Leaving Seattle For a Few Months

Last fall I mentioned that I would be forced to move in mid 2014 due to the evictions. Well that time has arrived. The builders will start work on my apartment building on Tuesday. This means it is time for me to leave. The problem with moving now is that rents in Seattle are sky high due to strong demand and lagging supply.

In the next six months, 7,000 new rental units will hit the market in the most desirable neighborhoods of Seattle. And they are still building like mad. Low interest rates are like crack to builders. I expect at minimum they will build enough to match current demand, but more likely, if history is any guidance, they will overbuild and the upward trend of rents will correct and reverse. I cover my thoughts in the post Ballard Rents – Don’t Believe the Hype!

Because of all this, I think this is a good time to get out of town for a while.

While I was researching my next move, I got an offer to stay with friends in Silicon Valley for free. They have an extra room for 6 months and they know and trust me. They both have stressful jobs with high time commitments. Having someone to help out with household tasks is a plus for them and a sweet deal for me. Since I am a digital nomad, it doesn’t matter where I reside as long as I have a broadband connection.

I’ve been in Seattle since August 2007. It will be nice to explore the San Francisco area. Besides the great food, the Bay Area has one of the fastest growing specialty coffee scenes in America now. While away I will maintain a Seattle address.

After 6 months my plan is to return to Seattle in full negotiator mode to score a lease at a fair price.

Ritual Coffee

Photo by Ishwar

Getting More or Getting Nothing

Very shortly after my neighbors and I learned the new owners were going to evict all the tenants, a group was formed to fight the new developers. I wasn’t sure what the group was going to do. We were renters. The new owners wanted to make capital improvements to their property. In order for those improvements to take place, we had to leave. They owned the property. Most of the tenants were no longer on a lease and instead were on month-to-month options. And they are under no obligation to continue leasing units forever. This is a risk a renter takes.

To learn more about what this group was thinking, I went to an early meeting with a large number of my neighbors. From the start it was clear that their approach to the displacement would be conflict. They would be a thorn in the side of the new owners and maybe just maybe we could save our apartments from the developer upgrades.

I disliked the tone of what I heard. The were anti-development and pro-rent control. I see the developers that are coming to Ballard to either build new construction or upgrade existing structures as responding to market pressure. That isn’t greed. That is business. Our apartment complex is over 60 years old. At some point it will need capital improvements made. I believe in property rights. They encourage investment. I’m grateful there are developers out there building places I can rent. Rent control is an awful economic idea that discourages investment because it weakens property rights.

The problem with the high rents in Ballard isn’t caused by the developers. It is due to high demand. Developers are part of the solution. We have a rental shortage. This action will absolutely inconvenience me, but such is the risk of renting. When I was a homeowner, I had different risks.

This is Negotiating?

From afar I’ve monitored how the group “negotiated” with the developer. They using techniques such as picketing, marching, insults and personal attacks. At one point they even posted wanted signs with photos of the developers around the neighborhood.

I wonder what the leaders thought this would accomplish? Did they think the developers were going to stop the project after they were insulted?

Negotiation 101

Being hostile and emotional even when you feel you are morally right is not an effective way to negotiate. From the outstanding book Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond:

Emotion is the enemy of effective negotiations and effective negotiators. People who are emotional stop listening. They often become unpredictable and rarely are able to focus on their goals. Because of that, they often hurt themselves and don’t meet their goals.

With negotiation you need to be aware of the needs of the other party. The developers had needs, but no one is asked that question. More on that later.

Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life
Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life by Stuart Diamond is a book EVERYONE should read. Life is a negotiation. Learn how to do it effectively.

Economics, The Law and Reality

Before I outline how I would have negotiated with the developers, I first want to empathize with those tenants that feel they were wronged. Ballard in recent years has become a very desirable neighborhood. A lot of people want to move here. Many of those people that want to move here are willing to pay more than they would have in recent years. This demand has created a shortage of rentals, which has pushed rental costs up.

New construction will almost always demand a rental premium. It is the high rents that pay for the development. An industry report that I mentioned in the post Ballard Rents – Don’t Believe the Hype! states that new construction typically gets a rent premium of 40%. The flipside to this equation is that as buildings age they lose that premium. And since buildings do not last forever, there must be a steady supply of construction to not only keep up with population demands, but the wear and tear of construction itself. Nobel prize winning economist Robert Shiller touched on this in his book Irrational Exuberance.

The timing sucks for the tenants of my apartment complex, including myself. We are being displaced at time when supply has not caught up with demand. It absolutely will cost more to stay in Ballard. The good news is I do think the builders will overshoot at some point and rents will come down, but not in time for us.

Some have stated or implied that the developers have broken the law. If that is the case, then go to court. Although legal mistakes were made early on by the developer, I don’t see evidence that their current plans are illegal. You may not like the laws, but one would assume that a successful corporation has a talented legal staff on hand to guide them through development projects. It probably isn’t too likely that a handful of tenants will know the law better.

The reality is the tenants are being displaced so the developers can make capital improvements to the property. They will raise rents, not because they are evil, but because that is what the market wants at this time. You can argue with economics and the law, but the development will continue.

Negotiation Reboot

How could both parties have benefited from this situation? I have an idea. When the plans for eviction were announced in October 2013, almost all the tenants were off lease. They were paying month to month. This means they could leave with 20 days notice. Once the eviction was announced, the owners couldn’t write any new leases, because a tenant under lease can’t be evicted to make way for the new construction.

The worst financial case for the developer would have been had every tenant given 20 days notice in early October. There is lies the point of potential negotiation. We can’t stop the development, but we could have tried to collectively negotiate a lower rent to stay until the construction comes for our building. And before someone says you can’t negotiate rent, that isn’t true. I have lowered my rent and the rent of friends several times.

I heard a few months ago that half the tenants left on the news and the current vacancy rate is 57%. My rent is $875 a month and there are 138 units. Let us assume for easy math that everyone is paying the same rent. I don’t have a building schedule in front of me, so I’ll use 8 months as the average time a tenant had to leave. Some are sooner, some are longer.

