The Roadtrip – Seattle

June 13th, 2007

With sadness we left Anette behind for a day as she had to collect her visa and the rest of us ventured down in the United States of the Americas.  It was nice there – warm, sunny and not as cold and mean/rainy as Vancouver had been.

We went up to Elysian Brewing for some beers and some food, which was pretty good, suffered a terrible mojito on the way home and were up and raring to go the next morning.

First stop was the newer Victrola up on Pike.  It is a lovely old building, formerly an garage for car repair (I refuse to lower myself to the American terminology!).  I love the colours on the outside and it looked great in the sunshine.

We went in and had a few shots that were pretty good and then introduced ourselves to the manager Sarah Jane and Keith and Perry who were doing the roasting in the space through the glass.  Sarah Jane then made us a press of their Yirg that was really great, and sitting in the wide open space at a massive table with the sun streaming through the large windows it was a great coffee experience.  We had a little look around the roastery and around their training rooms and it really is a good place to be on a sunny day.

Just up the road was Caffe Vita and we snuck in for a quick espresso and also to press our faces up to the glass wall into their roastery.  Their Probat looks beautiful and you can see a little up into their offices where the sample roaster is.  It is beautiful.  The coffee was interesting – mine had an odd parma violet note that I’ve never had before.

By this point my camera battery had died and my charger was in a car with Anette and Alistair stuck at the border in a big queue.  Which was very frustrating – hopefully Stephen will upload a few.

The final serious cafe moment of that day was up at Vivace Roasteria on Broadway.  I gather they are tearing the building down to make way for a light rail station which seems a shame.  Vivace seems to have a very strong identity and the roasting room in that store, whilst clearly now barely used, is very pretty.  Apart from the obvious espresso and capps in there I also tried a Cafe Nico.  It was pretty good – orange zest, a little syrup, coffee and milk in a small cup with some spices on top – nicely balanced and not screamingly sweet.  Interesting to see someone basically offering a signature drink, especially a cafe that doesn’t have a strong interest in barista competition.

Whilst in Seattle it would seem criminal not to go over and catch up with the guys at Clover.  It was great to see David and Zander again, and to meet (the now infamous) Tatiana.  Despite being extremely full of tongue tacos and burritos al pastor, I had room for coffee.  They had some of George Howell’s coffee up there and whilst it isn’t my place to say how or what they were doing they were finding innovative ways to get his coffee to really sing in the cup.  We tasted the Mamuto and it was stellar, really clean strong fruit in the cup that remained loud and balanced as the coffee cooled.  We tried a couple more and then went to meet up with a few people from Zoka and other places that were planning to go and roast on the beach.

Beach roasting was memorable.  It was also very hot and having to slowly rotate the metal ball roaster by hand over a very hot fire pit was challenging (in the good way of course).  All the roasts I got involved in were a little uneven but the last one before the light completely went was great and surprisingly even.

Trish from Zoka and Chris from Atlas (who owns the roaster) led the way and it was great to meet Dismas and a load of other people and to get a feeling of the community down in Seattle.  It was also nice to see Anette freshly allowed into the States and we went and had more amazing Mexican (it has become the official cuisine of the trip!) food with Bronwen to celebrate.

The next day we went back to Victrola so Anette could see it as well the newest Vivace.  We were all sat down at a table and one of the guys with us went off to order 4 capps.  He asked for them to be wet in his very Irish accent and the looked pretty good when they arrived.  The first sip was a confusing experience.  They were sweet, but not ordinary sweet – more like someone had stirred 2 sugars into every drink.  I know their milk is well textured and sweet but it was just ridiculous.  Turns out wet had been misheard and instead we had order white – as in 4 white chocolate capps, which explained everything.  We went back for a load of espressos and I have to say that the taste of their coffee is very distinct and consistent store to store.  (Anette is visible in the spoon).

A little later that day word had gotten out and David from Clover was on the phone (rightly) mocking us drinking white mochas in Vivace.

From speaking to a few people they recommended we try and find a new start up called Seven.  Its a small neighborhood shop near Greenlake and they are roasting in the back on a little 2 kilo Ambex.  The feel of the store was great and Carl (or maybe Karl) made us feel very welcome.

I recommend dropping by if you are in that area and have a little time.  Some nice details in the place.  Afterwards we popped over to the Zoka store in Greenlake.  We wanted to swing by the roastery but (typically) time got the better of us.  The Zoka store was totally different, bigger and pretty much packed out.  By this time I had had a lot of coffee, and at that point yet another cup (no matter how good) was going to be hard.  I hate leaving behind half finished cups of coffee, but they dose quite heavy with their Clover and it was a 12oz cup – I am just not man enough I guess.  However, just around the corners is the masterful Hiroki who does rather splendid desserts.  Naughty but nice.

Breakfast the next morning was a chance to see Bronwen one more time before we left as she was working over at Sitka and Spruce.  I wish I lived near a place like this – I would be happy and fat.  The brunch was amazing and the cappuccinos Bronwen made really hit the spot.

We then got a phone call from David Schomer saying he would love to meet us and make us some coffee.  This is not a call you say no to, so after a very brief visit to Trabant we were shamefully running late.

We headed back down to his new store and the bar setup means that one machine can very much look after a busy queue and yet there is still a three group available for “guests”.  David jumped on the machine straight away and started pulling some shots.  What was interesting is that his were better than his staff’s.  Maybe he just knows his coffee inside out.  Mine had a really great, light fluffy mouthfeel and whilst the actually flavours may not be what I am into I can understand why his coffee tastes like it does.

He was very chatty about his coffee and his equipment and it was clear that he really looks after his staff and there is a nice friendly, family atmosphere there.  One of the barista’s mothers was there and he was making her drinks and she was clearly proud.  Pretty soon conversation turned to latte art and a couple of his baristas started to pour.  It is interesting to watch people with a totally different style to my own – back to the whole fat leaves thing I guess.

What really surprised me was when David dragged both Stephen and I behind his bar to steam some milk and pour some drinks.  I know David is strict about who works his machines and you have to really put your time in and earn your place, so I guess I felt a little uncomfortable just jumping back there.  I also had to ask for the small cups to pour in because I have yet to get my head around anything bigger than a 12!  Both Stephen and I were a little disappointed with our pours though one of the baristas pointed out that you never pour better than when you are working the line and it becomes automatic and you stop thinking so hard.  It was surprisingly nerve wracking too and I felt very much on show and I am sure Stephen felt the same.  Still – I doubt there will ever be another opportunity to work behind the bar next to David Schomer.

Our last stop in town was a small place called Zeitgeist near Pioneer square.  They have a beautiful set up and a nice vintage GS paddle group Marzocco.  I loved the feel and theme of the place and just the building itself.  Worth a look.

And that was Seattle, Portland was beckoning and we needed to get in the car and go.  I think that every one of these city reports will have a tinge of regret for the places we didn’t see and people we didn’t get to meet despite really wanting to.  I have to say that Seattle on a sunny day is a great place to be, and it has a lovely feel to it.  That, however, was totally different to the feel of Portland….

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