My Favorite Seattle Coffee Places (2014)

This weekend Seattle is hosting the SCAA (Speciality Coffee Association of America). This is the big coffee event for the industry. People from all over the world will be visiting Seattle. In addition to the big expo, I expect our visitors will be checking out the local coffee scene.

Below is my current list of Seattle coffee shop favorites broken down by neighborhood.

Biases: I only drink espresso and I loathe dark roasts.

Disclosures: None. I’ve never worked for anyone in the coffee industry. I am the organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a group of 700+ coffee fans that have been exploring the Seattle coffee scene since 2006. I’ve also ran the coffee hobbyist website INeedCoffee since 1999.

Downtown / Belltown / Pioneer Square

  • Seattle Coffee Works
  • Trabant Coffee
  • Street Bean Espresso (closed on Sunday)
  • Motore Coffee (closed on weekends)

Capitol Hill / Central District

  • Black Coffee Co-op
  • Broadcast Coffee
  • Tougo Coffee
  • Victrola Coffee

Fremont

  • Milstead & Co
  • Vif Wine & Coffee
  • Caffe Ladro

Ballard

  • Toast
  • Ballard Coffee Works
  • Slate Coffee Roasters

Greenwood / Phinney Ridge

  • Neptune Coffee
  • Herkimer Coffee

University

  • Trabant Coffee

Eastside (Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond)

  • Urban Coffee Lounge
  • Zoka Coffee

On the way to the airport (South)

  • Caffe Delia (White Center)
  • Burien Press (Burien)

This list is not complete. There are many more great spots.

Caffe Delia

If you haven’t been to Seattle in a few years, the biggest changes have been:

  1. Many more coffee shops are offering more than 1 espresso option. Sometimes from multiple roasters.
  2. Caffe Ladro is much better.
  3. Caffe Vita is much worse.
  4. Espresso Vivace changed their Dolce espresso blend in 2009. They removed the premium robusta component and now it is a shadow of its former self. If you have fond memories of Vivace, stay away.
  5. When it comes to social media, Seattle coffee shops and professionals favor Twitter.

Welcome to Seattle!

Homer Simpson Invented Bulletproof Coffee in 1998!

I’ve been watching The Simpsons since they debuted, but recently I learned that there were some episodes from season 9 that I somehow missed. So I acquired the DVD from that season and began watching. That is when I discovered something interesting from the 23rd episode of that season titled “King of the Hill”. It was Homer Simpson not Dave Asprey that came up with the idea of Bulletproof Coffee. :)

In this episode Homer finds himself in horrible physical shape. Before starting his fitness routine, he and Marge are in bed talking.

Homer: Oh Marge! How could you let me let myself go like this?

Marge: Me? I’m not the one that puts butter in coffee.

Maybe Homer would have been in better shape had he also added MCT Oil?

Homer Simpson Bulletproof Coffee

Finally Had Luwak Coffee

Well I can cross Luwak coffee off my food and beverage bucket list. A friend of mine returned from Bali with a sample of Bali Luwak coffee. When it comes to interesting foods, I have little fear. I’ll try just about anything: testicles, uterus, bugs – bring it on! Yet when it comes to coffee, I am a serious snob. The thought of gross coffee makes me gag more than some random animal part from the pages of Yuck!

For those unaware, luwak coffee is made from beans that have passed through the Asian palm civet animal. The beans are then cleaned and roasted. I wonder who was the first person that thought it was a good idea to recover coffee from animal waste. Often this coffee is quite expensive. When it first hit the scene, reports were the coffee was extremely good. Over time the lore of luwak coffee has faded. Other animals have gotten into the game. Reports of animal cruelty have also tarnished the image of this exotic coffee.

Luwak coffee

My first fear was that beans would be over roasted. This is the problem with a lot of tourist coffees (ex: Hawaii). Fortunately, the beans were roasted a light medium. This is what you want when you are trying to detect subtle flavors. Lighter roasted coffee also last much longer. Dark roasted coffee usually goes stale in under a week. Lighter roasted coffee stay fresh for weeks.

On the plus side the Luwak coffee appeared to be roasted to the color level I’d expect from a delicate flavored coffee.  A few beans were a little darker, but overall, the roast was even.

Luwak

I prepared the coffee using the Aeropress and as soon as I added the hot water I could tell there was going to be a problem. There was zero bloom. Gas will escape from fresh coffee. These beans were stale. I’d estimate they were probably 2+ months old.

There was no odor – good or bad. The taste was neutral. Smooth but without any flavor notes – probably due to the age of the beans.

brewed luwak coffee

I didn’t have high expectations for the beans. Nobody I respect in the industry cares for civet coffee. It is a novelty at best. Still if I was stuck at a tire shop in the middle of the country waiting for service and I had to pick between a Charbucks French Roast or stale Luwak, I’d take the Luwak coffee.

The Best of Seattle Coffee 2013

In 2012, I did something unique to Best of lists. I listed my biases, preferences and quantified my results. Check out the post 192 Espressos if you want to see how to do a Best of list properly.

For 2013, I decided to put away the spreadsheet and not rank any espresso. It was liberating. There is a downside to quantifiable self. Instead of focusing solely on the espresso quality, my cafe experiences would also be influenced by customer service.

To me customer service is more than just being friendly when I hand my cash over. It extends to all forms of customer communication from pricing to social media communication. Some coffee shops are open and transparent, whereas others could care less. As a customer that has many choices, I like to know what my choices are and what they will cost me. When cafes announce new coffees on Twitter or Facebook, I appreciate that and take notice.

My drink is espresso. I prefer lighter roasts. When it comes to coffee shops, I find myself more drawn to places where I have a choice of espressos and that choice changes from time to time. I live in Ballard. Last year I visited more coffee shops. This year I spent more money at my favorite ones. For the record, I drank way more than 192 espressos. Probably closer to 500 this year. That is because I sold my espresso machine. A foolish move on my part.

Toast Ballard

Toast Ballard – 3 espressos, 3 different roasters and those roasters rotate.

Enough background. Here are my non-data driven rankings for the Best of Seattle Coffee 2013.

  1. Neptune Coffee
  2. Ballard Coffee Works
  3. Toast Ballard
  4. Black Coffee Co-op
  5. Caffe Delia

Neptune Coffee is the runaway winner this year. They offer two espressos from the two best roasters in Seattle (Kuma and Velton). The coffees change every week too. They communicate to their customer via Twitter whenever they get a new coffee. They are super friendly and super talented. This isn’t just my opinion, a lot of the members of the Coffee Club of Seattle feel the same way.

2014 starts tomorrow. Once again I will not be quantifying my espresso experience.

Kuma Geisha

Best espresso of the year: Kuma’s Esmeralda Geisha Panama

Defending Bulletproof Coffee

I never planned to write a post defending Bulletproof Coffee, but it seems a few people misread my original post Better Than Bulletproof Coffee. In that post, I said:

  1. I am a coffee snob that primarily drinks espresso.
  2. Although I never tried Upgraded Coffee, I know from my 15 years experience as a home coffee roaster that the beans Dave Asprey is sourcing are very high quality.
  3. I didn’t get a cognitive boost from MCT oil, but I was already in the habit of consuming short chain saturated fats every morning.

The point of my post was that you could use the foundation of what Dave Asprey learned about coffee to “roll your own” Bulletproof Coffee by roasting your own coffee at home and if like me you prefer your coffee black – to consume the short chain fats separately. At that point you can honestly compare your new coffee experience with whatever you were doing beforehand.

For me I didn’t experience any additional benefits, however I’ve already been consuming high end coffee for many years. And I’ve been eating a tablespoons of coconut oil many mornings since I read the first edition of Perfect Health Diet in 2010. I didn’t notice any benefit from the MCT, but maybe I would have had I not already been waking up to a spoonful of coconut oil.

Ballard Coffee Works

Ballard Coffee Works by me 

The Butter

The frothed unsalted butter is really a replacement for cream, which I never add to my coffee. And although I greatly prefer black coffee, frothed unsalted butter when compared to cream is fine. When I was cutting back on espresso, I used this technique as a way to reduce the flavor stimulus. But I am not your normal coffee drinker. If you like cream in your coffee, you will likely enjoy the taste of Bulletproof Coffee.

It is probably is frustrating to Dave that many of the critics of the recipe seemed to have failed following the instructions. Salted butter. Swapping ingredients. Not measuring anything. The fairest way to review it would be to follow the directions exactly and then compare it a cup of coffee with cream or half & half. Even my comparison to black coffee in the original post wasn’t relevant.

The Mold

As for the mold free claims, I don’t know enough science to understand that argument, but I do know that all reputable roasters do coffee cupping looking for any defects. The best roasters and importers have coffee professionals that prevent any defective coffee from reaching their customers. Although Dave restricts his coffee to Wet Processed (washed), I have never felt any ill effects from Honey or Natural processed coffee that comes from these top roasters or importers. My guess is this non-wet processed coffee is also mold free, because it is being sourced at vetted by the best in the industry. That may not be true for the average or lower grade coffees. The other options is that I don’t have a mold sensitivity. So to me the mold argument is irrelevant. Both Dave and I source our coffee from the best farms on the planet. It just tastes better.

Butter Believer

The site Butter Believer took the title of the post I did back in June 2012 and came up with their own coffee recipe. It wasn’t just an alternate recipe, it also was a completely different nutritional approach. Whereas Bulletproof Coffee was about burning fat by depriving the body of glucose, the Butter Believer version is more in line with the Ray Peat, Matt Stone and Danny Roddy view of metabolism that says running on glucose is superior for metabolic and hormonal reasons. This post is long enough already, so I’ll shelf that debate.

Which is better? It probably depends upon the individual. Try them both. Which recipe tastes better? Which one do you feel better on? I understand the strengths of both approaches, so if I were a person that enjoyed both, I’d likely cycle between them, but I’m not, so I’ll keep drinking my coffee black.

Last Words

To those who accused me of attacking Bulletproof Coffee, I hope this post cleared things up. In many ways, I’ve being consuming and enjoying a deconstructed Bulletproof Coffee for a few years now.

My Latest Espresso Adventure

I know the plan for June was to cut back on the coffee, but the Victoria, BC trip with the Coffee Club of Seattle was already scheduled. My espresso mini guide is up on INeedCoffee.

5 Espresso Saturday in Victoria, BC

Victoria

Unrelated to coffee, I love a good user interface. Victoria utilizes boxes at crosswalks to present maps of their city. Would love to see more cities do this. There are some parts of downtown Seattle that use map based engraved manhole covers. An OK idea, but the city workers stopped lining the covers back up so the maps reflected which direction you were facing, which makes them less useless. Victoria’s approach is cheaper and much easier to read. Props to the City of Victoria Engineering Department.

UPDATE JULY 2013: I took a photo of the manhole cover mentioned above (4th and Cherry). It was completely turned around. Someone put a lot of effort into this design, but it fails to be useful as a map, because it wasn’t oriented properly by the city worker that placed it down.

Seattle Map manhole cover

Hunting Headaches – 2 Years Later

Two years ago I began tracking headache data. Fresh off of other health victories such as getting lean, curing my rosacea and ending back pain, I was confident that with enough data and experimentation I could eliminate or greatly reduce my night headaches.

I never thought this experiment would go on for two years.

The good news is I’ve eliminated so many suspects. The bad news is I haven’t won this battle and it appears that the one variable that I’ve found is most correlated with the headaches is my good friend coffee.

When I dropped my caffeine levels super low in October, my headache levels dropped to an all-time low. Since then I’ve been gradually increasing my coffee levels with a plan to cut back again once the sun arrived to Seattle. The reintroduction of higher coffee levels would also provide more points of data. I’m not a statistical guru, but this pattern seems clear.

Month
Daily Coffee Average
Daily Headache Average
Oct 20120.000.58
Nov 20121.130.70
Dec 20121.771.10
Jan 20131.711.03
Feb 20132.711.07
Mar 20133.251.46

As the average coffee level increases, so does the average daily headache intensity.

headache-coffee

This chart shows 2 years worth of data. On three cases when my average coffee intake spiked, my average headache intensity increased. And the two cases where I drastically cut back on coffee, average headaches intensity noticeably dropped. Now before someone says correlation does not imply causation, this is all I have to work with. Weather patterns, food restriction or taking a battery of nutritional supplements showed zero correlation.

Espresso Endgame

Why did I increase my coffee levels so much recently? The primary reason is that I pulled my espresso machine out of storage and placed it back on the kitchen counter. Espresso has less caffeine than brewed coffee, but is far more addicting. When you nail a perfect espresso shot, it provides a flavor stimulus that brewed coffee can’t even come close to hitting. As my flavor stimulus increased, so did my consumption level. When I did the detox, I intentionally used a flavor deconditioning strategy which I described in the article A Month Without Coffee.

This sucks, but I’m now convinced I need to sell my espresso machine. I’ll save my espresso drinking for the cafes. Let us hope that is enough. If not, I may have to move away from Seattle. My guess is having an espresso addiction in Seattle is like having a gambling addiction in Vegas.

192 Espressos – More Data From Seattle Coffee 2012

Last year I consumed 192 espressos in Seattle area coffee shops. I detailed who was pulling the best shots in the post 192 Espressos – The Best of Seattle Coffee 2012. In that post, I described my biases and the metrics I used to calculate my rankings. I thought I was finished with this project, but I had a good amount of data that I could use to answer more questions on the Seattle coffee scene.

  1. What neighborhood has the best espresso?
  2. Are single origin espressos higher or lower quality than blends?
  3. Does price predict quality?
  4. What day of the week am I most likely to get great espresso?

Espresso By Neighborhood

In 2012, the neighborhood of Ballard stepped up as a challenger to Capitol Hill for espresso supremacy. My gut tells me that this is still a few years away. What did the data say? For these tables I only included neighborhoods with 5 or more visits.

Neighborhood
Visits
Average Quality
University104.15
Central District213.86
Fremont163.50
Ballard593.47
Tacoma73.43
Downtown83.38
Pioneer Square123.33
Greenwood93.33
Capitol Hill163.25
Kirkland73.00

Before we say Ballard is better than Capitol Hill, we need to deal with neighborhood borders and minor neighborhoods. I am going to update the data with 3 rules.

  1. Roll the Central District (Tougo and Cortona Cafe) into Capitol Hill.
  2. The north Ballard neighborhood of Sunset Hill (Caffe Fiore) should be included in Ballard numbers.
  3. Pioneer Square will be merged into Downtown.

Neighborhood
Visits
Average Quality
University104.15
Capitol Hill373.59
Fremont163.50
Ballard633.45
Tacoma73.43
Downtown203.35
Greenwood93.33
Kirkland73.00

With the new rules, Capitol Hill is better than Ballard. But it is only better when you include the bordering Central District. The University topped all, but that was all from Trabant. Had I ventured to other University places in 2012, that number would have been lower.

Caffe Fiore in Sunset Hill (aka North Ballard)

Espresso: Single Origins vs Blends

Last year I was certain that I was going through Single Origin fatigue, but the data actually shows the opposite.

Blends: 3.30 (132), Single Origins 3.73 (60)

When I split the year in the half, I found that although my average blend rating remained 3.30, my average Single Origin dropped from 3.84 to 3.44. This data point is probably only interesting to me, but it shows that for me there was a slight level of Single Origin fatigue. It also shows that even with the fatigue, the average SO beat the blends.

Does Price Predict Quality?

I also wanted to know if espresso price was a predictor of quality, so I tracked the post-sales tax price of every espresso purchased in 2012. Price is a touchy topic. Many in specialty coffee believe that higher pricing signals higher quality. Whereas some consumers are price sensitive and may not see every price increase as justified. Before I dive into the data, I want to disclose two possible biases.

  1. I might demand more from higher priced espresso and thus rate it stricter.
  2. I might use the higher prices as a signal of higher quality and thus rate it less strict.

Although I’d like to think I rated each espresso fairly, the purpose of 192 Espressos was to collect so many data points that biases would be minimized.

Quality
Number
Average Price
582.31
4 - 4.5722.33
3 - 3.5692.37
2 - 2.5362.40
1 - 1.572.52

From my sample data, I found a slight inverse correlation between price and quality. The highest priced espresso got the lowest ratings. The differences were small, but the conclusion I reached is that higher prices are not a predictor of greater quality.

What Day of the Week is Best for Espresso?

I’m not sure this data means much, but I have it so why not share it?

Day
Visits
Average Quality
Sunday413.50
Monday343.57
Tuesday133.42
Wednesday423.42
Thursday183.39
Friday163.69
Saturday283.11

Friday had the best espresso and Saturday had the worst. Monday also scored high.