  • $875 * 8 months * 138 units = $966,000 (maximum revenue to developer)
  • $875 * 0 months * 138 units = $0 (minimum revenue to developer)
  • $875 * 8 months *  69 units = $483,000 (50% vacancy revenue, which ended up happening)

For even math, I’ll use a 50% vacancy rate. This means the developers lost $483,000 in potential rent when tenants bolted. That also assumes the development has no delays. If delays happen the number will be higher.

What if collectively we would have negotiated for a $200 a month rent reduction to stay? We could run a spreadsheet on the scenarios, but the net benefit to the average renter would have been $1,600 (8 months * $200). What about to the builder? Let us say 20% of the tenants took off leaving an occupancy rate of 80%.

  • $675 * 8 months * 138 units * 80% = $596,160

In that case the builder comes out $113,160 greater assuming the project has no delays. For every month the project is delayed, they would collect $74,520 in rent. These are all back of napkin calculations. I don’t have all the data about rents, building schedules and vacancy rates.

The $200 was the first number that came to mind. It is a starting point to a conversation.

Last Words

I believe there was a path that could have benefited both parties. But it wasn’t taken. I probably should have asserted myself early on, but my pro-development, anti-rent control opinions would not have been accepted. They were angry and they wanted their voice heard. They talked negotiation, but in the end they got nothing.

Once again, I highly recommend the book Getting More. I only wish I had read it sooner in life.

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!

Ballard Rents – Don’t Believe the Hype!

This is a follow up post to Trying to Cheer Up an Economic Idiot. In that post I outlined my opinion of what was happening in the red hot rental market of my Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. Unlike my neighbor, I don’t see the situation in Ballard as dire as he does. He believes that builders are driving up rents. I see the builders as responding to pent up demand and although new construction holds a rent premium, the increase in supply is the very thing we need to stabilize rent increases.

I want to thank Capitol Hill Seattle Blog for alerting me to the blog post If this is the calm before the storm… by apartment industry analysts Dupre + Scott. I want to highlight a few things on this report.

The report explains that new construction typically gets a rent premium of 40%. And in normal markets when building isn’t as high, this doesn’t have as much impact in the aggregate numbers. But development is high, so this makes it appear as if all rents are on a tear. They aren’t. Non-new construction rent is increasing at 5% per year. Still higher than inflation, but this is before the new supply of units hit the market.

Here is what they are saying about Ballard:

Ballard’s market vacancy is a mere 2.8%. But its gross vacancy rate is the highest in the region, at 17.3%. Now that’s downright scary, isn’t it? Yes and no. If Ballard was a city with 100,000 rental units and it had a 17% vacancy rate, then yes that would be scary. But there are fewer than 2,500 units in Ballard. That means there are 423 vacant units right now. And since developers increased the total supply of rental housing by more than 50% in Ballard over the past 18 months, it’s doing pretty well.

And they continue to build in Ballard. And they continue to build throughout Seattle. Their survey says that developers will be adding 7,000 new units in the next 6 months! Bring it on. Every tech worker with a fat paycheck signing a lease at one of these new apartment complexes is one less person bidding up existing rentals.

Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks

A side note about Seattle. Tech workers tend to be young and single. They not only want to live near work, but they ideally would like to live in a fun neighborhood full of other young and single people. Capitol Hill, Belltown, Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union all fit that bill. Ballard really doesn’t. We are a little too far from the young and hip. I love Ballard, but would I love it as much if I were 25 with a fat paycheck? Probably not.

In the post I did last week, I said this:

Supply has been lagging demand for a few years. I not only expect it to catch up, but during booms builders have this history of building too much. This is good for renters.

It appears this might be happening. Not only does the title of the report suggests the industry is concerned, but it says that although only 15% of new apartments are offering concessions, the amount is increasing. What do Dupre + Scott predict?

We expect the use and size of concessions will grow significantly over the next six to twelve months

Significantly? I like the sound of that. They also say:

It’s good to be optimistic, but investors will likely find it more challenging than normal to raise rents between April and September.

As a renter that makes me smile. I love negotiating lower rent. Finally, I want those that don’t share my optimism to look at the last chart on the report. You will see an inverse relationship between apartment vacancies and rent. When vacancies rise, rents drop.

Vacancy rates are at or near an all-time low in Seattle. Construction of new apartment units is at a 21 year high. Supply is about to meet demand head on. Grab some popcorn.

Trying to Cheer Up an Economic Idiot

Last October I posted about my upcoming eviction. I live in the highly desirable neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle. In the past few years rents have increased and developers have been responding to this demand by building more and putting capital investment into existing structures. The apartment complex I live in was sold last year to a developer that plans on turning them into luxury apartments. Not only will the rents go up, but the construction is such that the tenants need to leave.

I get this and I’m not complaining. It is business. The fact is me and my neighbors have been paying below market rent for a few years now. When we move, we will be entering a market with higher rents.

Ballard

My neighborhood of Ballard.

I recently ran into a neighbor who was distraught about having to move. Even though we likely won’t have to leave until June or July, the neighbor has begun looking for new places. He asked if I had. I haven’t and I don’t plan to until the end date gets closer. He seemed puzzled, so I shared my 3 reasons why I’m holding on to the end.

  1. We are paying below market rent. My guess is we are underpaying by $200-$300 a month should we stay in Ballard. Every month we stay is a month we don’t have to fork over that money.
  2. There could be delays with the developer. It could take an extra month or several. I also reminded him that when the recession started in 2008 developers shelved construction plans for more than a year. Although the Seattle economy is super bullish now, it could always reverse. There are a number of things that could delay the construction. Again, every month we don’t leave is money in our pocket.
  3. As anyone can see that lives in Seattle, there is massive amounts of rental construction underway. This is especially true in Ballard. Lots of these buildings will completed this summer. If you combine the high demand from people moving into Seattle with very low interest rates, you get a commercial building boom. Although I don’t expect rents to drop immediately, I do think that increasing the supply of units available will relieve the upward pressure of rents. Basic supply and demand. Supply has been lagging demand for a few years. I not only expect it to catch up, but during booms builders have this history of building too much. This is good for renters.

My neighbor understood my first two points, but went ballistic on the third. He started yelling at me a bunch of economic nonsense about how increased supply always leads to increased costs. He also ranted other economic conspiracy nonsense. Too much for a single post.

