Thursday, August 31, 2006

part 3 ,quickly nearing the end of this 'part' malarkey

From Victrola we headed off for lunch in a restaurant that can only be described fabulous, though not because of its food. Vita was next on the list, though oddly I took no pictures. I love the way this place is laid out, however the lack of natural light made me feel sleepy and irritable. (I like natural light in cafe) The espresso wasn't bad but didn't tickle any of our taste buds either. I absolutely love the way they've put a glass partition in the cafe allowing customer to see into the roaster in the back. I also liked the amount of space immeadietly in front of the bar. I like the idea of owning a small cafe but to do any sort of 'to go' service requires ample space for customer flow in and out of the cafe, preferably not winding through the seating area. Vita was great for this as the seating area was in an adjoining room, allowing customers to relax in their own space. It did have a wireless feel but thats not such a bad thing in my view. I'm writing this right now in a cafe, sipping an Intelly Harrar, and looking around I see people chatting, reading books and papers, i poding, and theres even a small women sleeping in the couch in front of me. Shes been there quite a while now and she's old too. I'm starting to suspect the worse..... After Vita, we went to the new Vivace store. As touched on in my last post, this cafe was also in a location I didn't expect. It's located in a modern looking building, where most of the shopfronts are uniform in design. At least thats how I remember it, please correct me if I'm wrong. I love the thought that clearly went in to desiging this cafe. If its not the beautifully functional, barista friendly bar, its the latte art mosaics on the floor, or the espresso timeline painted in coffee on the bar front. You may not like Schomer's way of doing things, but you have to take your hat off for doing so many new things in this industry. I love the two synessos gleaming at you when you walk in. I like the seperate room for meetings and wireless. I hated the picture on the wall and I'm still not sure what the hell it was about. It wa sout of place and gaudy. I had my best seattle espresso though. It was red. It was bubbly. But it was sweet and it was different to everyone else. I'd prefer to have it with a lower dose but thats just my preference. It was interetsing to see they sold a small selection of beer as well as a large number of small pastries. I liked that idea; moving towards small bites as opposed to heavy muffins or danish. I was going to buy some coffee to bring home and play around with but they were awaiting a fresh delivery later that day and I just didn't get time to go back. Above you can see three taps rising up and over a drip tray. The middle poured sparkling water and the others poured regular. I presume it was filtered too, either way it was something new and looked great. I'd imagine its nice to work with too. Unlike the first store we visited, it was a little harder to gape at the barista's technique with being too obvious. That said, ordering an espresso and a mineral water usually gives your coffee enthusiast identity away. This Vivace store is probably one of my favourite espresso bars in the world. There is very little I don't like about it. Being more of a filter kid now I would miss that option, but I guess espresso requires a cafe's full attention and so sticking to one type isn't without logic. We spent the rest of the day playig around on the machine in Cafe D'Arte courtesy of our guide Sarah Dooley. She closed the cafe early and let us all start pulling shots and pouring off her Nuovo Simonelli and 5 espresso grinders. We were all pretty tired and full of coffee, but being barista's we couldn't say no to a bit of ego flogging. See my flickr for photos.

belated part 2

These are becoming sort of a staple introduction I know, but once again, I'd like to apologise for my inexcusable lack of communication. That said, I have been very busy, and thankfully my social life takes priority over blogging. (The day it doesn't, hit me hard in the gut) So, after Vivace, we ambled up to Victrola. It was only a few blocks away and it was nice to see some of the quieter neighbourhoods in Seattle. The well known neon sign marked the spot on the street, and it was one of the few cafes I've visited on my trip that was located in an area I had sort of already imagined. Often you're working off photos or descriptions online when you hear about well known cafes, but when you actually visit, their location can be very different to what you had in mind. The Elysian Room and Artigiano Hornby would be two good examples. I really enjoyed the Victrola space. It was a little dark and gloomy in the back, but the bar design seemed well thought out and spacious. There was a lot of seating and the cafe had a cool atmosphere with more people chatting and reading than buried in their laptops. As for the coffee, well I differed in preference when it came to the espresso's we were served in Seattle. The guys seemed very impressed by the Victrola espresso, Streamline, whereas I just found it ok. I mean it was tasty, and I feel the barista's were of a high enough skill set that I couldn't taste them in the cup, but I wasn't particularly wowed by it. It was an espresso free of defect, but just not exciting or different. Urgh, as I type this I'm kind of cringing cause I hate when people use one espresso to represent an entire organisation. But in saying that, I did have a shot of streamline in Cafe Grumpy in New York and that wasn't much better. AJ bought some of their single origins though, some of which really shone. These were a lot more enjoyable than the espresso and stood out from other seattle coffes we cupped. On this visit, Victrola for me was a classy cafe, with good baristas but a boring blend. Too tough probably. Everyone else I went with though really enjoyed it and for most of them it was their favourite coffee in Seattle.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Seattle part 1

At six thirty on a rainy Sunday morning, four barista's and three of their relative girlfriends (all coffee enthusiasts themselves) set off for the three hour drive to Seattle. Our mission was to check out the much hyped coffee scene in Seattle and see if it lived up to our expectations. After a short interrogation at customs and the driving compilation cd to end all others (midlake, al stewart, hot chip,sufjan and knife to name a few), we arrived at David Schomer's Vivace cafe on Denny. I had visited the cafe a year before when I went to the 2005 WBC, and so wasn't suprised to see the que of people leading onto the street. We ordered all our drinks and huddled around the serving point, trying hopelessly to blend into the non barista customers as we gauked at the barista's every move. One of Schomer's cooling fans built onto the back of one of his DRM belt driven grinder. I'm told that these grinders are sadly now unavailable. The walls were all adorned with framed latte art pictures and the bar looked very barista friendly. They had two three group synesso's, both set up at different bar heights with shorter staff on the lower one. Although quite tasty, the shots were all low volume and extremely bubbly and it was also really interesting too see his barista's pull the drinks away without stopping the shot. Apparently they believe the cup should contain only espresso brewed under pressure, and not any last drops. I'm yet to test this but I know I definitely didn't like the spillage on the side of each demitasse. The other odd thing was watching the barista's take the pf out after a shot, place a cloth to the spent puck, and then re insert the pf. I suppose they wanted to ensure temp stability in the pf and maybe avoid an overly dry puck that might be difficult to knock out??, but this seems unlikely. Any ideas? I will post again tomorrow about the other cafe's. I'm off now to do some wedding shopping and then later I'm hosting a private screening of Black Gold in my apartment. I would gladly have all of you over but sadly tickets are sold out for this gourmet, cinematic event. More tomorrow!