where it all started. The legendary Duane Sorenson even smiled and waved back to me from inside his new Woodsman Tavern!

Stumptown Annex

Arrived just in time for a cupping about to begin and didn’t attend, shame on me. Origin slideshow on the screen and well designed counter for the cupping.

Oblique

Another roaster I wasn’t able to try, just admired the oblique decoration.

Crema

Stumptown and Coava beans.

Heart

From the blog descriptions I was expecting this to be as unique as Coava and was a little annoyed that even the semi-circular bar around the roaster was full of laptops but I don’t care because the Ethiopian espresso was de-li-ci-ous.

Ridgefield, WA

Take I-5 Exit 14 and go East.

Lava Java

Every coffee lover travelling between Portland and Seattle must stop here and show their appreciation. The single origin of the day was an excellent Stumptown Ethiopia Yukro espresso.

Olympia

Last stop on the way back home.

Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.

I decided to stick with this beloved original location and see how the Big Truck is really supposed to taste. Perfect conclusion of the trip.


Jan 6

First espresso of the year

Location: Empire Espresso

Roaster: Kuma

Price incl. tax: $3.00

Taste: sweet acidity + tobacco

C&P: tasty crema on the first sip

Personality and atmosphere score: 2


Dec 31

2011 year end

Coffee

This year consolidated the trend away from espresso towards manually brewed coffee. The portafilter.net podcast explains that this is a way to make specialty coffee more accessible to the general public. Whereas last year Chemex and Hario were the favorites, what Seattle baristas are really excited about now is Clever, aeropress and siphon.

Fortunately there are still plenty of opportunities for different kinds of espresso in Seattle, like those offered by Milstead and Co. since it’s opening in September:


Like the opening of Analog Coffee in 2011, I’ll be looking forward to Ballard Coffee Works in 2012.

Music

This shows how much I have not listened to KEXP this year: from the 91 Top Listener Voted Albums of 2011, I had never heard the name of 44 of the bands and only know how 31 of them sound like.