Like so many people in Seattle, he lacks basic economic understanding. Increasing the supply of apartments with higher rents does not increase the rents everywhere. Those new apartment buildings are being constructed to deal with the current pent up demand. Those people are still moving to Seattle whether or not those apartments get built. And if they got a job offer from a tech company they can likely pay higher rent than most. That is exactly what has been going on in the past few years. Incoming high paid tech workers are bidding up the rental market.

As a renter, I see additional construction of rental units as a good thing. If the builders build too much, which is a possibility, we will start see rents come into line. If they don’t, then I’ll likely leave Ballard and pay less in rent.

I attempted to cheer up my neighbor and he was rude and angry towards me. I excused myself from the conversation telling him I couldn’t continue as I understood economics. There are reasons for my neighbor to be pessimistic. They are known. All I was attempting to do was provide some much needed balance to this discussion, but he wasn’t receptive. Lesson learned.

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

4th and Madison Rooftop Garden – Seattle

My last post was about an amazing 17th floor view from the Russell Investments building in the heart of Seattle. This view isn’t as high up, but is still an impressive find. During weekday business hours, go to the 4th & Madison building. You’ll actually enter the building from 3rd Avenue. When you go in veer to the right, walk down that hall and take the elevator to the 7th floor. When you exit the elevator open the door on your right. This rooftop garden wraps around the building on 3 sides. According to the Wikipedia it is considered a privately owned public space.

rooftop garden

looking North

North side of building facing West

Photo Gallery for 4th & Madison Rooftop Garden

3rd Ave between Madison Street and Marion Street on the East side of the street.

If you live in Seattle and have another free and legal rooftop view suggestion, leave a comment.

The View Almost No One in Seattle Knows About

Ever since I arrived in Seattle in 2007, I have been an exploring machine. I’ve seen more of this city than many people that have been here since birth. But until one evening this summer I had no idea about this killer view overlooking downtown Seattle. Back in 2006 when Washington Mutual was busy printing money writing bad mortgages they built a 43 story building in downtown Seattle. On the west side of the building at the 17th floor they constructed a 20,000 square foot garden for their employees.

Times were good for WaMu. Who could have seen they were doomed for failure? Actually, me. I predicted WaMu would fail on this blog in June 2008. In September they were placed in receivership with the FDIC. After their failure, their brand new Seattle building was purchased by Russell Investments.

If you are standing in the Pike Market area look up to the southeast. You will see a 43 story building with a 17 story back facing west. This is where the view is at. According to the Wikipedia this garden is private. According to a friend of mine that works in the building, it is public, but they just don’t tell anyone. I’ve been up there four times now. Each time I’ve walked right past security and went to the left elevators and got out on the 17th floor. Once you step off the elevators you will see a set of doors leading out onto the rooftop garden.

The building is closed on weekends and I believe access to the rooftop is restricted after 6:30 PM. Please leave a comment if you know the exact hours.

Anyway, here are some photos I took over two dates. The reason I say very few people know about this is because for months I’ve been asking people if they were aware and nobody knows about it. This is a well kept secret. The Space Needle will cost you $19, unless you can time $1 day. This costs nothing.

WaMu garden

17th floor rooftop view

looking South - see Rainer?

Russell Investments

1301 2nd Ave, Seattle WA 98101

More Photos by Me

And a photo from the Wikipedia showing the view from the 43rd story looking down to the 17th story garden

UPDATE: Another Seattle rooftop garden at Madison & 4th.

Evicted

I’ve mentioned this offline to a few people, but I haven’t discussed it here. About three weeks ago I got an official notice from my apartment complex that I and every other tenant was going to be evicted. This summer our complex was sold and the new owners began doing construction on the outside of the building.

We expected that the new owners might increase the rent, but they have renovation plans that can’t be done with the tenant in place. Their plans are to turn our apartments into luxury apartments and if rumors are accurate increase the monthly rent by $500 or more.

lochhaven-construction

I’ve been living in this complex for 3 years. One lady has been here since 1968. There are many that have been here for a decade or more. This was one of the last remaining affordable places to live in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.

The economy is booming in Seattle and people are moving here from all over the world. The result is there are rental shortages in the most desirable neighborhoods. Currently there are many new apartment buildings under construction, but those units are not available yet, so the housing shortage is driving up rents.

The earliest I believe I could be evicted is January. The more likely scenario is March and perhaps as late as June. Some tenants are organizing to fight the developer. They might be successful, but I can’t assume they will do much more than delay the project and therefore evictions.

I’m not upset about the eviction. I don’t mind moving. I own very little and could probably be packed in a few hours. For me the greater question is where to move next? I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in Ballard. A new neighborhood is a new adventure. Where should I go?

Where Seattle Pedestrians are Getting Hit

In June, the Seattle PI put out the article “Where Seattle Walkers Get Hit”. It pulled data across 3 years to show which were the most dangerous intersections. As someone that has been hit by a car in Seattle, this article was of interest to me. However, the data was in a horrible format. Instead of having a single map, our local newspaper spread the dataset across 34 pages to drive up pageviews.

It’s not like people are getting killed..oh yeah they are.

Last week, I met some developers working for the Code For Seattle project. One of the members told me about a mapping solution call MapBox. Tonight, I rebuilt the Seattle PI article as a single map, which shows the most dangerous intersections in red, followed by orange and yellow.

Much better.

Full screen version

19 Mile Urban Hike – Shoes Matter

Last year I bought a pair of minimal shoes that I loved immediately. The brand was Onitsuka Tiger. Super thin sole. The sole was actually too thin to do my uphill sprints with, but that didn’t matter, because they were perfect for walking, which is what I really care about.

Well, it turns out they weren’t perfect. The shoes aren’t that sturdy. Holes near the heal started appearing within a few months. They were falling apart fast. I decided I’d get a better made shoe and reserve the Tiger for the gym, when I do leg presses.

After seeking recommendations from my local Paleo group, I purchased a pair of Merrell Minimal shoes. Super light and super comfortable. And they have an orange sole, which I love. However, I noticed that when I’d walk for more than an hour or two, I felt a little achy. It took me several months to figure out that my stride had lengthened. One of the benefits I first experienced when I embraced minimal shoes was a shorter stride.