Putting It All Together

I am most likely to get a great espresso on Fridays or Mondays. I more likely to enjoy a Single Origin than a blend and I can’t use price as a predictor of quality. And although I expect this gap to narrow in the next few years, I can still expect to get a better espresso in Capitol Hill than Ballard – assuming you consider the Central District part of Capitol Hill.

192 Espressos – The Best of Seattle Coffee 2012

I really dislike the Top Coffee Shop lists. They are cheap content usually written by people with minimal coffee knowledge. Hello Seattle Weekly! Rarely do I see a list where the author declares the metrics used to get their rankings or their own personal biases. At the start of 2012, I decided I would try and quantify the best coffee places in Seattle.

Metrics and Biases

I created a spreadsheet and entered every single espresso I consumed in the Seattle area. All 192 espressos. I captured the date, place, my rating, and drink notes when important. I also tracked post-tax price to see if price can be a predictor of quality (it can’t).

The rating for the drink was between 1 to 5. It was based solely off the quality of the espresso. I could care less about the hours, WIFI signal or seating. A rating of 1 would be undrinkable swill worthy of a spit take. A rating of 5 would be perfect and worthy of a memory. I go into more detail on this rating system in Espresso as a Lottery Ticket.

In addition to only caring about espresso, I am biased against dark over-roasted coffee. When Brazilian coffee is roasted too dark, it develops a nauseating ashy quality. It may be fine in a 20 ounce mocha, but it is vile swill as a straight espresso. I also don’t always like the very light roasted single origin coffees, as they can tend to be too bright or sour.

I live in Ballard and tend to avoid the East side since they started tolling the 520.

This means my data set doesn’t represent every coffee roaster. It does represent every local roaster that I deem to make a quality espresso, be it blend or single origin. Now you know my biases.

Caffe Delia espresso on July 18, 2012. Roasted by Velton’s Coffee.

The Best Espresso in Seattle 2012

For places I visited 5 or more times, here are the best espresso places in Seattle. Note that places with more than one location have been averaged together.

Place
Visits
Average Rating (1-5)
Trabant Coffee174.00
Tougo Coffee203.93
Caffe Ladro73.71
Seattle / Ballard Coffee Works363.57
Victrola Coffee113.50
Aster Coffee233.46
Milstead & Co133.35

Here are the best coffee places I visited between 1 and 4 times.

Place
Visits
Average Rating (1-5)
Urban Coffee Lounge14.50
Broadcast Coffee24.25
Caffe Delia44.13
Bluebeard Coffee44.00
Anchored Ship14.00
Cloud City14.00

This chart lists the 8 best espressos for 2012. They are in date order. If I had to pick the single best espresso for 2012, it would go to Neptune Coffee on March 19th.

Date
Place
Detals
1/1/2012Trabant UniversityEpic: El Salvador La Guachoca + Guatemala Pulcal
2/1/2012Victrola - PikeStreamline
2/15/2012Milstead & CoSO Ethiopia Doyo (Intelli)
3/19/2012Neptune CoffeeNespro: Brazil Natural + El Salvador (7 days old)
6/20/2012Tougo CoffeeSO eth jimma by Velton
7/18/2012Caffe DeliaVelton Bonsai
8/9/2010Tougo CoffeeKuma: El Salv (3 days)
12/29/2012Bluebeard CoffeeNarrows Blend

The 3 Best Coffee Roasters in Seattle

Roaster
Espressos
Average Rating (1-5)
Kuma Coffee94.06
Velton's Coffee153.90
Caffe Ladro 73.71

The 8 Worst Espressos in Seattle 2012

Here were the worst espressos of the year. East Madison, Enlighten and Whistle Stop are now out of business. Guess others disliked them as well?

Date
Place
Details
1/26/2012Cafe Javasti Wedgwoodworst shot of the year
2/18/2012East Madison CoffeeDancing Goats in paper cup
2/29/2012Caffe Fiore (Sunset Hill)bitter
4/28/2012Enlighten Cafeoverpulled, watery
6/16/2012Burien Presspaper cup, over-pulled, harsh
7/25/2012Victrola - PikeSO Ethopia (2 days)
8/18/2012Peets CoffeeEspresso Forte
11/21/2012Whistle Stopvile

Last Words

Collecting and analyzing this data was a lot of work. I don’t plan to do it in 2013. For those of you in Seattle, who were your favorites this year?

More Data Analysis: 192 Espressos – More Data From Seattle Coffee 2012

Low Caffeine Weight Gain

Beginning in late September I scaled down my caffeine intake. Then in October, I went the entire month without coffee and 21 days without any caffeine. This month I have been on a very low caffeine intake, averaging just 1 cup of coffee a day. I covered that experiment in the article A Month Without Coffee. Well, today I confirmed a side effect that I suspected was occurring: weight gain.

I am now 7 pounds heavier than when I started my caffeine reduction experiment (was 187, now 194). And it isn’t muscle. Although I am still lean, ab definition is now gone. I’m not concerned though, because reducing caffeine has resulted in fewer headaches. I’ll take that trade any day. Plus I know how to lean out with minimal effort, so I can always get back to my normal weight – if I can do it without increasing headache frequency.

Why did I gain weight during this period? Some thoughts:

  1. Caffeine is an appetite suppressant.
  2. Seattle weather was terrible during this period. My non-exercise movement (walking) was minimal. This means I was home near my food supplies for a high percentage of the month.
  3. I had strong sugar cravings when I came off caffeine.
  4. When I did go to the gym to do my High Intensity Training, my focus was off. Either I went to failure faster than normal or I didn’t have the grit to push myself as hard. Although I strongly believe exercise plays almost no role in fat loss, I do think HIT has some fat loss applications, provided it really is high intensity and you aren’t just going through the motions like I was doing.
  5. Less morning fasting. I had less discipline on delaying my first meal without caffeine.

Photo by Länsmuseet Gävleborg

I’m even more convinced than before that my next caffeine detox will be in the summer. Then I will be able to distract myself with hours of low intensity movement away from my kitchen. But for now, I’m gradually adding back more Intermittent Fasting. My gym intensity is still below normal, but that just might take more practice of learning how to generate high intensity without getting jacked on espresso. If those strategies don’t work, I might increase my average daily coffee intake to 2, which is still half of what it was before I started reducing my caffeine levels. Of course I’ll only do that if it doesn’t result in more headaches.

Hunting Headaches – A Favorable Trend

In the last installment of Hunting Headaches, I reported that I finally appeared to be making some progress on solving my night headaches. By wearing a mouth guard, I was able to reduce my headache intensity by 45%. For those new to the site, I use spreadsheets to track health metrics. This allows me to figure what experiments work for me and which don’t.

During the month I went without coffee, my headache intensity dropped again to just 0.58. Even though my sleep quality was actually worse, it was my best month ever. To the data!

Headache Intensity is measured from 0 to 5.

My headache intensity using a mouth guard with normal caffeine was 0.82. This covered August and September. Since adding a little caffeine back, my sleep has started to improve a little without an uptick in headache intensity. But I’ll need more data to confirm that. My average headache intensity for my lower caffeine period of October and November is just 0.57. That is another 32% decrease. I now suspect that excessive caffeine is a factor in my headaches. I hope I’m on the right path. I should know in another month or two.

Coffee Detox Article Up on INeedCoffee

I just released A Month Without Coffee on INeedCoffee. That way it can reach more coffee drinkers, specifically those that might be abusing caffeine.

My next experiment will be seeing if I can handle rum, as it is a non-grain based distilled alcohol. I know nothing about rum. If anyone has a mid-priced rum suggestion, please leave a comment. In the event my body can’t handle rum, I don’t want to be out too much money from buying a premium brand. But I also don’t want to experiment with a ghetto brand that might have impurities that would affect the test results.

UPDATE: I got a comment saying my INeedCoffee post needed to be proof-read. Did anyone see any errors? If I made a mistake, I missed it.

Did It! A Month Without Coffee!

I completed my most challenging health experiment to date. I went the entire month of October 2012 without coffee. No decaf either or any food that used coffee for flavoring, such as ice cream. For 21 days of that month, I went 100% caffeine free. My prior record was 100 hours set back in 1997. Despite having added an additional 15 years of caffeine addiction, I crushed my old record.

For someone that owns a website called INeedCoffee, this is quite the victory.

This morning I had my first espresso and boy has it made me jittery. Over two hours later and I can still feel it. This is what I experienced when I had my first green tea after 21 days without caffeine. Before the coffee cheerleaders and fear mongers add their opinion, I want to remind them that this experiment was primarily about developing caffeinated resiliency, not for health reasons. An ideal state is being able to perform at a high level with or without coffee. And this experiment is ongoing. I’m now in the caffeine resumption phase. I’ll be monitoring how I feel over the next few weeks as I dial in a new optimal espresso level.

The final write up of this experiment will be on INeedCoffee, probably in mid November. Once that article is ready, I’ll announce it here. Until then I’m just going to enjoy this win. Thanks to everyone that encouraged me during those times when I was ready to give up. And thanks to those who tried to get me to quit by testing my resolve. It was the perfect balance.

Welcome back old friend!

Medicating Mood With Caffeine

I’m still on my caffeine free plus coffee free experiment. This is Day 21 without coffee and Day 15 without caffeine. My goal was to go 15 days without caffeine. I’ll hit that milestone in a few hours, but I’m planning on extending this test. I’m still experiencing symptoms, which tells me that my body is still healing.

This month my mood has been terrible. Things are slowly getting better though. Prior to the experiment I was consuming 3 or 4 espressos a day plus a few mugs of tea. These beverages were all high quality and tasty. I would spread out my enjoyment of these drinks from morning to early afternoon. Last week a thought came to me that these experiences were little pockets of joy. No matter how I was feeling at the moment, I could always rely on caffeine improving my mood.

Photo by Kristina Alexanderson

Going caffeine free has removed all these pockets of joy. Turns out I am not a happy camper. In addition to having great love for coffee and tea, I now can see that my habit was also my unconscious way of dealing with feeling down. The fact that coffee can improve mood is well known. My concern now is that my addiction to coffee has kept me from addressing the root causes of my low mood.

Maybe I’m over thinking this, but I continue to wake up most mornings between 3 AM – 4 AM unable to return to sleep. The energy surges and amazing recoveries that others have experienced after going caffeine free have not happened to me yet. The experiment continues.

Better Than Bulletproof Coffee

I’ve received several requests to comment on Bulletproof Coffee. The reason I am being asked is not only have I been an active blogger on nutrition for a few years, but I’m also a coffee enthusiast. I run the site INeedCoffee.com and have been home roasting coffee since 1998. I live in Seattle and have taken espresso vacations to Portland and Vancouver. I’ve been invited to judge at barista competitions and I am the organizer for The Coffee Club of Seattle, which has over 500 members. In 2011 we visited 114 different coffee places. In other words, I like coffee.

Defining Bulletproof Coffee

Upgraded Coffee is the name of the coffee sold at the Bulletproof Exec, which invented the Bulletproof Coffee brewing method. I have not tried the branded Upgraded Coffee, but I have no doubt that it is excellent. I listen to the Upgraded Self podcast and I can tell Dave Asprey sourced a good roaster and importer. This post will not be about the branded Upgraded Coffee. It will be about the Bulletproof Coffee recipe.

To make Bulletproof Coffee you will add MCT oil and unsalted Kerry Gold butter to your brewed “mold free” coffee. This is supposed to taste wonderful and provide all sorts of health benefits. I am aware of the health benefits of doing a fat based Intermittent Fast. In the post Intermittent Fasting – The No Hunger Method, I posted on how I used a strategy outlined in the The Perfect Heath Diet to accomplish the same thing. Instead of butter and MCT oil, I used coconut oil and fermented vegetables. Both his method and my method are feeding the body short chain fats while depriving the body of glucose.

Cognitive Benefit and Taste

I have made Bulletproof style coffee using my home roast a few times now. Did I experience a cognitive boost? Nope. Maybe my body already has enough short chain fats and this style of coffee would be more beneficial to someone deficient. I didn’t notice any increased alertness, like I did with L-Tyrosine. The coffee beans I used were, as Dave suggested, wet processed coffees from Central America, as they are the least likely to get mold. I bought them from Sweet Maria’s Coffee in Oakland, who uses the importer Royal Coffee, which is used by several of the top roasters in the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco. So I will say that the quality of my beans is equal to the best roasters on the West Coast.

As for the taste, I found it to be disappointing, bland and borderline gross. I love the taste of coffee and I love the taste of butter. Mixing the two does not enhance the flavor, it negates it. If you like cream in your coffee then switching to butter might make perfect sense and be a wonderful pleasant tasting experience for you. I personally think it is criminal to acquire the best coffees in the world and then cover up their taste with anything, be that butter, cream, sugar or MCT oil. A better option for me would be to enjoy coffee in all its perfection and then go about consuming short chain fats.

Which source of short chain fats is superior is a topic I’m not interested in investigating. My guess is Kerrygold Butter, MCT Oil and coconut oil are all excellent choices. Just as long as they stay the hell out of my coffee.

Roast Your Own Coffee

Dave has a post on finding the best roasters in your city. It involves looking at Yelp, which in my opinion provides the worthless reviews of 20 year olds with little life experience that bitch about not getting a strong WIFI signal. There is one Seattle roaster that buys lower grade coffee that has a baggy taste with over 100 glowing reviews on Yelp. With enough milk and chocolate any drink can taste good, but that doesn’t speak to quality of the coffee itself.

A better method for locating the highest quality coffee would be to discover who is the most respected in the industry. Visit Coffee Review to find the best coffee roasters in the country. One might be in your town. Another strategy is to find out if there are any regional barista competitions and which cafes and roasters are being represented. Quality talent tends to work for quality coffee businesses. But sadly, most of the country has woefully bad coffee. The only way to guarantee you are getting the highest quality coffee outside of expensive mail order is to roast your own coffee.

There are many ways to roast coffee at home. INeedCoffee has entire section of home roasting coffee tutorials. It is a super easy and very rewarding hobby. And because your buying green coffee, you’ll save a lot of money. Like I said earlier, the beans I buy from Sweet Maria’s are some of the same crops the best roasters on West Coast are bidding for. On the Sweet Maria’s website, you can see the processing method used for each offering. To be Bulletproof compliant source the Wet Processed coffee. Each coffee is cupped by professionals before it is offered for sale. They taste for defects and only buy the best.

Screenshot from Sweet Maria’s website showing you how a coffee was processed.

Better Than Bulletproof Coffee

My coffee journey has turned me into a snob. I make no apologies for that. If I can’t have outstanding coffee, I will drink tea. Putting butter inside my wonderful coffee was a vile experiment that I do not ever wish to repeat. A better strategy is to source the best coffee green, home roast the beans and then consume the coffee black to appreciate the true flavor profile. Once you’ve finished your delicious cup of coffee, consume your short chain fats.

Coffee and Gluten: Say It Isn’t So

Today I read a very sad sentence. From the Perfect Health Diet post Around the Web; PaleoFX Edition:

Warning: Dr Clark says that coffee is bad for people with gluten sensitivity, due to cross-reactive antibodies.

Say it isn’t so. This is the video of Dr. Clark explaining how people with gluten issues, like myself, could also have issues with the protein in coffee.

From the video:

Ten percent of coffee is a protein that cross-reacts with gluten antibodies.

I like coffee. I like coffee a lot. Some might say that INeedCoffee. It would really suck if the protein in coffee was negatively impacting my health. There are strong similarities between the headaches I get after gluten exposure and my late night sinus headaches.

The Protein

The important take away I got from the video was that the problem was with the protein, not the caffeine. I would assume this means the problem exists with decaf coffee as well. Why is that important? Two reasons come to mind.

  1. During my 2 week test with no coffee in September 2011, I drank decaf coffee.
  2. To test for a sensitivity to a protein requires a 30 day elimination. Like I did for casein and gluten independently.

This means I need to redo my coffee detox test. Only this time it needs to go a full 30 days and I can’t drink any decaf. The goods news is that I can drink all the tea I want. Dr. Clark responded to a question regarding tea in the comments of the video.

Green Teas is not? a cross reactor…caffeine is not the cross reacting compound. It’s the protein in Coffee…

Espresso vs Brewed Coffee

Did you know that the nutritional outcome of coffee varies based upon how it is brewed? That is what I learned back in 2009. I shared what I found the article Black Coffee and Espresso – Not Calorie Free.

Digging further into the data I noticed that brewed coffee has 0.3g of protein. Protein has 4 calories per gram. This would give the brewed coffee 1.2 calories. That is some conservative rounding. Espresso is listed with no protein.

