Friday, August 04, 2006

Seattle's Coffee Buzz

I apologize for the awful pun. I simply couldn’t resist.

One simply cannot speak of eating in Seattle without mentioning the coffee. The rumors are true - the coffee is fantastic. In my opinion, the quality and/or taste of Seattle coffee is far superior to most others available to devout East Coasters such as myself. It is most reminiscent of European coffee in that it is quite strong, but never bitter. I don’t know whether this has to do with the beans themselves, the roasting, or the preparation of the coffee but I am willing to bet it is all of the above. I limit myself to two espressos or two Americanos (or one of each) a day when in Seattle. Jittery hands make for blurry food porn pictures.

An entire culture revolves around coffee in Seattle. Firstly, there is a coffee shop every 10 feet in Seattle. I am not exaggerating. The vast majority of the shops are independently owned, each with its own personality and its own group of devotees. Everyone in Seattle has their own, preferred coffee shop that they go to by default. One can come in and order one cup of coffee, and sit in the shop for the rest of the day, reading, working, or staring, all without worrying about being hassled away. Most of the coffee shops have free WiFi, big comfy couches, really really friendly people behind the counter, and obviously, great (and pretty! see pic) coffee. [Uma theorized that Seattle's obession with coffee shops evolved out of a need for something to do during the 9 months out of the year when it rains non-stop. Sounds about right to me.]

All of these things are in marked and sad contrast to the coffee shops here in Boston. The vast majority of the shops are major nationwide chains, the most pernicious of these (and the one with the grossest coffee) starts with S and ends with –tarbucks. The employees act as though they are better than you and there is never any place to sit. If you do happen to sit down for any extended period of time, the other patrons express their impatience at your occupation of the coveted seat/table clearly enough to make you want to run away. Equally as important, the coffee isn’t any good! It somehow manages to be incredibly bitter and tasteless all at the same time. Ick.

Uma has a favorite Seattle coffee shop and so, by extension, do I. Caffe Ladro has four locations in Seattle and a few more on the outskirts. The shops are very warm and homey, painted in muted oranges and browns with a pastry case filled with things so gorgeous that I stop and stare for five minutes whenever I walk in. They sell their own blends of organic, fair trade coffee, the differences between which the employees will be happy to discuss for hours in helping you pick out the one most suited to your tastes.

(I think Queen Anne is a posh neighborhood in Seattle, incidentally)

The shop on Capitol Hill also has wooden deck chairs set out on the pavement around the store, perfect for hours of people watching – the tremendously pierced and tattooed population of Seattle makes for some seriously fabulous people watching.

Although I think that cities are best appreciated when explored without a preset agenda or itinerary, reserving a few hours a day to sit idly at a Seattle coffee shop is an absolute requirement when visiting. And set aside some time I did…
I so wish for a coffee house culture in Boston. It would be a lot easier on my liver than hanging out at the Tavern half the week, that’s for sure.

*Note added in proof: The coffee in the top picture is Uma's hazelnut mocha from Cafe Victrola in Capitol Hill.

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