From my 2009 post Learning How to Walk Again:

Going from running shoes to super thin shoes means I now walk slower and cover less distance. This feels more natural. I think the most I have urban hiked in my Diesel shoes has been 10 miles. Unlike past urban hikes, I felt no lower back pain.

Monday I decided to shelf the Merrell shoes and pull the Tiger out of walking retirement. My stride shortened and I felt great enough to cover 19.1 miles. My original plan was just to hike 10 miles. The Merrell shoes are better built, but I feel better after walking with the Tiger.

Does there exist a super thin shoe that is well made? Not Vibram 5 Fingers, but a real shoe.

urban-hike-19

My 19.1 mile Urban Hike through Seattle. 

Hiking Not Blogging

The weather in Seattle suddenly got really nice. This means I stepped out of hibernation and did some urban hiking. When it comes to hiking in Seattle, I take a unique approach. While everyone else spends an hour or three driving east to some trail, I stay in the city. The idea of driving two to three hours just to hike one hour seems wasteful to me. Plus, the cops have so many speed traps on the hiking corridor that the idea of a stress-free afternoon in nature doesn’t really exist.

I’d rather hike in the city. Less driving, more hiking. Plus I can always stop for espresso along the way. Can’t do that in the mountains. :)

During the winter months I’d walk on average maybe 2 miles a day. Yesterday I did an 8 miler and today a 7 miler with little effort and no soreness. I’ll probably do a 10 miler later this week.

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5901042

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5902390

How can I ramp up the distance that fast with no aches and pains? High Intensity Training.

Once or twice a week I go to the gym and do a very slow set of leg presses. Sometimes I just load up the weight and perform a static hold. And if I don’t feel like going to the gym, I’ll do the Wall Sit exercise described in the Hillfit book. Unlike the days when I did barbell squats and dead lifts, I’m never injured. My joints and back feel great.

When I lived in San Diego I hiked all the time, yet now hiking is easier, because my legs are much stronger. Too many people think they need fancy shoes or poles or whatever they see being sold at REI. Nope. Double your leg strength and every hike gets twice as easy.

Speaking of Hillfit, version 2.0 has just been released. I have a copy and although I haven’t read it yet, it looks even more impressive than version 1.0. Version 2.0 has 70 more pages of content. If you are looking for an introduction to High Intensity Training, I highly recommend Hillfit. You can get super strong without risking injury and do it all from home – no gym equipment needed.

Hill Fit

Click here to visit Hillfit

Disclosure: I received a copy of Hillfit in exchange for feedback on a draft version. I’m also in an affiliate relationship with E-junkie.

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

Fall Afternoon in Downtown Seattle

Maybe it has something to do with the angle of the Earth to the Sun during the winter, but I’ve always loved the look of Seattle on clear days from November to February. Here are some photos I took walking North on 4th Ave in Downtown Seattle.

Full Gallery

Kurt Cobain Bench

It has been a long time since I did a Seattle specific post. Earlier this summer on one of my urban hikes, I made my first stop to the Kurt Cobain bench. How this landmark escaped me until recently is a mystery. I must have walked past this little park twenty times. Vieretta Park is right next to the house that Kurt was living in when he killed himself. This is very beautiful neighborhood in the Denny-Blaine section of Seattle, which is south of Madison along Lake Washington.

Nirvana fans have converted the park bench into a makeshift memorial. I took some photos.

Photo Gallery for Kurt Cobain Bench

Urban Hike Seattle – Snowstorm 2012 Edition

A good snowstorm doesn’t happen in Seattle every year, so I took advantage of the day and went for an urban hike. Three years ago, I did a 16 mile hike through the snow. Today I did 20 miles. My hike took me through Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Wallingford, University, Montlake, Madison Valley, Capitol Hill, Downtown, Belltown, Queen Anne and Fremont. I saw lots of kids and many adults having fun in the snow. It was another great day in Seattle.

urban hike seattle snow 2012

Today’s urban hike was 19.978 miles.

[Read more...]

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.

Super Mario and Star Wars in Post-It Notes (SEATTLE)

On Pike Street between 4th and 5th Avenue, if you look up to the 6th floor of the Filter building you will see a Super Mario display made entirely of Post-It notes. I heard about this in the news Friday and went down today to see for myself.

Here are some photos I took.

super mario seattle

Mario in Post-it Notes

Another building nearby paid tribute to Star Wars with Post-It Notes.

Star Wars Post-It Notes

4 Star Wars characters in Post-It Notes

Full Gallery with Original Photos – Feel free to use any picture you like for any reason. Just attribute by linking to this post.

After the Art Walk

Yesterday I attended the Seattle Art Walk, which is always on the first Thursday of the month. One of the pieces of art was this cool night photograph of the Elephant Car Wash. Seattle has some of the most amazing late evening skies. Put some pink neon in front of it and it really pops.

Anyway, last night on my drive home I noticed the skies had that same awesome look. There are about a dozen ways I could have driven home, but unconsciously I drove right past the Elephant Car Wash. Then the light turned red and I turned to look at the sign. It was the same as the photo from the Art Walk. So I pulled out my little point and shoot camera and took 2 photos. Not as good as the gallery photo, but not bad either.

pink elephant car wash

pink elephant car wash seattle

Later I stopped by Betty Bowen View Point and took this photo. My camera was no match for the view.

betty bowen evening

It is Summer Seattle! Put Your Coats Away!

Today was another wonderful day in Seattle. I took some photos as I urban hiked from Upper Queen Anne to Downtown.

Upper Queen Anne looking west to Magnolia

Sculpture Park. Looks a lot different when the sun isn’t out.

Train tracks going underneath Sculpture Park

Seattle Waterfront

Behind Pike Place Market

I think summer is finally here, although this couple might disagree. It was 70 degrees and sunny and they walked through Queen Anne wearing winter coats and wool caps. There were others too. You know how I feel about that.

Uggh!

#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.

Parking in Seattle

Imagine you are driving through Seattle one morning. The skies are gray and there is a light rain. Up ahead you think you see a parking spot. There is a car coming up behind you.

You glance over to see if it is OK to park there. This is the sign you see. :x

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.