I went back to the CalorieKing website and it now reads that espresso has less than 0.1 gram of protein. Brewed coffee has 0.3 grams per 8 oz. Why is this relevant? Over the past few years I have become almost exclusively an espresso drinker. When I do have brewed coffee, I feel worse. I always assumed it was because brewed coffee has more caffeine. However, when I think back to when I had brewed coffee it was always just tastes at Coffee Cuppings or samples from brewing demos. I almost never would sit down with a full mug of regular coffee. If I did, I often would get headaches. Interesting.

Time For Another Test

Only a test will tell me the answer. I’m going to start scaling back on my coffee again in preparation for a full 30 Days Without Coffee experiment. This is going to be my toughest experiment yet.

The Best and Worst in Seattle Espresso: 2011 Edition

This year I drank a lot of espresso. The Coffee Club of Seattle visited 113 different coffee places in 2011. Some of the places we visited multiple times. And that doesn’t count the places I went just by myself.

The 5 Best Espressos of the Year

  1. Victrola Coffee (February 5) -Sumatra Lintong-Triple Picked SO Espresso. 15th Ave.
  2. Cortona Cafe (May 24) – Espresso blend by Herkimer Coffee.
  3. Caffe Vita (October 28) – Caffe Del Sol by Caffe Vita. Pike.
  4. Victrola Coffee (August 5) – El Salvador SO Espresso by Victrola. Pike.
  5. Tougo Coffee (July 21) – Malabar espresso by Oslo Coffee.

streetbean espresso

The Worst Espresso of the Year

(tie) Katy’s Corner Cafe and The Good Coffee Company Espresso Blend #90

The 3 Best Decaf Espressos

For a few weeks this summer I did an #unplugged project where I sampled many decaf espresso options around Seattle.

  1. Espresso Vivace
  2. Equal Exchange
  3. Stumptown Coffee

Highlight of the Year

The 2011 Northwest Coffee Festival and the week of events leading up to it. Wonderful event. I look forward to attending next year.

Slicing the Coffee Data

Ever since I started collecting data to track my headaches, I have not seen a connection between coffee intake and headaches. Seven months of data and no relationship. Until now. I think I see a pattern and it isn’t what I expected.

Coffee
Frequency
Average Headache Intensity (0-5)
2172.1
3461.3
4321.2
550.8
711.0
812.0

The table above shows that low coffee intake actually results in a slightly higher headache intensity. Note that these headaches are in the middle of the night. They feel nothing like caffeine withdrawal headaches, yet caffeine intake makes them go away quicker.

Now for the pattern I spotted. Over the past 7 months, I collected data for 102 days where I track the time I drank my last coffee for the day.

  • 81 days my last coffee was after Noon with a Headache Intensity of 1.1.
  • 21 days my last coffee was before Noon with a Headache Intensity of 2.2.

Based off this sample, I can expect to reduce my headache intensity by 50% if I have an espresso after Noon. Of the 5 killer headaches I had during this period (5/5), only one of those dates did I have an afternoon espresso.

Since I also believe that high caffeine levels result in reduced sleep quality and may be contributing at least partially to the core headache problems, I think the best strategy for me is to reduce my morning coffee intake and delay my last espresso into mid-afternoon.

Of course I could be wrong on all this. Additional testing should answer this question.

My First Week Back on Coffee

In the post What I Learned During My Coffee Detox, I covered the results that I experienced by gradually lowering and eventually taking a full 2 weeks off from coffee. As informative as that test was, I have learned more about how my body reacts to coffee since I resumed espresso drinking just a week ago.

The comment by Txomin really resonated with me.

A 30 day experimental window might be sufficient for foodstuffs. It is definitely insufficient for addictive substances.

Although my total caffeine detox project exceeded 30 days, the full coffee detox was just 14 days. During that time, I still getting some caffeine from tea and dark chocolate. Because I was doing 30 day food allergy tests at the same time, I applied the same principle to coffee. That was wrong. Food allergy tests are used to measure adverse responses to protein. Coffee is not a protein. It is an addictive substance. I think Txomin is correct and that 30 days is likely insufficient.

My first week back on espresso was highly educational for me. Here is what I learned.

Taste Surprise

I fully expected the first espresso I had would taste amazing. It didn’t. Nor did the 2nd, 3rd or 4th espresso. It was a let down. I was hoping that the 2 weeks off would have reset my palate. Either the espresso in Seattle just had an off week or I needed a longer detox. Maybe both combined with elevated expectations?

I did talk with a top barista who told me he routinely will take a month off from coffee to reset his palate. 14 days was probably not long enough.

My first cafe espresso after the detox was “OK”.

The Napping Link

I tried to nap 4 times this week. All were unsuccessful. My espresso intake varied from 2 to 4. My last coffee time (prior to nap attempt) varied from 10 AM to 1 PM. Despite being tired, I couldn’t sleep. If there is a sweet spot for napping and espresso, it has to be earlier. More tests will be run.

Energy Level Plummets

This was totally unexpected. Although my morning mood was better, by the afternoon I was dragging and had difficulty focusing. At times I felt exhausted. I read the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and found I had several of them this week. It is interesting to me that I felt it more pronounced after the detox period than before. I would have expected the opposite.

Under Estimating My Addiction

I under estimated just how strong my addiction is for espresso. Although I really enjoy regular coffee, it is espresso that I crave. It isn’t just the caffeine. It represents coffee at its best potential. The flavor stimulus is far greater. Although it has less caffeine, from an addiction standpoint, I am starting to believe that espresso is to coffee what crack is to cocaine.

Now What?

If it were sunny and 70 right now, I’d resume another detox immediately with strong confidence. But it is cloudy and 60 and espresso is pouring oh so wonderful right now. I’ll try and keep my addiction in check, but more than likely I’ll descend deeper into this mess for a while.

What I Learned During My Coffee Detox

The last time I did a serious coffee detox was in 1997. I was long overdue. I got down to a single espresso by August 22nd. In the end, I went 14 days without coffee. During this time, I did still drank tea. I returned to coffee on Saturday. Here is what I learned during the coffee detox.

First some background. I began tracking my headaches and coffee intake on March 24th. Below is a chart showing my daily coffee intake. The red line is a 3 day moving average.

Sinus Headaches

I think I have enough data for me to know the relationship between my intake of coffee and my late night sinus headaches. I want to specify the “me” aspect in this post. What I learned applies to “me” and maybe not others. If you research this topic online you will see caffeine listed as both a possible cause and a potential cure for sinus headaches. As a fan of coffee, I wanted to discover exactly what role coffee was playing in my sinus headaches.

Throughout the past 6 months I consumed varying degrees of coffee from high to low to none. For me there is no clear connection between coffee intake and headache frequency. However, I still have some questions regarding headache intensity. I suspect that headache intensity *may* decrease the earlier in the day that the coffee is consumed. It isn’t that caffeine makes the headache more intense, it is probably more likely that less caffeine results in deeper sleep, which has the side benefit of reducing headache intensity. I will be constructing a new test soon that explores this possibility.

Can coffee cure a sinus headache? Absolutely. But so can patience. One of the reasons I did not go 30 Days is because on the mornings when I had sinus headaches they would persist for much longer when I didn’t have coffee. Instead of knocking out a headache in 30 minutes with an espresso, I would suffer for hours sometimes without coffee. Tea did little to speed up recovery.

Season and Location

It is much easier to forgo espresso in the summer. Once the temperature drops in Seattle and the sun disappears, it is time for coffee. I should have started my detox earlier in the year. Next year I will.

Welcome back old buddy!

Cortisol and Stubborn Fat Loss

Besides eliminating dairy, another thing elite fitness professionals state is that coffee spikes your cortisol levels and prevents stubborn fat loss. Maybe that is true and maybe I need a longer test to prove the merit of that wisdom, but I experienced no body composition changes throughout the detox or reduction period. Again I am already lean, your mileage may vary. So either I have no adrenal fatigue or I have so much that I need a much longer detox period. My caffeine intake has been on a downward trend for a decade now and my energy level is much better now.

Napping

I have always had problems taking naps. No matter how tired I get, I can’t seem to fall asleep during the day. I fall asleep super fast at night, but napping has always been a challenge. Well, during the coffee detox I was able to easily nap. Probably the best thing to come out of this experiment was figuring this out. I had been experimenting with white noise generators with poor results.

Coffee as a Stressor?

I think we all understand how day in and day out coffee consumption can be a stressor. That is why we do these detox protocols. I did a very slow gradual detox so I would experience no physical withdrawal symptoms. Not that the pain is intense, I just find it distracting. However, I learned that about 10 days into the detox my mood started to turn for the worse. Lack of coffee was stressing me out. That first espresso has a calming effect that I missed.

Future Strategies

Soon I’m going to start my next test. I’ll still track my coffee intake, but I’m also going to track when I had my last coffee. Combined with a sleep quality score – my goal is to dial in an optimal range for coffee consumption that gives me both great sleep at night and a great mood during the day. My guess is the optimal range will look very similar to the nutritional and fitness waves I described in the post The Paleo/HIT Cyclical Approach to Fitness and Nutrition. Coffee intake will be inversely correlated with hours of sunlight (more espresso in the winter) combined with random variations during any given week including a “fasting” day with no intake.

PS – Every time I post something about headaches, I get a wave of comments giving advice for ideas that I’ve already addressed numerous times in other posts. My headaches are sinus. They are not related to caffeine withdrawal. I have no symptoms that would make one think this was a medical emergency. At the point I give up, I will seek a health professional. But I still have a few more ideas and every test I do tells me more about myself. Although the idea of taking control of ones’ health frightens many, I enjoy the process.

Coffee Detox Update

Well, I have done the unthinkable. Today is Day 7 with no coffee. Yes I am drinking decaf and yes I understand that it does have trace amounts of caffeine in it. I’m shocked at the number of people that have brought that to my attention. Cut me a little slack, I may know something about coffee.

I started drinking coffee on a regular basis when I was probably around 19 years old. I pretty much haven’t missed a day since then. Even during my 2006 trip to South America and my 2009 trip to Southeast Asia, I still managed to find coffee. In 1997, I went 100 hours without any caffeine. It was a miserable experience and in the end served no purpose, as I resumed high coffee intake within a week of that detox.

mccafe-phuket-thailand

My coffee addiction had me drinking multiple $3 Americanos at McDonald’s in Thailand.

I am a strong believer in gradually lowering your coffee levels and establishing what I call a “new normal”. So if I drop from 4 espressos a day to 3 espressos a day, I will stay there until everything feels normal. That might take a few days or a few weeks. By normal, I am not talking just about physical symptoms, but psychological ones too. Last summer I got down to a single espresso a day, before depression set in and I resumed a higher level of espresso intake. This year I decided to blast through that plateau.

After 9 days of just a single espresso, I reduced my level to 1/2 espresso. I roast my own coffee and was able to construct a “half-caf” blend. For another 9 days I did the “half-caf”. At each point, I stayed at that level until a “new normal” was established. I have no timelines, so I can take as long as I need.

Coffee Detox

Daily coffee intake since June 19, 2011.

Detox Results?

Besides saving some money, the one effect is that I have been able to nap. No matter how early I wake up or how tired I get, I have always had trouble taking naps. My mind races and I can’t fall asleep. Since I’ve gone from 1/2 espresso to none, I’ve been able to nap successfully.

What about headaches? Too soon to tell, but September has been better than August, which was better than July. I am also doing a 30 Day No Dairy test (I’m on day 26). I’ve increased my Netti pot usage and recently increased my potassium intake. So I have lots of things going on. I hesitate to get excited, but my sleep has gotten deeper and that is a good thing.

Before I get hammered with criticism and feedback on my methodology, my plan was never to do a dairy and caffeine test at the same time. I screwed up twice on the dairy and had to restart the test. Don’t worry, I have a plan to figure out the guilty party or parties if and when I solve this riddle. I’m not going to be posting anymore on the headaches until I have more concrete answers. It was a mistake of me to share this health issue publicly. Let’s get back to the coffee discussion.

End Game?

I have no plans on when I am going to end the coffee detox. At this point I can see extending it into October. My adrenals have been pushed by coffee on a daily basis for many years now. Will I go as far as eliminating all caffeine, including tea and chocolate? Probably. I’ll keep you posted if I do.

When I do return to espresso, I plan to have a more healthy relationship with my favorite beverage. Maybe take a day off every week or a week off every few months. Perhaps interject the randomness that has worked so well for me with Intermittent Fasting. This is uncharted territory.

Sluggish

I haven’t posted much this week, because I’m feeling really sluggish. I’ve dropped my daily coffee intake to a single espresso (double ristretto). That might not seem extreme to some, but I live in Seattle and INeedCoffee! Today is Day 5 of just 1 espresso. Below is a chart of my coffee intake going back to March 24th. For fun I added a 3 Day Moving Average.

In other news, I messed up on my 30 Day No Dairy Experiment. I bought some dark chocolate on sale, and I didn’t realize until a week later that one of the bars had milk fat. Then Sunday I was out with friends and I ordered a gyro salad without thinking that it had feta cheese on it. So I had to restart the clock on that experiment too. Today is also day 5 with no dairy.

No dairy and low caffeine, besides making me sluggish, is giving me sugar cravings. I’ve made almond butter cookies three times this week.

 

Long Days, Poor Sleep and Too Much Caffeine

I have about 15 half-written blog posts in the queue right now. I’m not happy with any of them. The sun is rising at 5:10 AM in Seattle and not setting until after 9 PM. I have blackout drapes, but the light is still sneaking into my room and waking me up. During the winter I was able to get extra sleep, now I’m missing some sleep.

My plan was to cut my coffee intake come summer, but then Seattle got the Northwest Coffee Festival and Coffee Crawl with multiple events each day. As a coffee fanatic, I have been going to all these events and consuming a high amount of coffee. This isn’t helping my sleep either.

So the result is I’ve been too tired to complete about 15 blog posts. Sunday is the last day of the Coffee Festival. When it is over, I’ll start to reduce my coffee intake. The days will begin to shorten on Wednesday. Hopefully, I’ll get my blog mojo back then.

My hood. This photo has nothing to do with this post. I need more sleep.

#1wordreview

I’m so tired of long winded descriptions used to describe the flavor of espresso. I’m even more tired when others expect me to vividly detail every flavor note in a 140 character Tweet. I have no desire to write a 5 minute review for a 30 second beverage experience. I love espresso, but it isn’t my job. Also, there are too many variations in espresso quality from day to day or barista to barista to extrapolate meaningful reviews.

I believe that more data is better than more verbiage. I’ve been served mediocre espresso from good coffee shops. I’ve also been served good espresso from mediocre shops. It happens. With more visits and more data, trends do emerge. Reading paragraphs of flavor adjectives tells me nothing about quality probability and trends. All it does is describe a single experience on a single day and on any given Saturday someone can be off their game.

Cloud City Coffee espresso

What is needed is more quick reviews. More data from more espresso fans. It will make it easier to spot trends and reward quality coffee places. This week I got the idea that I would review espressos using just a single word. No more. I’ll also give it a score between 1 and 5, which I describe in the article Espresso as a Lottery Ticket.

The reviews are being posted to the CoffeeHero Twitter feed using the hash tag #1wordreview. Here was a recent one.

Firehouse Coffee Ballard – espresso – “improving” 3/5 #1wordreview

Using one word will be a challenge and I’m sure at some point I’ll start inventing words. :) I do hope this takes off. I’d love to get real time data alerts of where the great shots are being pulled and where they aren’t.

Ending My Disloyalty Card Quest

I redeemed my 4th and last Seattle Disloyalty Card today. What is the Seattle Disloyalty Card? From my May 23, 2010 post:

Seattle now has something called a Disloyalty Card, which is idea to promote the independent coffee shop. The idea started in London and the way it works is you visit the ten coffee shops on the card. At each place, order and drink and receive a stamp. When the card is completed (10 stamps), you can redeem it for a free drink at the place you choose.

Why won’t I go for a 5th, 6th or 7th card? Let me count the reasons.

  1. Fonte is terrible. Their cafe is beautiful and the baristas are talented, however their espresso roast is flat and tasteless. I’ve given them too many chances. They suck.
  2. Equal Exchange is inconsistent. I’ve had good, bad and bland espressos from Equal Exchange. I shop at Ballard Market, so this coffee shop is very convenient for me. But the shots I get here are not better than the ones I make at home.
  3. Urban Coffee Lounge is amazing, but I almost never get a chance to visit Juanita. Once the 520 toll arrives, I expect to visit the Eastside even less.
  4. Porchlight is also tough for me to get to. I love Herkimer’s espresso blend. However, it is easier for me to head to Cugini Cafe, Muse Coffee or Herkimer itself. If I lived in Capitol Hill, I would visit Porchlight on a semi-regular basis.
  5. I’d rather patronize top-tier coffee places that aren’t on the card.
  6. And finally in the spirit of the Disloyalty Card, I’d rather seek out new places. In December 2009, I started doing Coffee Explorer meetups with the Coffee Club of Seattle. Since then we have visited a new coffee place almost every week. Check out our spreadsheet.

