Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Search of Espresso Part I

I was recently talking with a couple of online peeps (@RagDoll_Inc and @dorthybitestoto) and I was ... well let's say scolded for taking by business to Starbucks rather than one of the local coffee shops. Let's forget for a moment that Starbucks is local to Seattle (yeah, they know this).

Admittedly I am a creature of habit - don't know the last time I didn't eat Phad Thai at a Thai restaurant or eat enchiladas at my favorite Mexican joint and so on. I do love Starbucks espresso and they tempt me with "gold status" which I guess saves me 6.25% of my drinks in the long-run.

So I decided to test my boundaries and try a new local espresso shop each day for the month of July. I'm no critic and I don't have a sophisticated palette with respect to coffee but I figured I'd find out what else was out there.

My only task for myself was to order my drink (five shots over ice) and see what happens. What was the groove of the place? Was the espresso good? Was the staff service-oriented? Did the shop seem to have embrace stewardship (organic, fair trade beans, cup discount for my own cup)? Overall, what did I think?

The only other rule I gave myself was to go to "coffee shops" which does not include espresso stands or restaurants with an espresso machine. Around here bakeries count as coffee shops - at least for the purposes of my project.

The following list is from the first half of my month and centers around West Seattle (where I live) and Pioneer Square (where I work). In fairness I have gone back to Starbucks twice during this month - once while traveling for my 50k and once because I needed to scoot into the office in a hurry. I've gone back to one of the shops twice. After about a dozen shops you start to lose options within walking distance even in Seattle!

July 1 - The "Original" Starbucks
OK, I guess this doesn't really count as non-Starbucks but this particular location in Seattle's Pike Place market uses manual espresso machines as opposed to the automatic machines used in every other Starbucks. There is no food available either and the store is quite unique. I'd met a running buddy from out of town at the market and figured I'd start here. And this is the day I made "the deal" with my friends about venturing out.

This is honestly not the "original" Starbucks in two ways. First, the original was on Western just down the street. Second, the original Starbucks was not a retail store but a seller of coffee beans. If you want more history on Starbucks check out their wiki page.

This is probably still my favorite other than I cannot get baked goods there in case I'm running late. It's a bit out of the way as well and if you come during the day it's totally overcrowded with tourists. In fairness it's hard for me to rate this since I've been there so many times. The staff does change frequently as it's a "high traffic training store" and it's not so much a coffee shop as a tourist destination. But the espresso is dark and bold.

What a shame I've never been here since it's the second closest to my house. Cool little "dive in the side of a building" place and a great change of venue from the "corporate juggernaut."

The (ok, who I presume was the) owner was there throwing a little grief at her barista so I was already impressed. The "hole in the wall" vibe worked well and there is a nice collection of mismatched furniture to sit and work on your screenplay all day. I got a "YES!" and a fist pump when I ordered my drink. I got a discount for using my own cup.

The espresso was a little light for my taste but I'm going to go back and give it a shot. I really liked the joint.

July 3 - Cafe Ladro
Borderline "local" shop as there are 13 locations in the area (ok, I didn't know that - WAY more than I thought). Ladro is the "hip" place to be that's not Starbucks and they maintain their coffee shop feel. The service is good and they are all organic and fair trade. They make a nice cup - not my favorite as it still seems closer to a medium roast.

July 4 - Uptown Espresso
The "Home of the Velvet Foam", Uptown is also borderline as there are seven locations. I like hanging out at Uptown - it's easy to get work done there as their locations have a lot of space. They have good baked goods. But I don't love their espresso - it's strong and bitter which sometimes is ok. And on this particular day the barista didn't seem terribly excited to be there. It was 4th of July of course but hell I was going back home to install pavers in my backyard all day.....

2 comments:

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delonghi esam3300 said...

I believe, ahem, that we have been called coffee snobs at one point or other, but I believe we specific tastes. Who doesn't?