An Overview of My 4 Winters in Seattle

After living in the perfect weather of San Diego for seven years, I moved up to Seattle in 2007. This is an overview of my four winters in Seattle.

2007-2008: Shock

From the December 1, 2007 post This Wasn’t in the Brochure:

Its snowing in Bellevue. I need to find a cheap flight to Central America. Now.

2008-2009: Fun

This was the Seattle Snowpocalypse year. I started cold weather training and I really enjoyed this winter.

2009-2010: What Winter?

I wisely left Seattle for a month and traveled to Southeast Asia. I returned tanned and spring arrived early.

2010-2011: Make it Stop!

This winter is too wet, too cold and too miserable. Snow is fun, cold rain sucks. I should have traveled. Thinking of San Diego.

Pike Market by me

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.

Seattle Pig – Get Well Soon

Yesterday morning a taxi ran into Rachel the bronze pig at Pike Market. From MSNBC’s Taxi crashes into Pike Place Market pig statue (link now gone):

A taxi driver hit the gas when he was rear-ended nearby early Saturday and plowed into Rachel the Pig, a 550-pound, bronze piggy bank that has stood outside the market’s famous fish-throwing stand since 1986.

The crash knocked the pig off her concrete base, which will have to be repaired. Market officials say it will probably take a few days. The statue itself was also scratched up a bit.

Today I stopped by and saw this “get well soon” roadside. Someone even set down flowers. I love this city.

Here is photo of me with Rachel the Pig from 2008.

Happier Times …for the pig ;)

Save Money on Seattle Coffee With the Chinook Book

The 2011 Seattle/Puget Sound Chinook books are now out and they have some coupons in them that coffee fans should know about. For those that don’t know, the Chinook Book is a coupon book sold at PCC and the Town and Country Markets. It costs $20 and can pay for itself pretty quickly.

The coffee coupons in the 2011 Chinook Book are:

  • Aster Coffee
  • Caffe Ladro
  • Cafe Lulu
  • Caffe Fiore
  • Caffe Vita
  • Chocolati
  • Fremont Coffee Company
  • Fuel Coffee
  • Neptune Coffee
  • Urban Coffee Lounge
  • Victrola Coffee Roasters

The coupons are 2-for-1 or 50% offerings. So even if you get a $2 drink, you’ll pay for the book in espresso savings alone.

Clover Coffee at Aster by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Keeping with the coffee theme, the Chinook book also has ice cream offers from places that make coffee ice cream using locally roasted coffee.

  • Bluebird
  • Full Tilt
  • Molly Moons
  • Peaks

My excellent tip to you is to encourage your non-coffee drinking friends to buy a Chinook book and then trade coupons. Take those coffee coupons off their hands in exchange for something they want that you wont use.

Sources:

Seattle Chinook Book – Official site.

PCC – Location page.

Town & Country Markets – Location page

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.

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 (2010)

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.

Freeway Park in Seattle

There is a hidden park that almost nobody in Seattle knows about. It is called Freeway Park. It is downtown and above the I-5 freeway. I took this photo of cars driving north on the I-5 going underneath the park. The park has free WI-FI too. Have you been to Freeway Park?

Talk Me Down, Safe and Sound

If you live in Seattle or plan on coming here for vacation, I highly recommend taking the Seattle Underground Tour. It is 90 minutes long and full of fun history on how the city got started. Most of my photos did not turn out, so I found some better ones from Flickr. The tour is in the Pioneer Square district.

Photo Seattle Underground Tour VII by Crashworks

Photo Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour by cliff1066

For more photos check out the Seattle Underground gallery.

Post title is from the song 6 Underground by the Sneaker Pimps.

Coffee Hero is Back!

This morning I relaunched the Coffee Hero website. I believe that I solved the branding problems that I discussed in the post The Lessons Learned From One Year of Coffee Hero. Coffee Hero needed a clear mission that was distinct from INeedCoffee. Taking time off made me realize that the distinction was Seattle.

Coffee Hero is a guide to celebrate the amazing coffee culture found in Seattle, Washington.

The new About Coffee Hero page makes it clear who I am and what the site is about.

I am 100% independent. I do not work for any coffee business and never have. Since 1999 I have been publishing the coffee website INeedCoffee. That site is for fans of coffee to celebrate their favorite beverage. Coffee Hero puts a local spin on the quest for great coffee. The Seattle coffee scene is large enough to justify its own website.

The new tag-line is Seattle’s Independent Coffee Blog. It is all about Seattle now. All other coffee content will go to INeedCoffee. There are other Seattle coffee websites being run by businesses and industry employees. Coffee Hero will fill the role of the uber coffee fan that doesn’t have the patience to camp out on Twitter all day.

If you live in Seattle and enjoy the coffee scene, check out Coffee Hero!

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. ;)

The Pig Problem in Seattle?

I passed by this sign today here in our nation’s espresso capital of Seattle. I have yet to see anyone walking around with a pet pig, yet apparently it is important enough to create a city ordinance and make these signs.

Photo No Pot Bellied Pigs in Seattle by Flickr user INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Sources:
Seattle Municipal Code 9.25.084

Legacy Comment:

TigerAl – Apparently, it was an issue in the early 80s.
I have to say that the sections of the code about cats/dogs in estrus and miniature goats were particularly entertaining.

Roger Lowenstein Coming to Seattle

My favorite financial writer Roger Lowenstein is coming to Seattle. On Monday April 12th, he will be giving a 90 minute lecture at Town Hall Seattle. Since a few of my readers live in Seattle and have an interest in finance, I thought I’d tell you about this event. I’ve already bought my ticket.

Details on the Anatomy of the Financial Collapse talk:

America’s biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression ended Wall Street as we knew it, says journalist Roger Lowenstein and we’re all to blame. Lowenstein, author of The End of Wall Street, indicts America for succumbing to the siren song of easy debt and speculative mortgages, and explains how rating agencies helped gift-wrap faulty loans that proved the ruin of investors and banks.

I’ve read three of Roger’s books and loved them all.

Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing
Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis
While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis

My reviews:

Origins of the Crash

When Genius Failed

While America Aged

Silver Surfer Turns 100,000

My VW Golf TDI (the Silver Surfer) celebrated its 100,000 mile birthday last night while driving through Lower Queen Anne. Here is a breakdown of the first 100,000 miles.