I still have a few partially completed cards in my pocket. I’ll be giving them away as “starters” to members of the Coffee Club of Seattle.

Any Given Saturday

Today I went on a coffee crawl with Rose Tosti of the Seattle Weekly and Sebastian Simsch from Seattle Coffee Works. We visited seven different coffee places in Seattle. Looking at the list, I expected most would deliver excellent espresso. After all this is Seattle and the list was solid. But as Sebastian said espresso ain’t easy. Even the best can mess up. Where did we go?

  1. Seattle Coffee Works
  2. Le Reve Bakery
  3. Herkimer Coffee
  4. Makeda Coffee
  5. Lighthouse Coffee*
  6. Zoka Coffee
  7. Trabant Coffee

I rate espresso using a 5 point scale. A 5/5 is super rare. It is the kind of shot that you remember for months, sometimes years. It leaves you weak in the knees. For 2011, only Victrola’s Sumatra Lintong Single Origin espresso has earned a 5/5 for me. A 4/5 means excellent. A smile from ear to ear, but nothing filed into long term memory. Today there were no espressos that I would rank as a 4 or 5.

The best blend of the day.

Le Reve Bakery was the stand out blend (Big Truck Espresso from Olympia Roasting) and Seattle Coffee Works had the best single origin (El Salvador Villa Espana). The rest were all off their game. It happens.

Anyone that understands espresso and the multitude of variables that go into making an excellent shot knows that espresso ain’t easy. If today was my first day in Seattle and this was my only experience with the coffee scene, I’d be quite disappointed. Thankfully it wasn’t. Tomorrow I will visit two more places. The espresso hunt continues.

Photo Gallery for Coffee Crawl

* Full disclosure: I didn’t try the espresso at Lighthouse. I’d sooner run my tongue through an ashtray than ever drink that swill again. Simply seeing the gag reflex from one of my fellow coffee crawlers was enough for me.

KeepCup Review

I was recently approached by the makers of KeepCup to review their portable cup. Let me start by saying that I am not the ideal user for this product. I almost never take my drink on the go. Mostly I drink espresso and putting espresso in a to go cup just seems stupid.

KeepCup promotes an environmental angle as their product is better than using paper cups. I agree. But is it better than the current portable mug offerings? I have a stainless steel one in my cabinet, so for this review I decided it would be the marker for comparison.

The mug on the left is lined with stainless steel. The KeepCup is on the right.

The first thing I noticed about the KeepCup was the strong plastic smell. It took numerous washings and even soaking over night to dissipate. After several washings, I would say the plastic smell is 90% gone.

I decided to do a heat test to compare the two mugs. I learned in early testing that if you preheat the mug with hot water than you will be able to keep your beverage warmer by 4 degrees over a 20 minute duration. For the temperature test, I preheated both mugs with hot water and then emptied it just prior to introducing the beverage.

Minutes
KeepCup Temp
Stainless Steel Temp
0 198198
5188192
10180186
15172180
20164174

The KeepCup beverage cooled off faster than the traditional stainless steel model. So which mug is better? I guess it depends on how fast you drink your hot beverage. For shorter trips where I want to drink my beverage faster, I’ll grab the KeepCup. If I want to drink my tea or coffee slower, I’ll use my stainless steel mug.

KeepCup is by Inception Designs.

Quality Control at Seattle’s Indie Coffee Shops?

I do not work in the industry, so I will need some help on this post. In the past two weeks, I have visited four different Seattle area coffee shops that use locally roasted coffee. These are not shops operated by the roaster. These are their wholesale customers. At each place the barista pulled a mediocre to bad shot.

In the post Bellevue Battle Cupcake Royale vs TLatte, I slammed T’Latte, a Caffe Vita account.

Ill just come out and say it. TLatte is awful. The most over-pulled espresso Ive had since moving to Seattle. It was probably 4 ounces of watery espresso. I know what Caffe Vita espresso is supposed to taste like. It has a deep chocolate taste. TLatte isnt even close. I couldnt even finish the drink it was so bad.

Then I added my advice.

A few years ago Starbucks closed all their stores for intensive employee training. Vita should get across the bridge ASAP and do something similar. TLatte is doing a disservice to the large Caffe Vita sign in the window.

If it were just T’Latte I wouldn’t be writing this post. Now maybe the latte drinkers can’t tell the difference, but I’m an espresso drinker. I know what the major espresso blends should taste like. Some of these shops are getting sloppy.

I’m not going to name the cafes. I just want to be confident that I can take the Coffee Club of Seattle to a non-roaster coffee shop and still get an outstanding drink. Here is my quality control report for the past 2 weeks.

  • Caffe Vita – I went to two more places that are doing a poor job with Caffe Vita espresso. I’m now to the point that if I want a Caffe Vita espresso, I will only go to Fuel, All City or Caffe Vita itself. Caffe Vita has a quality control problem that goes beyond Bellevue.
  • Zoka Coffee – Zoka stores are too expensive for me, so I was excited to see they landed an account in Queen Anne that had reasonable pricing. Too bad the shots weren’t tight.
  • Seven Roasters – I didn’t think it was possible to mess up the Hula Blend. There is a place in Ballard that is destroying it.

When it comes to quality control, I have found Herkimer and Stumptown accounts are doing the best job.

How do coffee roasters protect their brand identity when one of their customers is making poor drinks? Is it even their responsibility? Is there a Mystery Shopper program in place to alert roasters when one of their accounts is messing up?

Returning to the Vivace Dolce Blend

A year ago we learned that Espresso Vivace changed their legendary espresso blend. They removed the robusta component. From the post Espresso Vivace Dolce Now Without Robusta:

Last week I learned that Espresso Vivace has removed the robusta component of their Dolce espresso blend. This may not mean much to you, but to me this is like changing the Coke formula. You dont mess with perfection.

My initial review was not positive.

The 100% arabica version of Dolce tastes just like the robusta version, however it doesnt linger on the palate as much. My friend referred to the new blend as the younger brother. Now these are just the opinions of two espresso drinkers. We still love the taste, but missed the depth. Maybe we are wrong.

This week for the first time in 2010, I bought a 1/2 pound of the Dolce blend. In the past year, I have learned how to pull even better shots on my Rancilio Silvia. After watching the CoffeeGeek video on temperature surfing, my shots got a lot better. I also stopped doing the side tap after the tamp that David Schomer mentioned in his book.

Photo Espresso Hike #3 – Espresso Vivace by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

What happened? I got amazing shots. Every bit as good as the old days. Either Vivace has slipped the robusta back into the blend or my temperature/grind is dead perfect. I’m loving the Dolce blend again.

This summer I had two espressos at the cafe. Neither were as good as the ones I was pulling this week at home. Assuming they didn’t put back the robusta, the conclusion one must come to is that the blend is equally as good but more delicate. Getting the classic flavors now require more work, but they are there.

Who Won the Whole Bean Quest in Ballard?

Since moving Coffee Hero headquarters from Northgate to Ballard, I haven’t yet figured out a way to home roast coffee without a visit from the Seattle Fire Department. So yesterday I headed out in the rain on a quest to find an espresso blend for my home machine.

It should have been a simple consumer transaction. It wasn’t.

Herkimer Coffee

My first stop was the Cugini Cafe, which is a Herkimer Coffee account. There was a few bags of Espresso Blend at the counter. I looked for the roast date on the bag. And I looked. On the 3 bags they had, there was no roast date. The beans could have been 4 days or 4 months old. No sale.

Caffe Fiore

Caffe Fiore was right around the corner from Cugini Cafe. Although I wouldn’t put their espresso blend in the Seattle Top 10, the rain was really coming down now. I needed my espresso beans. Just like Herkimer bags, there was no visible roasted date on the Fiore Espresso bags. No sale.

Seven Roasters

I had been meaning to try Enlighten Cafe which is a Seven Roasters account. It was just a few blocks away. Not only did they not sell whole beans there, but they are in desperate need of barista training. My espresso was close to 4 oz. The Hula Blend is forgiving, but not that forgiving.

Kuma Coffee

The Ballard Market had Kuma Coffee’s new Red Bear Espresso. On the bottom of every bag is the roasted date. I selected the freshest bag and made my purchase.

Easy Win

Coffee is perishable item. Kuma Coffee won my Whole Bean Quest in Ballard, because they labeled their bag with the roast date. Attention Seattle coffee roasters: I’m not buying any whole beans that do not have the roasted date on them. Yesterday reminded me why I started home roasting coffee 12 years ago.

Bellevue Battle – Cupcake Royale vs T’Latte

Yesterday the Coffee Club of Seattle visited two places in Bellevue. Cupcake Royale is a Stumptown Coffee account and T’Latte a Caffe Vita account. By teaming up with a quality roaster, we know that the coffee will be excellent. In addition, because Stumptown and Vita both have training facilities, we expect the baristas at their accounts to be trained as well.

Round 1 – Cupcake Royale

After ordering an espresso, the cashier asked me what type of espresso would I like. My first thought was that they were offering a single origin espresso in addition to the Hairbender Blend. I looked over to the grinders and didn’t see one, so I asked what type of espresso did she mean. Her response was “we have lattes, mochas…“. Oh no! I clarified that the type of espresso I wanted was espresso. In the land of Bellevue, I was starting to get concerned that an espresso was an exotic unknown drink.

Considering the odd encounter at the register, I expected the espresso to be terrible. It wasn’t. The barista did a great job with my drink. The shot was pulled to perfection. It tasted exactly like it does when visiting a Stumptown cafe.

Round 2 – T’Latte

I’ll just come out and say it. T’Latte is awful. The most over-pulled espresso I’ve had since moving to Seattle. It was probably 4 ounces of watery espresso. I know what Caffe Vita espresso is supposed to taste like. It has a deep chocolate taste. T’Latte isn’t even close. I couldn’t even finish the drink it was so bad.

A few years ago Starbucks closed all their stores for intensive employee training. Vita should get across the bridge ASAP and do something similar. T’Latte is doing a disservice to the large Caffe Vita sign in the window.

Declaring a Winner

These aren’t just my opinions, but others in the Coffee Club felt the same way. Cupcake Royale handily beat T’Latte in yesterday’s Bellevue Battle.

Source:

Coffee Club of Seattle – October 24, 2010 event.

Watertown Coffee Closes

This past weekend, Watertown Coffee announced on Facebook that Sunday would be their last day.

Watertown’s last day tomorrow Sunday 16th – for anyone that wants to celebrate with us come on down and help us drink the rest of the kegs and empty out those bottles. Drink specials all day. We love you guys, thanks for everything. Best customers in the world.

After reading the message, I raced down from Coffee Hero Headquarters and got in line at 1:15 PM. There was one guy in line in front of me. He got the last of the coffee. Before I could order my espresso, I was informed they were out of coffee. I also confirmed that it really was their last day.

I discovered the place in April 2009. They served coffee roasted by Espresso Vivace. From the post WaterTown Coffee – Capital Hill, Seattle:

How was the espresso? Perfect.

I actually enjoyed it more than the shots Ive had at the actual Espresso Vivace locations themselves. The pour was a little longer than the tight ristrettos served at Vivace, which I still **love**. However, my experience is the Dolce Blend can handle a little more volume and WaterTown proved that. By a little more, Im talking maybe an extra 1/2 ounce.

WaterTown Coffee makes an excellent espresso. Well done.

I took the Coffee Club of Seattle there twice and it was loved by the group. Today I went past it and took this photo.

Thanks for the Love – WATERTOWN

No, thank you.

Rococo For the Win in Kirkland

When Kahili Coffee went out of business, it appeared that Zoka Coffee and Caffe Ladro had downtown Kirkland all to themselves. Not anymore. Caffe Rococo is now open. They are serving espresso drinks and roasting from their downtown Kirkland location. Caffe Rococo is located at 136 Park Lane, which is near Zeeks Pizza.

Next time you are in downtown Kirkland, check out Caffe Rococo. The drinks are both good and fairly priced.

Source:

Rococo Coffee – 136 Park Lane, Kirkland WA

Batdorf and Bronson In Olympia

On my way back from Portland yesterday, I stopped off in Olympia for lunch. I’ve never been to Olympia and the only thing I know about it is that song by Hole. Driving through downtown, a parking spot opened up on the main drag. It was right in front of Batdorf and Bronson Coffee. Not only is that parking mojo. That is coffee mojo!

The espresso was pretty good. Darker than most Seattle and Portland options. Still good. The next time I am in Olympia, I will return here for another espresso.

Source:

Batdorf and Bronson – Olympia, Washington roaster and cafe.

Zoka Hints At Higher Prices

Today Zoka Coffee hinted at higher prices in the post A Wild Ride Ahead in the C-Market.

We try the best we can to plan and hedge the market so that you, our customer, don’t see fluctuation in prices. And for the most part, we’ve been successful. Unfortunately, this once-in-twenty-year spike in price has made it so that we can no longer keep our prices where they are at now.

When I first moved to Seattle, I was going to Zoka Coffee on a regular basis. I love their espresso blend and found their employees to be highly professional. Then they raised their prices and I stopped going there.

For over a year now, an espresso at Zoka is $2.71 after tax. To my knowledge, Zoka Coffee has the highest priced espresso in Seattle.

Zoka menu board from their Kirkland location. Prices are pre-tax.

Victrola and Seattle Coffee Works are just two examples of top-notch coffee roasters that sell their espresso for $2.00 after tax. Is the Zoka espresso 35.5% better? Absolutely not. And that is why I stopped going there. Now they are saying that more price increases are coming. That’s too bad.

We are fortunate to live in Seattle where the coffee consumer has choices. I chose to buy espresso from quality coffee shops that don’t over charge me. Zoka’s loss is another coffee shop’s gain.

UPDATE (9/26/2010): Zoka did indeed raise their drink prices. An espresso is now $2.75 + tax = $3.02 or $3.03 depending on how they round.

Source:

A Wild Ride Ahead in the C-Market – September 15, 2010 post. (post removed)

Back To School Coffee Orientation

Another academic year will be starting soon for Seattle college students. I am sure the colleges do a swell job providing information on classes and activities, my guess is they aren’t going to provide you with the caffeine guidance you’ll need to make it through to finals. Have no fear, Coffee Hero is here for your coffee orientation.

Seattle has some of the best coffee places in the world. There really is no need to go to Starbucks or Tullys. Those are backup coffee venues. Go there when you are visiting your parents or stuck in an airport. While you are here in Seattle, just go to the best.

Below is a guide to the best coffee spots for some of the main colleges in the Seattle area.

Trabant Coffee

University of Washington

Trabant Coffee – 1309 NE 45th Street

Herkimer Coffee – 5611 University Way NE

Seattle University

Stumptown Coffee – 1115 12th Ave

Watertown Coffee – 550 12th Ave

Seattle Pacific University

Muse Coffee – 1907 10th Ave W

Teacup – 2128 Queen Anne Ave (Not coffee, but a great tea place!)

Cornish College of the Arts

Tougo Coffee – 2113 Westlake Ave (closed on weekends)

Seattle Central Community College

Stumptown Coffee – 616 E Pine

Espresso Vivace – 321 Broadway E

Caffe Vita – 1005 E Pike

North Seattle and South Seattle Community Colleges

Nothing. Too late to change colleges? :)

Cortona Cafe

The Central District is home to a great coffee shop called Cortona Cafe. They use Herkimer Coffee and have tea from Miro. Recently they expanded their outdoor seating area. If you are in this area, give this neighborhood gem a visit.

And if you like waffles…

Source:

Cortona Cafe – 2425 East Union Street, Seattle, WA

Stumptown Hosts Coffee Club of Seattle

If you live in Seattle, love coffee and aren’t a member of the Coffee Club of Seattle, you need to know what you missed this past Sunday. Stumptown Coffee started things off with a coffee roasting demonstration.

After the coffee roasting, we moved to the training room where the Hairbender Blend was brewed using 5 different brewing techniques.

  1. French Press
  2. Cold Brew
  3. Chemex
  4. Pour Over
  5. Espresso

After that we participated in a coffee cupping with six different offerings.