State
Days
Miles
Miles Per Day
California215880,05637.1
Washington94219,94421.2

No wonder I like Seattle. I’m driving almost half as much as I did in San Diego.

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.

Hungry Monkey

This book set a record for the longest I have ever had to wait for an on hold item at the Seattle Library. Was the 4.5 month wait worth it?

Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater
Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton is about a dad that is able to work from home and cook for his daughter Iris. This book covers their adventures in cooking and shopping for food, from her birth to about 4 years old. I liked this book a lot. It takes place in Seattle and the writing had melaughingout loud several times.

Throughout the book there are recipes that areappendedto the stories. I will try a few, but most are a little too carbohydrate centric for me. Then again, I am a special case. Most children would be far better off eating the recipes in this book. The author embraces lard, whole fat dairy, farmers markets and spicy Asian cooking. Excellent. In the Stew section, the author defends fat with this funny and true line.

Still, admit that you cook with lard and people will react like you keep a loaded gun in your kid’s room.

Having been a long time critic of what parents feed their kids, but having no experience feeding a child, this book was good for me. It taught me there is a path that exposes kids to a wide variety of food, but that there is also compromise. This is an excellent book for parents, people that like humorous writing, cooking fans and the people of Seattle.

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.

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.

A Fresh Coat of Glitter

At the end of August I let my Glitter Gym membership expire. They didn’t have any fall specials, so I decided to play Rambo in park instead. I posted about my new gym in the Coffee Hero post Freeing Up More Money for Coffee.

I sort of had a plan on how I was going to do resistance training on the cheap. Seattles Green Lake Park has two sets of pull-up rings. Add in some push-ups and your cooking. Today I tested out my new gym and it was successful.

Photo The New Gym by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

Then I got sick and took a week off. During my home rest period I found a 2 week trial pass to a downtown gym. I’ve already gone twice and plan to visit two more times before my pass expires. This place is much larger than my previous Glitter Gym. Tons of cool equipment. Nobody racking weights. Dumbbells thrown on the floor everywhere. Small plates racked over large weights. Lots of slicky boys wearing dress pants selling downtown workers on memberships they won’t use. Pure Glitter!

Will I be signing up? Not likely. This gym is a 6 mile round-trip walk from my home. I will be on the look out for other trial gym memberships in the Seattle area. More Glitter Gyms means more Tales From the Glitter Gym. :)

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.

A Chilly 84 Degrees?

I admit that when it comes to cold weather, I am a nut. I went last winter without wearing a coat for all but the 2 week snowstorm. Everyday I take a 2-3 minute ice cold rinse at the end of my shower. When it comes to cold weather, I’m special. ;)

With that disclaimer out the way, I have to tell you about a trend I’ve noticed during my urban hikes. People are too quick to reach for a jacket when the weather isn’t even the slightest bit cold. On August 18th it was 84 degrees in downtown Seattle. People were wearing layers and coats. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, so I took a few photos.

The photo below was the best. I smudged his face to protect his privacy.

84-degrees

This guy is wearing a coat, which is covering a sweater, which is covering a collared shirt, which is likely covering an under shirt. Again, it was 84 degrees in downtown Seattle. There was no breeze. He wasn’t alone. Every block I walked there was someone else wearing coats and layers. Some were tourists, some were clearly office workers. Why are people so cold these days?

Urban Hike – 22.6 Mile Edition

I only intended to do a 5 mile hike today, but decided to take a few different turns and I ended up exploring a new section of Seattle. I didn’t know there was a beach with a diving board at Madison Park. This ended up being my longest hike to date by a hair. In February, I hiked 22.5769 miles. Today, I logged 22.5988 miles. I’m rounding that puppy up to 22.6!

This hike was much slower as I am no longer wearing shoes with cushioned heels. Unlike the hike in February, I experienced no back pain. However, my feet are tired. That is a fair trade off in my opinion.

urban-hike-22-p2

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:

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – Official website.

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

14 Foot Tall Coffee Drinking Man Looks Down on Pike Market

Last week, I went down to Pike Market to see the new 14 foot Coffee Drinking Man sign raised over the new Seattle Coffee Works location. I didn’t hang around long enough to see it installed, so I went down today to check it out.

Coffee Drinking Man on July 14th.

Coffee Drinking Man today.

seattle-coffee-works-guy

Before the move, the Coffee Drinking Man was on the sidewalk.

Sources:

Seattle Coffee Works – Downtown Seattle – Coffee Hero post introducing Seattle Coffee Works.

Seattle Coffee Works – Independent coffee shop and roaster at 107 Pike Street.

2009 Seafair Pirate Invasion Photos

Last Saturday I was there when the pirates stormed the beach in West Seattle and took the key to the city from King Neptune.

Photo Gallery for 2009 Seafair Pirate Invasion

At this point in the invasion, I noticed a friend of mine in a better position with a much better camera had a press pass taking photos. I put my camera away, knowing I’d find his photos on Flickr. Here is a direct link to his (much better)Seafair Set.

The Espresso Hike #1 – Queen Anne

As the organizer for the Coffee Club of Seattle, one of my roles is locating and trying new coffee places in the Seattle area. If the place serves excellent espresso, has enough space and isn’t too crowded, I will set up an event for our group. The first step is finding new places. One strategy that I have used many times is the espresso hike.

The espresso hike is when I go on random city hikes through Seattle looking for new coffee places. I change the neighborhoods and I always try to walk down different streets. A typical espresso hike is about 6 miles, but I’ve gone as far as 22.5 miles.

When I mentioned my espresso hikes to some members of the group they seemed interested in joining me. So last Friday I mapped out a 4.5 mile route in my neighborhood of Queen Anne and invited them along. We started with 11 hikers and by the time it was over we had 14 in our group.

espresso-hike-1

Espresso Hike #1 covered 4 locations. Not everyone had a drink at every location. The idea was to send in a scout party to try it. If the coast was clear, others would order. That was the idea. In the end, people ordered from the places that most appealed to them. Here was our espresso itinerary.

  1. El Diablo Coffee Company – This may be the most unique coffee place in Seattle. Espresso is done in a Cuban style. Having lived in Tampa for 4 years and visited Miami a few times, I will say this is better than anything you will find in Florida. The quality of the beans is superior, and unlike the Tampa/Miami Cuban Coffee, it isn’t roasted to death. The drinks are served in ceramic, not those little Styrofoam thimbles. As well as they do the Cuban style, our group had a mixed review with a slight bias to the positive. Some liked the sweeter drinks, some didn’t.
  2. Muse Coffee – Our group has been to Muse many times. It is the best place in Queen Anne. I added this place to the hike at the last minute. It would be a crime to pass through West Queen Anne with a posse of espresso drinkers and not visit Muse.
  3. Q Cafe and Community Center – This gem is located in Interbay on the exit that separates Queen Anne and Magnolia. They are only open on weekdays and they serve Stumptown Coffee. We enjoyed our drinks and loved the spacious venue.
  4. Bustle Seattle – The last stop was a new place that served a unique selection of food and an Italian espresso called Antipassi. The group liked the venue and the food, but not the espresso. It really is hard to beat locally roasted coffee from Seattle with imported Italian. The staff was great. I would love to see them use a local roaster that captures the Northern Italy style. Perhaps Espresso Vivace?

This was our view as we headed to Muse Coffee.

Our group loved the caffeinated journey through Queen Anne and nobody collapsed hiking up the hill, so I will most likely plan future espresso hikes. 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 – The event page along with photos and reviews.

GMAP Route – A rough map of our espresso hike.

El Diablo Coffee Company – 1811 Queen Anne Ave N

Muse Coffee Company – 1907 10th Ave W

Q Cafe – 3223 15th Ave. W

Bustle – 535 W McGraw St

Ominous Signs: Juan Valdez Cafe, Seattle

Sometimes you just know with a coffee place. All my internal alarms were telling me that the Juan Valdez Cafe would not live up to my standards. Since people have asked me for my opinion on this place more than once, I figured I’d give it a try.

The Juan Valdez Cafe states they use 100% Colombian Coffee. Like I care. Almost every coffee-growing region is capable of growing quality coffee. The caliber of the drink I was soon to consume was foreshadowed by the silly name and the sidewalk sign. Notice in the photos below how if looks like they corrected the misspelling of Colombia. Maybe I’m imagining things. You be the judge.

Enough about the sign. How was the drink? My standard test is always the espresso. I feared the barista was going to over-pour the shot, so I asked that he pull the shot short. It didn’t matter.

Over-poured and bitter. It may appear that I had the flash on my camera for this shot. I assure you I didn’t. From the photo chart Crema! A Sign of Good Espresso, or a Symptom of Bad Espresso by SweetMarias, I am guessing that this espresso was under-extracted. I asked the barista if anything other than Colombian was in the espresso blend. Nope.

So this espresso had 3 things working against it:

  1. Over-poured.
  2. Under-extracted.
  3. 100% Colombian may be great for drip coffee, but it doesn’t deliver as a single-origin espresso. It lacked the depth and flavor one expects from espresso.

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.

UPDATE (Aug 7, 2009): The Juan Valdez Cafe Bites it in Seattle

Sources:

Crema! A Sign of Good Espresso, or a Symptom of Bad Espresso – Photo chart from Sweetmarias.com.

Juan Valdez Cafe – From Wikipedia.

Juan Valdez Cafe – Official site in Spanish.

Is Starbucks Fooling Seattle Tourists?

Besides seeing the Space Needle, one of the stops most tourists make when visiting Seattle is visiting Pike Place Market. Every coffee drinker knows this where the first Starbucks opened back in 1971. I visit the Pike Place Market frequently and I began noticing an issue in recent months.

In July of 2008, Starbucks announced they would close 600 stores. Despite the economic downturn, they decided to open a new store at the entrance to Pike Place Market. I wondered why Starbucks would open a location so close to the original, especially considering the prior tenant was Seattle’s Best Coffee and they failed. Now I think I understand why, but first let’s look at some photos of the original Starbucks.

This is the original Starbucks. It is located at 1912 Pike Place. NOTE: According to Seattle historian Daniel Jack Chasan, the current “original location” was moved a block south in 1977, which would make the 1912 Pike Place location the 6th Starbucks.

Notice the original Starbucks still uses the original logo in their sign.

Take a look at the sign on the new Starbucks location. Looks a little retro to me. It looked old school or retro to the Seattle Times as well. From the post Starbucks opens rustic-looking coffeehouse near Pike Place Market, doesn’t post prices for most drinks:

Dark wood. Cracked concrete floor. Coffee bean bags as wall coverings. It is cool, like a real community gathering place — caffeinating hole? — and not some yuppie’s living room.

This is the NEW Starbucks at the corner of 1st Ave and Pike St.

What do I see when I pass the NEW Starbucks location? The same behavior I see in front of the original Starbucks. Tourists are having their photos taken in front of the NEW Starbucks at Pike Market with the retro sign. They think it is the original location! They travel to Seattle, make their way to Pike Place Market and see a Starbucks with a funny sign and assume it is the original. Only later in the day will they realize the original is not on Pike Street, it is on Pike Place. Starbucks gets to ring the register twice. Pretty sneaky.

During my first visit to Seattle in May 2007, I made the pilgrimage. I went to the original Starbucks and ordered an espresso. Unlike the vast majority of stores, this location does not use a super-automatic machine. It grinds every drink to order, just like the old days. I had secretly hoped the espresso I would order would take me back to 1995, when I had my first Starbucks espresso. Unfortunately, the quality of espresso in the original Starbucks location today is no better than a typical airport kiosk. My best Starbucks espresso memories are now more a decade old.

Here is a little tip from a local. When you visit Seattle, poke your head in the original location, take a photo and then seek out better coffee. The Starbucks in Seattle are no better or more special than the ones in your home town. Don’t waste your daily caffeine allotment drinking what you can have back home.

Sources:

The real first Starbucks – Article by Seattle historian Daniel Jack Chasan detailing the very early days of Starbucks at Pike Place Market.

Coffee City – Seattle Time blog post which accurately refers to the new location as “rustic”.

Space Needle – Official site.