  1. Panama Duncan Estate
  2. Guatemala La Concepcion Buena Vista
  3. El Salvador Kilimanjaro
  4. Ethiopia Michelle
  5. Indonesia Gajah Aceh
  6. Panama Esmeralda Especial Mario Carnival

Roasting, Brewing, Cupping: a perfect coffee triple play. Thank you Stumptown.

Sources:

Popbites – Thanks to Popbites for writing down the coffee names.

Stumptown Coffee – 12th Avenue location

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our Meetup.com page.

Coffee Hero Unplugged

Over on my personal blog, I confessed that I have drastically cut back on my coffee intake in the past month. So if you haven’t seen in me in your coffee shop in a while, don’t take it personally. From the post 30 Days of Low Coffee Intake:

Over 30 days ago I was able to drop my coffee intake to no more than 1 serving per day. Some days I would have no coffee. This is an impressive feat for someone that has average 4-5 coffees per day for 20 years and has 2 coffee websites!

I’m keeping notes on how on how this is affecting me. At some point I will post an article on INeedCoffee detailing this experiment. In the meantime, don’t be shocked if I order the occasional decaf espresso. So far, Trabant Coffee has the best decaf espresso. It has a round full flavor with a peppery finish.

Does any one else have a favorite decaf espresso blend here in Seattle?

3 Brewers Seattle Coffee Fans Need To Try

Not only does Seattle have some of the best roasters, cafes and baristas in the world, we also some of the best equipment. Seattle is the home to three unique coffee brewing systems that most of the country does not have. If you live in Seattle or came here on a coffee vacation, here are 3 coffee brewers you need to try.

The Clover

Before Starbucks acquired the Clover, there were several independents that carried this $11,000 single cup coffee brewer. After Starbucks took over, many of these coffee shops got rid of their Clovers. Starbucks now has the technology to make an excellent cup of coffee, but they don’t because their roast profile is too fast. The Clover still needs great coffee to excel. Fortunately, Seattle still has three remaining Clover machines in the hands of independent coffee shops.

If want an excellent cup of Clover Coffee, avoid Starbucks. Visit Aster or Trabant.

  1. Aster Coffee Lounge (BALLARD) 5615 24th Ave NW –> NOVA and Stumptown Coffee.
  2. Trabant Coffee (UNIVERSITY) 1309 NE 45th Street –> 49th Parallel Coffee.
  3. Trabant Coffee (PIONEER SQUARE) 602 2nd Ave –> 49th Parallel Coffee.

The Slayer Espresso Machine

Seattle is home to a next generation espresso machine called the Slayer. I’ve had it a few times and although not every shot has been perfect, the flavors it pulls out of espresso have been amazing. Gizmodo describes what makes the Slayer special:

…it allows a barista to easily play with pressure to do some interesting thingslike start with a low pressure extraction, ramp up to full pressure, then back it down to get different textures or flavors…

Photo Slayer by Lay-Luh

You can try a Slayer Espresso at two places.

  1. Equal Exchange Espresso (BALLARD) – 1400 NW 56th St – Ballard Market
  2. Vovito Caffe & Gelato (BELLEVUE) – 700 11th Ave NE – The Bravern

Zoka Coffee had one in Kirkland that was removed. It may or may not surface at one of their Seattle locations.

The Trifecta

The Trifecta is the next generation of the single cup brewer. It is like a Clover with more controls. Some coffees do OK in the Trifecta and some really shine. Seattle Coffee Works is home to the only Trifecta in Seattle. If you order one, I encourage you to ask for their recommendation on which coffee to use. They are always tinkering with this machine and will certainly have a solid recommendation.

  1. Seattle Coffee Works (DOWNTOWN) – 107 Pike St

Sources:

A Little $18,000 Espresso Machine Called Slayer – Gizmodo article

Zoka Kirkland – PopBites post on the Slayer status with Zoka.

UPDATE March 2014: Thought I’d provide a few updates to this post since a few years have passed.

  1. Aster Coffee Lounge has been renamed Toast Ballard. They still have the Clover.
  2. Seattle Coffee Works got rid of their Trifecta. Tony’s Coffee has a mini cafe in East Ballard that has one. I’ve had this a few times since the original post and it hasn’t really impressed me. So I wouldn’t really say you need to try this.

Bellevue Steps Up To Quality Coffee at Vovito

When I first moved to the Seattle area in 2007, I started out in Bellevue. Every weekend I would drive into Seattle and explore the coffee scene. It was like two different coffee worlds. Somehow those bridges were keeping all the quality coffee places trapped on the Seattle side. That is all changing now.

In the past year we have seen good coffee establish a foothold in Kirkland with Urban Coffee Lounge and Zoka. Now good coffee has arrived in Bellevue. Vovito Caffe and Gelato is now open in the Bravern Shopping Center. Vovito sports two Slayer espresso machines and their own espresso blend, which includes Indian Moonson Malabar. I’m a fan.

This is the first coffee shop I have seen that plays CNBC. Your not in Capitol Hill anymore!

When the Coffee Club of Seattle visited lat week, we meet the owners and the head barista Alex. Alex is formerly of Trabant Coffee and runs the local coffee website Why Not? Coffee. He served us some signature espresso drinks, which combined espresso, whipped cream, coconut and orange peel.

Bellevue now has a solid quality coffee option with Vovito. Next time I go, I plan to try the gelato. :)

Sources:

VoVito Caffe & Gelato – 700 110th Avenue NE, Suite 195 Bellevue, WA 98004

Why Not? Coffee – Seattle’s Coffee Culture and more.

Coffee Club of Seattle – Aug 4, 2010 event.

Stumptown Roadshow Comes to Dubsea Coffee

Dubsea Coffee hosted Stumptown Coffee this past Saturday. Andrew and Matt came down to White Center with four outstanding coffees. After an introduction to each of the coffees and a little history on the Seattle roots of Stumptown, they hosted a coffee cupping. The 4 coffees Stumptown brought were:

  1. Costa Rica Brumas Del Zurqui
  2. Guatemala Finca El Injerto
  3. Ethiopia Michelle
  4. Kenya Kangunu

They were all outstanding, but the clear favorite was the Kenya Kangunu.

After the cupping, Stumptown did a brewing demonstration and coffee tasting using the French Press and the Chemex. The Kenya shined in the French Press and the Ethiopia did its best in the Chemex. The Coffee Club of Seattle would like to thank Dubsea and Stumptown for hosting a great coffee event.

Sources:

Stumptown Coffee – Official website.

Dubsea Coffee – 9910 8th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our invite for the July 31, 2010 event.

My 3 Favorites – Disloyalty Card Round #2

Today I completed my second Disloyalty Card. In Round #1, my 3 favorites were Urban Coffee Lounge, Makeda and Tougo. Here are my 3 favorites from Round #2.

  1. Trabant Coffee – I think the Epic Espresso Blend is back to its former glory.
  2. Urban Coffee Lounge – I love this place. They pulled another amazing Single Origin espresso for me. Make the journey to Juanita. It is worth it.
  3. Aster Coffee Lounge – Black Cat Espresso = Yummy!

Will I go for Round #3? Maybe. I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

The Best Coffee in Downtown Seattle

I recently got an email from someone planning on visiting Seattle this summer.

We are planning our first trip to Seattle this weekend and obviously a trip to a couple coffee shops is in order. We’re wondering if you could recommend a couple of your favourites in the downtown area? If you could only visit, say three shops – which ones would you go to?

In no particular order, here are the three best coffee shops in downtown Seattle.

Seattle Coffee Works

As you emerge from Pike Place Market, look for the 14 foot sign of the man drinking coffee. They roast right on location and have some of the best espresso blends in the city. In the right part of the cafe, they have a “Slow Bar”. This is where you can have a coffee made in a slower brewing method, such as Chemex or Vac-Pot. Seattle Coffee Works is a must visit for any Seattle tourist.

Stella Caffe

If you want a true Italian style espresso, this is the place to go. Stella proudly uses robusta coffee in their espresso blend. If you hear someone say that robusta is by nature inferior to arabica, that is nonsense. Robusta adds crema and mouth-feel to espresso. Although not required, it adds a flavor dimension that I really enjoy. Stella has one of the best and certainly the most unique espresso blend in the city.

Trabant Coffee

Trabant uses coffee roasted by 49th Parallel Roasters in BC. If you’ve never had the Epic Espresso Blend, you need to check it out. Trabant also has a Clover Coffee machine. This means you can avoid the Starbucks at 1st and Pike and actually drink great coffee in the Clover.

Word to the Tourists

Yes Starbucks has a long history in the Pike Place Market and with Seattle, but the quality of the coffee is no different than what you can get in your hometown. If you are a Starbucks fan, I encourage you to visit the Roy Street Coffee and Tea concept store in Capitol Hill. It is Starbucks at their best. It is still not as good as Seattle Coffee Works, Stella or Trabant, but they are better than the two Pike Market tourist locations (Original and Heritage).

UPDATE (MARCH 2011): Stella Cafe is now gone. It has been replaced by a bar. Other cafes serve Stella coffee, but I can’t recommend any of them. Your best bet for them is now mail order.

Sources:

Seattle Coffee Works – 107 Pike Street

Stella Caffe – 1224 1st Avenue

Trabant Coffee – 602 2nd Avenue

Starbucks Coffee College – Article where I discuss the Roy Street Coffee and Tea location.

Seattle – The blogger who emailed me posted on her trip to Seattle where she visited the 3 coffee shops I recommended.

Caffe Vita PBS = Public Brewing School

Recently I had a chance to head back to school. Coffee school. Every month Caffe Vita puts together a free class at their Pike Street location where the student is taught how to brew coffee using a variety of coffee brewers. The brewing methods taught are:

  1. French Press
  2. Pour Over
  3. Chemex
  4. Vac-Pot
  5. Siphon (a different sized vac-pot)
  6. Stove-top Espresso Maker
  7. Cold Brewed Coffee (samples)

For the class a single coffee is selected and then brewed in all the various methods. Students get to sample each method and discuss how the brewing method alters the taste. This is an outstanding fast paced class that any fan of coffee should attend.

The next PBS dates are:

  • Saturday, July 31st 10AM – Noon
  • Saturday, August 21st 10AM – Noon
  • Saturday, September 11th 10AM – Noon

RSVP information is here.

Sources:

What I Learned at Public Brewing School – Blog post by Plate Lunch.

Caffe Vita Bog – This is where they announce Public Brewing School dates and RSVP information.

Photo Gallery – Photos taken at the Caffe Vita PBS on July 10, 2010.

Finding Good Coffee at the Sequim Lavender Festival

Each time I get on the ferry to leave Seattle, I think that I am stepping back in time when it comes to coffee. The overly dark roasted old-school Pacific Northwest charcoal water is still the default for our neighbors to the west. Yuck. Yesterday I assumed that would be the case again when I went the Sequim Lavender Festival. I was pleasantly surprised.

Leaving From Edmonds

I didn’t get a coffee at the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, but there was no mistaking the Caffe Vita sign at Waterfront Coffee Company. I have no idea if they make good drinks, but at least they found a good roaster and then proudly displayed their logo outside for all potential customers to see. You know I like that.

Waterfront Coffee Company – 101 Main St, Edmonds, WA

Arriving in Sequim

By the time I arrived in Sequim, I was ready for coffee. This was all new territory for me, so I had to listen to my espresso senses. I have a heroic gift for looking at the naming and fonts used for coffee shops to determine a level of quality before even stepping in the door. Coffee shops with chaotic names that focus on caffeine almost always will suck (Ex: Jitterz). Those with subtle names tend to speak to true coffee fans.

When I drove past Adagio Bean and Leaf, my espresso senses told me to turn around. If I was wrong about the coffee, I could always get tea (the Leaf). So I turned around to check it out. Once inside I saw the barista was timing shots and then I saw a Stumptown bag of coffee. I was safe. One excellent double short Americano later and I was on the road.

Adagio Bean & Leaf – 981 East Washington St, Sequim, WA

At the Lavender Festival

Downtown Sequim is where the food options were and the buses that drove to the lavender farms. I was happy to see Seattle based Caffe Fiore had their own booth there.

At the Farms

I went to four farms and the coffee options there looked awful. At Purple Haze, there is a tea booth that serves a good Dragonwell tea. There were signs of lavender infused lattes. No thanks.

Sources:

Adagio Bean & Leaf – Sequim, WA cafe using Stumptown Coffee.

Caffe Fiore – Seattle based coffee shop.

Sequim Lavender Festival – July 16, 17, and 18, 2010.

Purple Haze Lavender – Of the four farms visited, this was my favorite.

Espresso Hike #4 – Fremont

The area of Seattle with the coolest roadside attractions has to be Fremont. However, it doesn’t have the best coffee. Yes, the Coffee Club of Seattle misses Stickman. Espresso Hike #4 was about 3 miles. The original plan was to hit 3 coffee shops and Theo Chocolate as we made our way from landmark to landmark.

  1. Fremont Coffee Company
  2. Caffe Vita
  3. Caffe Ladro

The night before I went to Caffe Ladro and got a pretty bad espresso, which I discussed with my fellow hikers. We came to a group decision to not visit Ladro. Although I have had decent espresso from their Queen Anne location, all their other locations over extract their shots. I can make their espresso blend better on my $600 home espresso machine.

Caffe Vita was the clear winner on this espresso hike. Although Fremont Coffee Company is better since dumping Lighthouse and choosing to roast their own coffee, they still aren’t top tier. In fairness to them, I wouldn’t expect any new roaster to be top tier in Seattle in less than one year.

The photos below are from the hike.

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our Meetup group.

Photo Gallery – Photo Gallery for Espresso Hike #4

Fremont Coffee Company – 459 N 36th St

Caffe Vita - 4301 Fremont Avenue North

Caffe Ladro – 452 N 36th St

Fremont Universe – A community blog highlighting the Fremont area of Seattle.

Espresso Hike #1 – From July 2009

Espresso Hike #2 – From September 2009

Espresso Hike #3 – From June 2010

Dark Chocolate Meets Coffee in Seattle

Last week I covered all the different Seattle coffee ice cream options. Today I took a tour of Theo’s Chocolate and sampled many different chocolates. My favorite one will be no surprise. It was Theo Fantasy Flavor Coffee Dark Chocolate. Theo’s is a Fair Trade specialty chocolate maker and they use a Peruvian and East Timor coffee blend from Caffe Vita that has also been certified Fair Trade. I loved this dark chocolate.

A tour of Theo’s Chocolate costs $6, but if you have a Chinook Coupon book, there is a buy-one-get-one-free coupon inside. Be sure to call ahead, as the tours do fill up. You will eat way more than $6 worth of chocolate on the tour. Do it!

For those outside of Seattle, Amazon sells their Fig Fennel and Almond Dark Chocolate bar.

Theo Chocolate Dark Choc,Fig Fennel W/Almonds, 2-Ounce (Pack of 12)
Theo Chocolate Dark Choc,Fig Fennel W/Almonds, 2-Ounce (Pack of 12)

Sources:

Theo’s Factory Tours – Details are on their home page.

Theo’s Blend Coffee – Caffe Vita coffee blend.

Coffee Ice Cream Options in Seattle

Ice cream is good, coffee ice cream is better and coffee ice cream made using local roasted coffee is best. Here in Seattle we have at least four options for treats that combine locally roasted coffee with ice cream.

Old School Custard and Caffe Vita

Old School Custard makes vanilla, chocolate and one other flavor of custard each day. They post a flavor schedule a month in advance telling their customers what that third flavor will be. About once every 5 weeks, that flavor is Caffe Vita Espresso. Custard is similar to ice cream, but also includes egg yolks, which create a smoother texture than ice cream.

Custard - Caffe Vita Espresso

Photo Custard – Caffe Vita Espresso by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Molly Moon’s Ice Cream and Espresso Vivace

Unlike Old School, Vivace Coffee ice cream is a daily option at Molly Moon’s. Sometimes they offer a coconut milk variation of the Vivace Coffee blend. It is equally as good. The only downside to Molly Moon’s is the line can often be quite long.

Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream & Tea Room and Stumptown Caffe Vita

This hidden gem in located in the heart of Capitol Hill. Fans of local beer pub Elysian will also want to try their Elysian stout ice cream.

Peaks Frozen Custard and Lighthouse Coffee

Like Old School Custard, Peaks also posts a flavor of the day schedule. Unlike Old School, they have two coffee based flavors. The Coffee Turtle has caramel, fudge, pecans and is very light on the coffee flavor. Coffee Toffee Crunch is coffee mixed with toffee. That one I have not tried yet.

Picking a Favorite

I’ve had them all and would have a tough time picking a favorite. They are all excellent. If pushed, I’d say Old School’s Caffe Vita has a slight edge. Am I missing any other local ice cream maker meets local coffee roaster options? Which one is your favorite?

Sources:

Old School Custard – 1316 E. Pike Street

Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream – 1622 N 45 Street and 917 E. Pine Street

Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream & Tea Room – 1205 E. Pike Street

Peaks Frozen Custard – 1026 N.E. 65th Street

UPDATE (July 3, 2010): Full Tilt Ice Cream uses Caffe Vita beans as well. They offer a Coffee Oreo ice cream.

UPDATE (July 25, 2011): Bluebird now uses Caffe Vita beans. Their website still says Stumptown.

UPDATE (2013): Molly Moon’s now uses Stumptown Coffee.

Looking For the Roaster Sticker

There are more coffee shops in Seattle that I could possibly ever try. Nor would I ever want to try them all. Some will be great and some will be lousy. When I first encounter a new coffee shop I will look for evidence that the cafe will excel at making espresso. The first thing I do is look for the Roaster Sticker.

A great coffee shop will use a great coffee roaster. Typically they won’t hide the name of their roaster. They will often place a sticker of their coffee roaster near the front door. Coffee shops that hide the name of their roaster do not inspire trust and I tend to avoid them.

As the organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, I am always on the hunt for new coffee shops for our members. Later this week we are visiting the Coffee Drop Cafe. When I walked past the place, I saw the Caffe Vita sticker on the door. Sold. No further validation is needed. When I don’t see any roaster information on the front door or menu, I will go to their website and look for that information. If it isn’t there, then I assume they suck and give my business to those that take pride in their roaster.

Voxx Coffee in South Lake Union shows from their sidewalk sign that they serve Stumptown Coffee.

The Roaster Sticker can also serve as a warning if I know I don’t care for the roaster. Whenever I see the Caffe Appassionato, Umbria or Lighthouse sticker, I keep on walking.

Coffee houses can show their support for their roaster by sharing their roaster name with customers. How can roasters help support their wholesale customers? Devote a page on your website listing those places. Unfortunately, most roasters do not publish this information on their website.

Sources:

Coffee Drop Cafe – Facebook page for the University Village coffee shop with Caffe Vita sticker on their door.

Coffee Club of Seattle – Meetup page for our group.

Voxx Coffee – Flickr Photo by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Sneaky Starbucks Fails to Fool Andrew

Seattle fans and enemies of Starbucks’s 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea concept store are encouraged to read Starbucks back to old guerilla marketing tricks by Andrew Hetzel. Seems our friends over at Starbucks tried to fabricate some fake buzz and were caught.

I love Andrew’s concluding statement.

Rather than go through all of the effort to create these spectacles and then later cover your tracks with surreptitiously masked comments designed to give the appearance that the general public supports your actions, why not just focus on making a better product?

Amen!

Starbucks Shrugged and Zoka Fights Back

Starbucks threw in the towel and announced that they will start offering free WiFi starting July 1st. From Starbucks: Free Wi-fi at 6,700 U.S. sites by Ashley M. Heher:

Starbucks Corp. will begin offering unlimited free Wi-Fi at all of its company-operated U.S. locations next month, part of an ongoing effort to bring more customers in the door.

The free wireless Internet will be available July 1 at about 6,700 locations.

Photo Like ducks in a row by Joel Washing

My thoughts have not changed since the 2008 INeedCoffee article Coffee Roundtable – Our Starbucks Idea was published. Here was my advice.

Don’t offer Free WiFi. Free attracts freeloaders. People arrive early, buy maybe one drink, and then camp out all day. Other customers quickly learn there are no places to sit among the sea of laptops and stop coming.

How did I arrive at this opinion? Zoka Coffee.

Zoka is one of the top roasters here in Seattle and up until recently they were infested with WiFi freeloaders. Each time I went there, every seat was taken. A room full of laptop users quietly clicking away next to mostly empty coffee cups. Very little conversation and the line was usually empty. Zoka Tangletown was a laptop refugee camp. Because of this and having the highest priced espresso in Seattle, I stopped going there.

Then in May of this year, Zoka decided they had enough of the freeloaders and modified their WiFi policy. In the blog post The Low Down on Zoka’s New WiFi Policy they announced they would be restricting users to 2 hours with each purchase. Good for them.

Even though I am not a Starbucks fan, I always respected how up until today they never caved into pressure for free WiFi. People chatted with each other in their cafes. Meetings took place there. First dates. That is about to end. Soon the freeloaders will descend into Starbucks with their laptops. They’ll spread out their stuff, plug in their headphones and tune out their neighbors.

Sources:

The Low Down on Zoka’s New WiFi Policy – May 6, 2010 blog post. (post removed)

Starbucks: Free Wi-fi at 6,700 U.S.sites – Detroit Free Press story by Ashley M. Heher of the Associated Press. (press release removed)

Espresso Hike #3 – Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square

Last year the Coffee Club of Seattle did two Espresso Hikes that were huge hits. The members were ready for another one and the weather was nice, so this past Sunday we did Espresso Hike #3. We met Sunday morning at 10 AM at the sidewalk location of Espresso Vivace in Capitol Hill. We started with 11 and picked up three more hikers along the way.

Our route was 4.2 miles long with mild elevation changes. From Capitol Hill we went to Pioneer Square and then through Downtown on our way back to the starting location.

Espresso Hike #3 covered three top Seattle coffee places and we finished with ice cream.

  1. Espresso Vivace – Sidewalk location
  2. Caffe Vita – Pioneer Square (the location formerly occupied by All City Coffee)
  3. Victrola Coffee – Pike location
  4. Molly Moons Ice Cream – On Pine

In the two Espresso Hikes we did last year the group had consensus on which coffee shop was the best. Not this time. Opinions varied. Although I liked all three places, my favorite espresso for the day came from Caffe Vita.

The summer has just begun. I expect we will have a few more Espresso Hikes this year. If you live in Seattle and this sounds like fun, join our Coffee Club and look for emails on upcoming events.

Sources:

Espresso Hike #1 – From July 2009

Espresso Hike #2 – From September 2009

Caffe Vita – Pioneer Square location

Victrola Coffee – Seattle roaster and coffee shop.

Photo Gallery – Flickr group for the Coffee Club of Seattle.

An Overview of the Seattle Tea Scene

I am an unapologetic fan of quality tea. Tea is very much like coffee in that there is wide difference in taste between the common stuff and the high quality. I highly encourage my fellow coffee drinkers to embrace and learn about our sister beverage tea. The same tasting skills we use at coffee cuppings and with espresso apply to quality tea.

This post is about guiding you to the best tea resources in Seattle.

Gong Fu Tea Class – Teacup by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

The Big 4

If you are looking for a place to relax with friends in a comfortable environment while trying high quality tea, there are four places that stand out.

  1. Teacup – 2128 Queen Anne Ave N (UPPER QUEEN ANNE)
  2. Miro Tea – 5405 Ballard Ave NW (BALLARD)
  3. Remedy Teas – 345 15th Ave E (CAPITOL HILL)
  4. Teahouse Kuan Yin – 1911 North 45th St (WALLINGFORD)

Tea Tasting

There are a few places that will invite you to sit down and then start making little sample tea tastings for you. These tastings allow the drinker to experience several different teas at one sitting. The tea proprietor will guide you to the flavors you most like and suggest different teas for purchase.

  1. Floating Leaves Tea – 1704 Northwest Market St (BALLARD)
  2. New Century Tea Gallery – 416 Maynard Ave S (INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT)
  3. Zen Dog Studio & Tea House Gallery – 2015 NW 85th St (BALLARD)
  4. Seattle Best Tea – 506 South King St (INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT)
  5. Vital Tea Leaf – 1401 1st Ave & 2003 Western Ave (DOWNTOWN)

That should be enough to get you started.

What is the Best Seattle Coffee Place That is No Longer Around?

I arrived in Seattle in 2007, so I don’t know much about the history of coffee shops and roasters that went under before then. On my very first visit to the Bainbridge Island coffee shop next to the Seattle Center, the barista got a phone call just when I was about to order. That call was from management saying that they would be closing the shop at the end of business that day with no plans to reopen. I felt like the Espresso Grim Reaper that day.

As good as my one espresso was at Bainbridge, my favorite coffee place in Seattle that no longer exists was Stickman Coffee. Stickman was this hidden gem in the heart of Fremont. It was in the alley just beyond the statue of Lenin. Stickman had two espresso blends roasted by Borogove Coffee. They blends were darker, which I usually don’t like. However, they were outstanding and they were unique. Stickman also had an open air court yard, which the Coffee Club of Seattle used once for a home coffee roasted demonstration. Stickman was owned and operated by award winning barista Dismas Smith.

Stickman Coffee is the Seattle coffee place that I miss the most. How about you? What is your pick for the best Seattle coffee place that is no longer around?

Sources:

Stickman – Stickman Coffee Blog.

Interview: North American Barista Champion – 2002 interview with Dismas Smith.

Stickman Photos – 3 photos by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

My 3 Favorites – Disloyality Card Round #1

Today I completed my first Disloyalty Card. The Disloyalty Card lists 10 independent coffee shops in the Seattle area. Before I announce my favorite three, I will say that I didn’t have a single bad espresso.

  1. Urban Coffee Lounge – The single origin espresso with the Indonesia Gajah Aceh was stellar. I liked it so much, I drove to Stumptown and bought 12 oz for my home espresso machine. Get out to Kirkland. It is worth the trip. Just watch out for the speed traps.
  2. Makeda Coffee – I love the Hula blend by Seven Roasters.
  3. Tougo Coffee – A perfectly pulled espresso using Stumptown’s Hair Bender blend.

Time to start Round #2.

Urban Coffee Lounge – Cups on the Wall by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Have you completed your Disloyalty Card yet? What were your favorites?

Coffee Hero Graduates From Starbucks Coffee College

Last month I got invited to Starbucks headquarters to attend a two day Coffee College. You know I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. I posted my full report in the article Starbucks Coffee College over on INeedCoffee.

Now I am not exactly known for being a Starbucks fan, but I am also not a hater. My position on Starbucks is that it was part of my coffee journey years ago, but I’ve moved on to better quality. I prefer espresso to regular coffee and prefer lighter roasters over darker. That is why I tend to only visit Starbucks when I’m far away from Seattle.

During the two days, I was able to guide my fellow students to better coffee shops. Their hotel put them in walking distance of Trabant, Stella and Seattle Coffee Works. I made certain that a few of them left Seattle knowing we are capable of better coffee than Starbucks.

Seattle’s Disloyalty Card

Seattle now has something called a Disloyalty Card, which is idea to promote the independent coffee shop. The idea started in London and the way it works is you visit the ten coffee shops on the card. At each place, order and drink and receive a stamp. When the card is completed (10 stamps), you can redeem it for a free drink at the place you choose.

I love the idea of getting coffee fans outside their comfort zone and trying new places. This is exactly what the Coffee Club of Seattle has been promoting for almost four years now. In a given month we may visit 3-5 independent coffee shops around the Seattle metro area.

The 10 Coffee Shops on the Seattle Disloyalty Card

Coffee Shop
Neighborhood
Roaster
Aster Coffee LoungeBallardIntelligentsia / Stumptown
Equal Exchange EspressoBallardEqual Exchange (Oregon)
Fonte Coffee RoastersDowntownFonte
Herkimer CoffeePhinney, UniversityHerkimer
Makeda CoffeeGreenwood7 Roasters
Neptune CoffeeGreenwoodNeptune
Porchlight CoffeeCapitol HillHerkimer
Tougo CoffeeCentral, Lake UnionStumptown
Trabant CoffeeUniversity, Pioneer Square49th Parallel (BC)
Urban Coffee LoungeKirklandStumptown

You should be able to pick up your Disloyalty Card from any of those locations. I’m already half way done with my first card!

Sources:

Gwilyn’s disloyalty card – The idea from London.

Local coffeehouses offer disloyalty card, encourage customers to shop around – Coffee City story detailing how the Seattle Disloyalty Card got started.

The Return of Coffee Hero

After a two month hiatus, Coffee Hero is back.

Things are going to be different this time. Going forward Coffee Hero will restrict its discussion of coffee to the Seattle coffee scene*. Yes, the Coffee Hero is going 100% local! All the older content that was unrelated to Seattle has been moved or deleted. INeedCoffee will continue to host all coffee content that deserves a wider audience.

Coffee Hero is independent. I do not work for any coffee related businesses. I never have. My loyalty is to the coffee and to my city of Seattle. Places that deliver great coffee will be praised. Places that don’t will be called out.

Welcome to Coffee Hero. Hope you like the redesign.

If you were a reader of Coffee Hero, but don’t care about the Seattle coffee scene, I bid you farewell. Thank you for supporting this site during its first year. Expect to see more content over on INeedCoffee.

* And the occasional post on quality local tea. ;)

Coffee Cups on the Wall

Last Sunday the Coffee Club of Seattle went over to Kirkland to visit the Urban Coffee Lounge. Besides the great coffee drinks, our group was impressed by the wall decoration. It is a collection of different sized coffee mugs fixed to a concrete backing. Below are a few photos of the wall fixture.

Sources:

Photo Gallery – INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero photos of Urban Coffee Lounge.

Urban Coffee Lounge – 9744 Northeast 119th Way Kirkland, WA

Coffee Club of Seattle – Meetup.com page.

Meet the Barista – Dubsea Coffee

Last Sunday the Coffee Club of Seattle visited Dubsea Coffee in the White Center area of Seattle. Dubsea Coffee opened in November 2009 and uses Stumptown Coffee. It is a beautiful location and they serve great coffee, but what makes Dubsea unique is they have an amazing latte etching artist on staff.

Joerael Elliott was there making killer designs on our lattes, macchiatos, mochas and even hot chocolates. Below are some photos we took of our drinks. Thanks Joerael for coming into work on your day off for the Coffee Club!

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle -Meetup.com page.

Dubsea Coffee – 9910 8th Ave SW Seattle WA 98106

Dubsea Coffee Photo gallery – INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero set for Dubsea Coffee.

Liquid Transference – Blog by latte artist Joerael Elliott.

Meet the Roaster – Seattle Coffee Works

While most of America was watching the Super Bowl, the Coffee Club of Seattle went to the heart of downtown Seattle to visit Seattle Coffee Works. After the members caught up with each other, we made our way over to the Slow Bar. The Slow Bar is something Seattle Coffee Works added last year. It is where patrons can sit down and enjoy a coffee brewing style of a slower nature. This is where they serve Chemex, French Press and Vaccum Pot coffee.

Seattle Coffee Works - 2 Chemex Brewers

Photo Seattle Coffee Works – 2 Chemex Brewers by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

At the Slow Bar, Seattle Coffee Works brewed up an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe on the Chemex, Vac-Pot and the Eva Solo (which I brought in for the event). Sample tastes were handed out to members of the Coffee Club. Even though it was the same bean, each member could taste how the flavor varied between brewing methods. The differences were profound and noticeable.

Blue Flame @ Seattle Coffee Works

Photo Blue Flame @ Seattle Coffee Works by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

After we finished at the Slow Bar, the group went into the roasting facilities. It was there that head roaster Sebastian Simsch took us through a coffee roast on his Diedrich roaster. One of the topics discussed was temperature profile differences between coffee roasted for espresso and coffee roasted for drip.

Seattle Coffee Works - Anna

Photo Seattle Coffee Works – Anna by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

The Coffee Club of Seattle had a great time. We consumed lots of coffee and expanded our coffee knowledge. We didn’t miss the Super Bowl at all.

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our caffeinated posse. If you live in the Seattle area, join our group.

Seattle Coffee Works -107 Pike St, Seattle.

Chemex Brewing – My Chemex coffee brewing tutorial.

Vacuum Pot Brewing – INeedCoffee vac-pot brewing tutorial by Ryan Jacobs.

SCW Photo Gallery – Photos taken at Seattle Coffee Works.

Espresso Announcements on Twitter and Facebook

When I woke up today I had no idea I’d be enjoying espresso at both Seattle Coffee Works and Tougo Coffee. How did I end up at these two coffee shops? I saw an announcement on Facebook and one on Twitter.

The first message I saw was from Tougo Coffee on Facebook.

Let me decode that message. I know Tougo currently uses Stumptown Coffee as their roaster, which means the standard espresso blend they carry is Hairbender. Recently Tougo started mixing up their espresso blends and I’ve been waiting to try something new. The SOE (single origin espresso) Kenya Gatomboya was outstanding on the cupping table at Stumptown on Sunday. I needed to try it as an espresso. The Evil Twin Espresso is from Ritual Coffee Roasters out of San Francisco. Both sounded good to me. For this visit I had the Kenya. It was outstanding.