Slow (Brewed) Coffee at Seattle Coffee Works

During my Vancouver trip, I made a visit to the 49th Parallel Cafe. In addition to the normally served espresso drinks and a vat of brewed coffee, they also had slower brewed coffee options. The french press, vac-pot and a cool looking cold brewed coffee system. These are not the drinks you order as you are rushing to work. These coffee drinks are for later in the day. I believe 49th Parallel had a sign stating they started serving the slow brewed coffee options at 10 AM. Look at the setup in the photo below.

The 49th Parallel Cafe in Vancouver, BC.

After leaving 49th, I headed back to Seattle wishing we had a similar option. My wish was granted a week later when Seattle Coffee Works moved to their new location next door and started a slow brewed coffee bar. They too now offer the french press, vac-pot coffee and a cold brew coffee system.

Seattle Coffee Works vac-pot at the Slow Brewed Coffee Bar.

Cold brewed coffee system at Seattle Coffee Works (107 Pike St)

The coffee scene continues to improve in Seattle.

Sources:

Seattle Coffee Works – Official site.

Coffee City – Seattle Times post on the new Seattle Coffee Works.

Vancouver Espresso Vacation – INeedCoffee article on my espresso vacation in Vancouver, BC.

The First Fuel Station

I was walking through Seattle on Saturday when I looked down to my right. In the overgrown weeds I saw a plaque. The plaque stated that this was the site of the very first service station in the world. According to the Wikipedia page on Filling Stations, it was actually the second.

The world’s first purpose built gas station was constructed in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 412 S. Theresa Avenue.[1] The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington.

What does this have to do with coffee?

The service station allowed us to drive across the country fueling up our car along the way. Whereas gasoline and diesel are the fuel for the automobile, coffee and espresso are the fuel for the driver. After I took the photo of the above plaque, I turned around and spotted the world headquarters for Starbucks Coffee.

Fuel for the car. Fuel for the driver.

An Espresso Journey Through Italy – Caffe D’Arte

Most cafes have 2 espresso blends. One regular and one decaf. Espresso Vivace has 3. They have a blend for straight espresso and one for milk drinks, plus the decaf. Caffe D’Arte has 6 different espresso blends! Four blends are regional Italian, one organic and one decaf. Caffe D’Arte is located in Seattle near Pike Place Market (1625 2nd Ave), but they also have a cafe in Portland and numerous wholesale accounts. Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited down for an espresso (or 4!).

In the book Espresso: Ultimate Coffee, Second Edition by Kenneth Davids, I first learned how the espresso culture and roasting style varies throughout the country of Italy. In the north, the roasts are lighter and they get progressively darker as you move through Central Italy and then even darker as you proceed down to Southern Italy. As I read the book, I thought it might be fun to try different cafes that specialize in the different styles of espresso. Never did it occur to me that one cafe could deliver all the espresso styles of Italy at the same time from a single location. Caffe D’Arte does.

Like I mentioned earlier, Caffe D’Arte has 6 different espresso blends you can order for your drink. If you don’t specify the espresso blend, they will pick the one they feel works best for that particular drink. Straight espresso drinkers will get the lighter blend. The more milk in the drink, the darker the espresso blend choice. Here are their espresso blends and the regional style of that blend:

  • Firenze – Northern Italy (Tuscany / Toscana)
  • Parioli – Central Italy (Lazio)
  • Capri – Southern Italy (Campania)
  • Taormina – Dark Roast (Sicilia)
  • Organic Blend – Available in cafe.
  • Decaffeinated Blend

These blends do have some robusta beans in them, which provides the espresso with great crema and a taste that lingers in your mouth after you’ve finished drinking it. Afraid of robusta in your espresso? I like what Steve Leighton wrote in the article Espresso Blending Techniques.

I don’t care what any one says to me, I’ve never tasted a better espresso blend than one with Robusta. Now small amounts (less than 10%) are rules of thumb, and its got to be good quality robusta (there is some out there. In fact I’ve tasted robustas better than some arabica beans I’ve been sent). Don’t be a snob, it adds a little caffeine kick to a blend, and it gives you great crema and balances out the cup. I have blends without robusta in them that are great, but none are better than those blends which do contain Robusta. Don’t let pre-conceptions stop you trying this; with amounts as low as 10% you can’t even taste it, but it gives the cup so much more.

I agree with Steve. A touch of robusta beans, although not a requirement, can add an element to espresso blends that I find enjoyable. Caffe D’Arte proves that with their use of robusta coffee beans. As a straight espresso drinker, I favored the Firenze, but also enjoyed the Parioli. The others were too dark for my palate.

If you like Italian style espresso, head over to Caffe D’Arte. Pick your region and your drink.

Sources:

Espresso: Ultimate Coffee, Second Edition – Book by Kenneth Davids.

Caffe D’Arte Espresso Blends – Espresso blend page on official site.

 

Seattle Times Coffee Blog Finds Coffee Hero

Yesterday I was interviewed for the Seattle Time Coffee City Blog. The article was about the Coffee Club of Seattle and me. From Coffee Club of Seattle meets in the coffee club that is Seattle by Melissa Allison:

In some ways, Seattle itself is a great big coffee club. But if you want to get official, the Coffee Club of Seattle will accept your reservation for any of its four or five monthly events. Be warned that you’re competing with about 600 other people who get e-mail about the gatherings, many of which are filled within hours.

I did confess in the interview that I haven’t been home roasting coffee much since moving to Seattle. Home roasting regular coffee is somewhat easy. Home roasting espresso is more challenging. Home roast espresso on the same level as the professional coffee roasters in Seattle is almost impossible.

Seattle readers will want to add Coffee City to their RSS feed. It also has a Twitter feed.

Sources:

Coffee Club of Seattle meets in the coffee club that is Seattle – Article by Melissa Allison

Coffee City – Seattle Times Coffee Blog

Seattle Peace Park – Sadako Saski

I walked past Seattle Peace Park and this statue on Friday. The statue is of Sadako Saski, who was a Japanese child victim that survived the Hiroshima bombing.

What is the story with the paper crane? From Wikipedia:

On August 3, 1955, Chizuko Hamamoto Sadako’s best friend came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn’t understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. A popular version of the story is that she fell short of her goal of folding 1,000 cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her. This comes from the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.