Then Seattle Coffee Works left some breadcrumbs on Facebook, which lead me to Twitter.

Over on Twitter, I found the deal.

When I got to Seattle Coffee Works, I whispered the magic phrase and my $2 espresso suddenly became a $1 espresso. Gotta love that!

Sources:

Tougo Facebook – Where I learned about the SOE Kenya.

Seattle Coffee Works – Facebook page.

@DrinkingMan – Twitter account for Seattle Coffee Works.

Road Trip to Velton’s Coffee

Monday I got a chance to head up with Jason Simon of Caffeinated Consersations to Everett, Washington to visit Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company. Besides enjoying good espresso and good conversation, we discussed setting up a future Meetup and coffee roasting demo for the Coffee Club of Seattle. If you are in the Seattle area and this type of event is of interest to you, join the Coffee Club of Seattle.

Sources:

Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company – Everett, Washington coffee roaster.

Tall Skinny Bitter – Notes From the Center of Coffee Culture

I moved to Seattle in August 2007 and from the moment I hit the ground, I started my espresso quest. Since then I’ve been to many great coffee shops and met many great people. Although I loved my random journey, I would have loved to had this book in my hands when I arrived.

Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture
Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture is by Dani Cone and Chris Munson. This beautifully designed book takes the reader around Seattle and Portland coffee shops. It provides history and background on the coffee scene with a sense of humor. It is a quick read, but I learned quite a bit.

After reading this book, I realized that I’ve gotten into a rut. The coffee shop exploring that I used to do weekly has since been replaced by visiting places that I already know are outstanding. This book gave me a few leads on places that I either dismissed or was completely unaware they even existed.

If you are a coffee drinker in Seattle, Portland or points in between, Tall Skinny Bitter: Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture is an enjoyable reference to our coffee scene.

Do Prices Include Sales Tax at Your Favorite Coffee Shop?

I like it when coffee shops include the after sales tax price on their menu. It gives me an opportunity to get the exact amount for the order and tip while waiting in line. Calculating some extra 1/2 cent tax usually means there is some stray penny being traded back and forth at the point of sale. Setting the post-tax price in 5 or 25 cent increments means the line moves faster and my drink doesn’t get cold.

Cheers to Makeda and Seattle Coffee Works for listing the post sales tax price on their menu board. I’m sure there are more, but those are two that come to mind.

Do prices include sales tax at your favorite coffee shop?

Photo Sales Tax Included at Makeda Coffee by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Sources:

Makeda Coffee – 153 North 78th Street, Seattle, WA 98103

Seattle Coffee Works – 107 Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98101

Macchiato Etching at Dubsea Coffee

Dubsea Coffee is one of the newest coffee houses in Seattle. It is the White Center area and serves coffee roasted by Stumptown. Today the Coffee Club of Seattle received some outstanding macchiato etching.

Dubsea Coffee is at 9910 8th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106.

Sources:

Photo Gallery – Dubsea Coffee visit for December 17, 2009.

Dubsea Coffee – Official site.

Coffee Club Event – Meetup.com details on Dubsea Coffee event.

Dubsea Coffee Grand Opening, day 2 – Blog post from White Center Now.

One Last Espresso Before I Leave Town

Today I am heading off for a 4 week trip to Thailand. The good news is I’ll get some sunshine and get away from the Seattle rain. The bad news is I’ll be away from Seattle coffee for almost a month! Before leaving I got one more shot of espresso perfection. Victrola has an Ethiopian Harrar Makeda Longberry Single Origin Espresso available right now.

The description is dead on accurate. You taste the fruit notes immediately before the dark chocolate rolls onto your palate. It is an amazing espresso. Try it before it goes away.

Sources:

How to enjoy the single origin Harrar – Victrola Coffee blog post announcing the special espresso.

Off to Thailand – blog post announcing trip to Thailand.

Coffee on Moving Day – The Load Out

This post was moved from Coffee Hero.

This week I moved to a new place. Because the move was less than 7 miles, I did it myself with a little help from a friend. The move took place over a few days. Nothing too difficult.

My fellow drinkers might be able to spot the dilemma. When should I move the coffee equipment? I’ll need the fuel from coffee to accomplish the move, but the coffee equipment can’t be in two spots at once.

Photo Level Espresso from Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine Tips

I decided to split the coffee equipment. The espresso machine would be setup at one location. The french press would be at the other. The problem is that I only have one grinder. Now what?

In prior moves, I’ve used the Jackson Browne song The Load Out as my model for when to move my espresso machine. In that song, he tells the roadies to pack his piano last.

But when that last guitar’s been packed away
You know that I still want to play
So just make sure you got it all set to go
Before you come for my piano

My piano is my espresso machine. This time I moved my piano (espresso machine) first. Of course the grinder must go with the espresso machine, which left me to pre-grind a stash of coffee for the press pot. Oh the horrors of pre-ground coffee. No wonder people dislike moving so much.

This move was fueled by a new espresso blend for me. Velton’s Coffee in Everett has an amazing espresso offering called the Bonsai Blend. It had notes of honey and lemon. It worked as both an espresso and even in the press pot using pre-ground beans.

Sources:

Velton’s Coffee – Everett, Washington coffee roaster.

Jackson Browne – Official site.

Espresso Forgiveness

In the past two years I’ve had many excellent espressos here in Seattle. However, not every espresso is great. Some have been lousy. Now on any given day, it is possible to get a bad espresso from an otherwise good coffee shop. Because we have so many great coffee shops, if I get a bad espresso from one place, I probably won’t go back. There are just too many great choices.

This week I decided I’d give three places a second chance. All past mistakes would be forgiven. The slate would be wiped clean. Here is how my Espresso Forgiveness journey went.

Caffe Fiore (QUEEN ANNE)

It has been over 6 months since I went to Caffe Fiore. On my last visit I got a over-extracted espresso from a barista that was not trained properly. I knew Fiore was capable of making a great espresso, as I’ve had a few in the past and I’ve purchased their whole bean blend as well.

Espresso Forgiveness #1 was a success. I had a great espresso from Caffe Fiore.

Caffe Ladro (QUEEN ANNE)

In fairness to the good people at the Queen Anne location, the reason I stopped going to Caffe Ladro is because of the poorly trained barista at the new Issaquah location. Back in the spring, I got an awful espresso from them.

Espresso Forgiveness #2 was a success. Although this blend isn’t my favorite, it was still good. Not outstanding, but good. I’m still afraid of the Issaquah location.

Caffe Umbria (PIONEER SQUARE)

It has now been two years since I went to Caffe Umbria. It is an Italian style espresso made with 100% Arabica beans. I prefer a little robusta in my Italian espresso, but it is possible to create a good Italian espresso without robusta. On my one visit two years ago, my drink was made correctly (I think), but the flavor was bitter.

Espresso Forgiveness #3 was a failure. Not only is this espresso blend tasteless and bitter, but my double ristretto was served in a cappuccino cup. How this place stays in business when it is located between two vastly superior espresso places (Zeitgeist and Stella) amazes me.

Caffe Umbria in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle.

The Espresso Forgiveness project was a success. I was able to add two coffee places back into my rotation (Fiore, Ladro) and send one to the “dead for life” list (Umbria). I might do this again.

Reaching Out to the 3 Types of Seattle Coffee Drinkers

I consider myself to be the self appointed Coffee Ambassador for Seattle. Having lived in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South Florida and Southern California, I realize how much better the coffee is in Seattle than the rest of the country. Because of this, I am excited to share my love for Seattle coffee. During the past two years, I have noticed Seattle coffee drinkers fall into three categories. Below are the three groups along with my method for reaching out to them.

1 – True Coffee Fans

The True Coffee Fans are those in Seattle that understand that they are surrounded by outstanding coffee and are excited to visit the local cafes and roasters. It may be the latte art, Clover brewed coffee or just the cafe culture itself. They love Seattle coffee. This is where I’ve been since the plane landed on my first visit.

Reaching out to this group is what the Coffee Club of Seattle does. We have over 600 members as of this writing. In addition to visiting a wide variety of cafes, we also take part in coffee cuppings and roasting tours. This year many of our members were introduced to the Aeropress and Vac-Pot brewing methods. A common thing overheard at any given meeting is “I never knew this coffee shop was here“.

Photo Latte Art Etching Makeda 1 by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

2 – The Starbucks / Tullys / Seattles Best Group

I’m still surprised when I see Seattle citizens patronizing Starbucks, Tullys or SBC. Would you eat McDonalds in Paris or Pizza Hut in Manhattan? To me Starbucks is a fall back place to go for coffee when you aren’t surrounded by the good stuff. It is for the airport or for road trips.

When I reach out to this group, I understand that they are most likely going to the big coffee shops out of habit. Maybe they moved here from a town where Starbucks really was the best coffee in town. Maybe they just aren’t that adventurous in seeking out new coffee experiences. My strategy with this group is to find out where they live and where they work. Since I usually know at least one outstanding coffee shop in each neighborhood, I am able to give them a single caffeinated homework assignment. This works pretty well and I’ve found that once this group gets a taste for the independents, they are eager to try more.

3 – The European Coffee Is So Much Better Group

This group used to annoy me. They went to Europe five years ago and during their vacation glow had a cup of coffee that they projected all their happy holiday feelings on and now they believe Seattle coffee sucks. Of course this is nonsense. What I usually find when I peel back the layers of this coffee drinker is that they have closed themselves off to trying many local places. They almost seem to enjoy spitting on Seattle’s treasured coffee culture as a way to talk about the trip they took five years ago.

I used to get defensive when reaching out to this group. That doesn’t work. For this group, I simply ask them if they have been to Zeitgeist, Caffe D’Arte, Stella or Espresso Vivace. I already know the answer and it is no. Caffe D’Arte was started by an Italian family and has 5 espresso blends designed around different regions of Italy and Sicily. Stella and Espresso Vivace also have strong Italian inspiration.

Earlier this year I met a girl from this group. She trash talked Seattle coffee. Italy was soo muuch bettter. I took her to Zeitgeist, where she was certain she would hate it. She loved it. She later went to Caffe D’Arte and Espresso Vivace. From there is was off to Caffe Vita. She no longer attacks Seattle coffee. She is now part of Group 1 – the True Coffee Fans.

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our Seattle coffee fan group.

Zeitgeist Coffee – Pioneer Square coffee house.

An Espresso Journey Through Italy – Caffe D’Arte – Blog post on Caffe D’Arte and their regional espressos.

Learning From the Espresso Master – Book review of Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques by Espresso Vivace founder David Schomer. This book tells how he went through Italy learning about espresso, taking the best ideas back to Seattle with him and then improving on them.

Stella – Seattle coffee roaster with a classic Italian espresso.

Caffe Vita – Seattle coffee roaster.

Espresso Vivace Dolce Now Without Robusta

Last week I learned that Espresso Vivace has removed the robusta component of their Dolce espresso blend. This may not mean much to you, but to me this is like changing the Coke formula. You don’t mess with perfection. From the article Coffeehouse customers steamed about higher prices:

David Schomer, co-owner of Espresso Vivace, is considering raising drink prices because his coffee costs have gone up, too.

He’s stopped adding the lower cost robusta coffee to his blends to boost the brownish-red foam called crema. “It wasn’t helping us,” he said. “It’s gone.”

Well, I doubt Vivace was using cheap robusta in their blend. Although most robusta is cheap filler coffee, there exists premium robusta beans as well. These beans command prices equal and sometimes greater than arabica beans. Recently, I had a 100% robusta single origin espresso from Paradise Roasters (Sethuraman Estate from India). It was an outstanding espresso and every bit the equal in quality to arabica espresso blends.

Vivace Espresso Dolce

Why use robusta? From SweetMarias page on Premium Robusta Coffees (for espresso blends):

There is a core use for Robusta coffees that are picked, sorted, processed and prepared with as much care as top grade Arabicas; this valid use is in the 5 to 20% range in espresso blends. Robustas add body, crema, and a distinct flavor to espresso. If you are familiar with traditional italian espresso you will recognize this taste. It also aids the espresso in distinguishing itself in milk drinks.

I’ll go further. When you drink an espresso with a robusta component it stays on the palate much longer than an espresso made from 100% arabica. It lingers. How many beverages can persist taste for sometimes 20 minutes?

I adore the Dolce blend. I’ve probably purchased 100 pounds of the blend. Before I ever moved to Seattle, I was home roasting the blend down in San Diego. I had to know if the blend still tasted the same to me. This past Sunday I went to Vivace and got a pound of Dolce. I gave half to a fellow Dolce fan.

The 100% arabica version of Dolce tastes just like the robusta version, however it doesn’t linger on the palate as much. My friend referred to the new blend as “the younger brother”. Now these are just the opinions of two espresso drinkers. We still love the taste, but missed the depth. Maybe we are wrong.

Before completing this review, I visited Stella Coffee and had their espresso. Stella roasts a classic Italian espresso and proudly uses robusta in their blend. Although I prefer the taste of Vivace Dolce, Stella’s espresso stayed on my palate much longer. I’ll continue to purchase the Vivace Dolce, but maybe not as much as before.

Stella Espresso

Sources:

Coffeehouse customers steamed about higher prices – Article that mentioned the Vivace change.

Premium Robusta Coffees (for espresso blends) – Sweetmarias informative article on Premium Robusta Coffees.

Stella – Seattle coffee roaster with a classic Italian espresso.

Paradise Roasters – Sells a 100% Robusta espresso offering from the Sethuraman Estate of India.

My Last Comment on Coffee House Pricing

The Seattle Times ran a second story on coffee house pricing today that used quotes from this blog. The story is titled Coffeehouse customers steamed about higher prices. The point that seems to be lost from all the feedback I’ve received is that I’m not in the industry and don’t understand why prices are going up. I’m just a customer.

We all have our pricing stick points. A business can increase prices to that level and we will not push back, but as soon as they do, we as consumers will push back. That push back might mean cutting back or walking away completely. Coffee is no different than other industries.

When a certain Seattle coffee house raised their espresso price to $2.71 (post-tax), I stopped going there. The $300 I probably would have spent there, was spent with cafes that kept their espresso price under $2.25 (post-tax). Fifty cents isn’t a lot of money, but when you consume as much espresso as I do, it adds up. ;)

Espresso Hike #2 – Queen Anne to Downtown

Espresso Hike #1 was so successful that the Coffee Club of Seattle did a second one last Friday. If you wish learn more about the background of the Espresso Hike, be sure to read Espresso Hike #1. This hike started at the top of Queen Anne at Kerry Park and then went South to downtown.

espresso-hike-2

We had 12 espresso hikers for our 5 mile journey. The weather was excellent.

Espresso Hike #2 covered 2 places.

  1. Fonte – This is the new flagship store for Fonte roasters. It is across the street from the Seattle Art Museum and part of the Four Seasons Hotel. This coffee house is designed more like a cocktail bar than a traditional coffee house. They did serve alcohol and a wide range of food, including omelettes. They had both a blended and a single origin espresso. The staff was super friendly and our group enjoyed this place.
  2. Stella Coffee – Just a block away and across the street from Fonte was Stella. This is their flagship store. They roast in the traditional Italian style adding some premium robusta to their blend. They too have beer on tap. Stella has a large room in the back, which is where our group rested before heading back up to Queen Anne.

Our group liked both places. If you live in Seattle and this sounds like fun, join our Coffee Club and look for emails on upcoming events.

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle – Our launch page.

GMAP – Saved route of Espresso Hike #2 (rough estimate).

Espresso Hike #2 – The event page along with photos.

Stella Coffee – 1224 1st Ave, Seattle.

Fonte Coffee Roaster – Seattle, WA.

Kerry Park – City website.

Zoka Updates Website With Accurate Packaging Size

It appeared that Zoka Coffee no longer lists their coffee size as “per bag“. It now states “12 oz“. This is a nice conclusion to the post I Call Coffee Shenanigans – The 12 Ounce Pound.

I love the Espresso Paladino blend, but 12 ounces is not a pound. Hiding that fact or stating it is a full pound is less than honest. Other coffee roasters sell 12-ounce bags of coffee. To my knowledge, none of them sell it per bag or tell their customers that 12 ounces is 1 lb.

In the South Park episode Cow Days, Kyle realizes that a carnival game is rigged and calls shenanigans. I’m calling Coffee Shenanigans.

Zoka Coffee, please update your website and list the product size as per 12 ounces and not per bag.

Well it looks like they did. Below is what their website looked like shortly after they switched from 16 oz packaging to 12 oz packaging. The second image is what it looks like today. Coffee Hero is pleased. :)

zoka-aug2009

From August 15, 2009

zoka-12oz-fixed

From September 11, 2009

Coffee, Commodities and Pricing Shenanigans

After yesterday’s link from the Seattle Times, I got an interesting comment from Luke about coffee and commodities.

The majority, if not all, of these roasters do not purchase coffee from the commodity market. Many of the roasters (notably Stumptown and Intelligentsia) on this list pay the highest (far beyond commodity prices) on average for exceptionally great coffees. They pay a higher price for quality directly to farmers. Intelligentsia also directly imports their coffees so what you are drinking was actually on a tree within the past couple months.

After reviewing my post and the Seattle Times article, I realized that I wasn’t being clear and that is my fault. By commodities, I didn’t specifically mean coffee commodities, but the basket of commodities that influence all food pricing.

Oil is the primary driver of all commodity pricing. After the run-up of oil last summer, food prices spiked. Corn, wheat, soy, etc. Because we need to move the food across far distances, higher oil prices will put upward pricing pressure on all food, even things purchased Farm Direct.

Last summer oil was $140/bbl. Today it is $70/bbl. There are several financial news stories out this week that discuss how food prices are falling. It only makes sense. Food prices move with oil, with a slight delayed effect due to futures contracts. From the post Queen of Coupons Feeds Family for $10 a Week; Grocery Price Wars Intensify; Paperless Coupons by Mish:

Grocery price wars are heating up. Jewel, Dominicks, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Meijer, Walmart, Vons, and Ralphs are all in on the action.

He also quotes The LA Times:

Already having cut prices for much of 2009, Vons, Ralphs and Southern California’s other big chains are gearing up for a new round of reductions as they seek to win back shoppers and market share.

The region’s big grocers, already having trimmed prices for much of the year, are gearing up for a new round as they seek to win back budget-minded customers who have migrated to discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.

Vons will announce today that it is lowering the prices of about 5,000 items — about 15% of the store — at its 274 stores in the region.

For upper end coffee to still be increasing in price as food and every other asset class declines strikes me as difficult to comprehend. With high unemployment, labor costs are flat at best. Energy costs are lower than last year. Commercial real estate is flat if you are stuck in a long term lease, but lower in many cases. I’ve already covered oil. And although the US Dollar has depreciated against the YEN and EURO, it has more buying power in many coffee growing regions.

All this should translate to flat or even lower costs to the consumer. Yet, I’m seeing 10% increases in many cases since last year, yet I see no justification for it. Just where are the cost price increases? Perhaps I’m missing something. I do know 2 things.

  1. One Seattle roaster saw my May 2009 Espresso price list and then raised his whole bean price 50 cents a pound, because he was priced lower.
  2. Zoka switched from a 16oz pound to a 12oz “bag” which they stated was “a pound”.

There are two ways to put more cash in the register. You either increase your customer base through competition and marketing or you squeeze the customers you already have a little bit more. Sadly, I am seeing more evidence of the later.

UPDATE: Sep 10, 2009 – I have learned from Seattle Coffee Works that African coffee went up in price last year, which is often a significant component to espresso blends.

UPDATE 2: Sep 11, 2009 – Zoka has updated their website with accurate packaging size information.

Sources:

Seattle Whole Bean Espresso Prices – May 2009 – A post I now regret, as it signaled a few price increases.

I Call Coffee Shenanigans -The 12 Ounce Pound – How Zoka slipped in a price increase by redefining the ounces in a pound.

Queen of Coupons Feeds Family for $10 a Week; Grocery Price Wars Intensify; Paperless Coupons – Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis

Jet City Espresso – An Early Mentor

I lived in the Tampa Bay area from 1994-1998. It was during that time that I first became an espresso drinker. I give a lot of credit to Jet City Espresso, which resided in South Tampa. They are long gone, but I will always remember and be grateful for the many outstanding espresso drinks I had there. I learned a lot about coffee from Jet City.

The owner of the coffee house was originally from Seattle, which is why it was named Jet City Espresso. I even recall they used Seattles Best Coffee for their roaster. That was long before Starbucks acquired SBC.

Today I was digging through some old backup files looking for something completely unrelated when I stumbled upon this graphic. It was July 1996. I scanned in a newspaper ad they had published and then using Microsoft Paint (Windows 95!), I added some color.

UPDATE JUNE 2011: Jet City Espresso has returned to Tampa! 318 S. Edison Ave., Tampa, FL 33606 Jet City on Facebook.

Fighting Back Against Coffee Inflation

Unemployment is rising. People are saving more and spending less. Restaurants that were once packed are now empty. The one exception, at least here in Seattle, are coffee shops. Coffee seems to be the one thing consumers will not cut back on during tough times. In the past year several new coffee shops have opened and sadly I’ve noticed many places having raised their prices. I am not pleased.

Just a few months ago, I posted Seattle Whole Bean Espresso Prices – May 2009. It listed the whole bean price for many of the local roasters. My intent was alert fellow coffee drinkers to the best deals in town. It had the opposite effect. Many roasters saw they were priced lower then their competition and increased their prices. Not just on whole beans, but on cafe beverages as well.

Business owners have every right to raise their prices. And consumers have every right to stop buying from them. This post is your guide to reducing your coffee expenses.

Here are 4 strategies to cut your coffee bill.

  1. Reduce Your Coffee Intake – Have one less coffee drink per day or reduce the size of your beverage. For me this equates to a 20% reduction in my coffee bill. Tea, even quality tea, is a far more economical source of caffeine.
  2. Brew Your Own – Coffee equipment quickly pays for itself. My current espresso machine and grinder cost me a bit over $1000. I have had this setup for 2 years. I drink 4-5 espressos a day. The average espresso with tip at a cafe is $2.50. You do the math. That $1000 saved me quite a bit of money and it continues to save me money every day. If you are new to brewing your coffee, I highly recommend getting a french press and/or an Aeropress. It will pay for itself in a few weeks.
  3. Roast Your OwnINeedCoffee has a library of tutorials to get your started on roasting your own coffee. It is super easy. There are several places on the Internet that sell green (unroasted) coffee beans. You will cut your whole bean costs in half.
  4. Boycott the Expensive, Reward the Pocket Friendly – I’m afraid to name names here, because it may trigger a price increase, but I think you get the idea. If your cafe or roaster raises their price, put them in the time out corner. Take your coffee dollars elsewhere.

Photo Time out, in the corner by Ken Wilcox

When I was interviewed by the Seattle Times in May, I mentioned that I stopped homeroasting since moving to Seattle. Well, I’m back. I’ve roasted over half my own coffee in the past two months.

Maybe coffee inflation is just a Seattle thing? Have you noticed price increases in whole bean or cafe drinks this year? If so, where are you at and more importantly, what are doing about it?

I Call Coffee Shenanigans – The 12 Ounce Pound

Some coffee roasters are attempting a trick to pass on price increases. They are switching from 16-oz bags to 12-oz bags. This in itself is not a problem if you are honest with your customers. Zoka Coffee is the latest roaster to switch from 16-oz to 12-oz bags. However, I don’t think they are being honest with their customers. Let me lay out the evidence and then you can decide for yourself.

Up until recently, the Zoka Coffee website listed the per pound price for coffee. Here is a screen capture taken from archive.org dated February 2008. It lists the price of a pound of Espresso Paladino at $12.95. By May 2009, their per pound price for Espresso Paladino was $13.50.

zoka-feb2008

On Tuesday I went to their website and saw they listed Espresso Paladino at $11 per bag. What is a “bag”?

zoka-aug2009

Nowhere on the entire site did they list what a definition their bag size. So I sent an email to their support:

On the Espresso page, the site indicates the price is $11 “per bag”. http://secure.zokacoffee.com/coffee/cat/espresso/RCW-ESP.html Nowhere on the site does it refer to what the size of a bag is. What is the size of a bag? And don’t you consider hiding the bag size to be dishonest to your customers? MAS

They responded.

The size of the bag is 1 lb.

This did not sound right to me, so I drove over to Zoka to check things out in person. Plus I needed a pound (or at least 12 ounces) of espresso. Just as I suspected, they are now using 12-ounce bags for their coffee.

It is easy to see why Zoka switched to 12 ounce bags.

  • $13.50 for 16 ounces = $0.84 per ounce.
  • $11.00 for 12 ounces = $0.92 per ounce.
  • By switching to 12 ounce bags, they were able to slip in a 9.5% price increase.

I love the Espresso Paladino blend, but 12 ounces is not a pound. Hiding that fact or stating it is a full pound is less than honest. Other coffee roasters sell 12-ounce bags of coffee. To my knowledge, none of them sell it per bag or tell their customers that 12 ounces is 1 lb.

In the South Park episode Cow Days, Kyle realizes that a carnival game is rigged and calls shenanigans. I’m calling Coffee Shenanigans.

Zoka Coffee, please update your website and list the product size as per 12 ounces and not per bag.

UPDATE: Sep 11, 2009 – Zoka has updated their website with accurate packaging size information.

Sources:

Archive.org - View archived versions of ZokaCoffee.com.

Espresso Paladino Blend – Current version of the website.

Cow Days – South Park episode where Kyle called shenanigans.

ZC-000037 – Support reference number to my email inquiry.

Home Latte Art – The Feather

This post was moved from Coffee Hero.

I am not a barista and because almost never consume anything but straight espresso, my latte art skills are weak. Today I got some half and half and did my first attempt in months. I wanted a rosetta, I got a feather. Not awful. ;)

Stats:

  • Espresso: Home roasted blend of Brazil + Rwanda + some left over Vivace Dolce
  • Machine: Silvia
  • Milk: Trader Joes Half and Half

The Juan Valdez Cafe Bites it in Seattle

That didn’t take long. In the June 24th post Ominous Signs: Juan Valdez Cafe, Seattle, I gave the Juan Valdez Cafe a harsh review and added my own predicition.

The espresso was so tasteless, I only drank two sips (one while hot, the other after cooling) before handing it back to the barista. The Juan Valdez Cafe will not survive in Seattle. Stick to growing coffee. Leave espresso to the professionals.

This morning I gleefully read the their obituary. From Juan Valdez closes its last Seattle cafe by Melissa Allison:

Juan Valdez closed its last remaining cafe in Seattle on July 31.

Source:

Juan Valdez closes its last Seattle cafe – Coffee City post.

Coffee Shops Fight Back Against Laptop Abusers

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story listing the growing number of coffee shops that have decided to end the always on and always free access to WIFI broadband. The story is No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users and it is by Erica Alini. It is a good article, although I think I spotted an oversight. She writes:

So far, this appears to be largely a New York phenomenon, though San Francisco’s Coffee Bar does now put out signs when the shop is crowded asking laptop users to share tables and make space for other customers.

The trend away from free always on WIFI started four years ago with Seattle’s Victrola Coffee. From the June 2005 New York Times article Some Cafe Owners Pull the Plug on Lingering Wi-Fi Users by Glenn Fleishman:

Victrola started providing free wireless access two years ago after customers asked for it. As in hundreds of other cafes, the owners hoped it would encourage regulars and infrequent patrons to buy more food and drinks. But there was also a disadvantage, staff members said: the cafe filled with laptop users each weekend, often one to a table meant for four. Some would sit for six to eight hours purchasing a single drink, or nothing at all.

This led Victrola to pass a policy that still exists at their 15th Avenue location to this day. From the same article:

So last month the cafe discontinued the free service on Saturdays and Sundays – and so far it has proved to be a sound business move. Weekend revenue is up and more seats are filled.

Photo victrola coffee by yelahneb

There are growing number of coffee shops that have become laptop refugee camps. It is refreshing to see the trend is moving back to making coffee shops a more social atmosphere.

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – First Impressions

Ever heard of the saying “Taking one for the team“? The Urban Dictionary defines it as:

The act of someone willingly making a sacrifice for the benefit of others.

On Monday, I took one for the team. I went to the new 15th Avenue Coffee store in Capitol Hill. Yes, this is the new concept store by Starbucks that is getting all the press. My first instinct was to not go at all, but I felt my experience might be valuable to Coffee Hero readers. So far this story has been framed by the Starbucks haters, the Starbucks fans and those outlets that lap up every press release Starbucks gives to them. I hold no grudge or love for Starbucks. My allegiance is to the espresso.

The store is a nice blend of corporate indie, if you believe that is possible. I think it is what an independent coffee shop would look like if they had an unlimited budget to renovate. Right away I noticed a few pour over Melittas, a Clover Coffee machine and a La Marzocco espresso machine. There is no super-automatic here. Just like other Seattle coffee shops, the coffee is ground at the time of order. On the shelf, they even had a Chemex, but I learned that was just for decoration.

The test for me is always going to be espresso. No matter how cool the store looks, the espresso must taste good. I ordered a double espresso and was immediately asked if I’d like to try the single origin Ethiopian natural process or the regular espresso blend. Whoa! The last thing I ever expected at Starbucks (oops I mean 15th Ave) was a single origin option for espresso. Of course I had to try it, but I expressed reservations that an Ethiopian espresso might taste sour. The staff was extremely friendly and offered to make me the blend if I didn’t like the single origin.

Photo 15th ave coffee and tea by seadevi

The single origin was sour, just as I expected. It was lacking all body, so they made me the original blend. I suppose it time to make a confession. I don’t dislike the Starbucks Espresso Blend. To me it has always been a solid B-/C+ on the espresso report card. I am annoyed how they serve espresso in a tall cup with a plastic lid. Savages!

If the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea barista could work his wonders, then maybe, just maybe Starbucks was onto something here. Would this be the moment that Starbucks turned the corner? I took a sip. It was awful. It was worse than their super-automatics. The shot was over-extracted and stale. It was all over-roasted body with no flavor. It was so bad, I couldn’t finish it. I handed it back and left. Then I walked across the street and had a stellar ristretto from Victrola Coffee.

Maybe their Chemex and Clover were fine. Perhaps I’ll come back another time to try them. I thought the staff there was extremely friendly and helpful. Some indie coffee shops are known for their attitude, which can be intimidating to new customers. There was no attitude here.

Starbucks seems hell bent to fix the mistakes of the past and create a better coffee experience. Sadly, they aren’t fixing the one thing that needs the most help: the coffee itself. Cool coffee shops and friendly staffs are great, but without great coffee they are meaningless. This is Seattle, we expect a lot more.

Sources:

Urban Dictionary – Definition for “Take on for the Team”.

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – Official website.

Sneak peek of 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – From Coffee City blog by Melissa Allison.

Hyperventilating After Every Starbucks Press Release

Is anyone else tired of how the coffee blogosphere hyperventilates after every Starbucks press release? Coffee sites that claim to dislike Starbucks are all too eager to spread everything Howard Schultz says. Because I’ve run INeedCoffee since 1999, I get asked about different things Starbucks does frequently. My answer is I really don’t care.

To me Starbucks represents the past. They are important chapter in coffee history and I thank them for their contribution, but I’ve moved on. I know how how to roast my own coffee. I have a great espresso machine. I live in Seattle, which although home to Starbucks, has much better options. Cities like Portland, Vancouver and San Francisco are leading in what coffee people refer to as the Third Wave.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-Starbucks. If I’m stuck at an airport or some place where the espresso culture hasn’t evolved (like New Orleans), I will line up for an espresso. However, when I travel now, I usually bring quality tea with me. It is easier and more portable than bringing coffee.

My challenge to the other coffee blogs: The next time Starbucks releases a press statement – ignore it. Maybe even do a post about an independent coffee retailer that doesn’t have a marketing budget.

Coffee on TV: Futurama – Three Hundred Big Boys

When it comes to the TV show Futurama, I must confess to being late to the party. Even though the series ran from 1999-2003, I just started watching it this year. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch every episode back to back. One episode I want to highlight in a new series called Coffee on TV is Three Hundred Big Boys.

Three Hundred Big Boys (S05E11) aired on June 15, 2003 and had a strong coffee sub plot. In this episode, each citizen is given a $300 rebate check from the government. The main character Fry decides he will spend it on 100 cups of coffee (priced at $3 each in the year 3000).

At first the massive amounts of coffee makes Fry irritable and angry.

Right before Fry consumes his 100th cup of coffee a fire breaks out. Instead of rushing to safety, he buys his 100th cup of coffee and drinks it. At that point, a calmness overcomes him and he gains super human speed. In a moment of pure clarity, he was able to rescue every person from the burning ballroom in the blink of an eye. The power of coffee extends into the 31st century!

Futurama is the property of 20th Century Fox.

Futurama, Vol. 4
Futurama, Vol. 4

Sources:

Futurama – Wikipedia page.

Futurama Episode Guide – From GotFuturama.com.

Netflix – This episode is on Vol 4 Disc 4