Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Seattle caffe crawl -- July 07

Yiching and I went to Seattle this past weekend to relax and have fun for our six year anniversary. We managed to hit the following places:

For coffee we hit:
Victrola (on Pike):

Victrola's espresso was nicely pulled on a three group Synesso.

The shot seemed to be pulled ristretto, had a twinge of sharp, but well-balanced acidity in the beginning, and some kind of fruit note in the finish.

The latte definitely possessed the cleanest art on the trip. It was smooth, and the espresso carried through well. Not certain it would work if you wanted too large a drink, but I guess that's also good. I also ordered a traditional five ounce cappa.

This picture was taken a few minutes after because I got caught up chatting with the barista. My question would be: In a place of Victrola's caliber, why have an 8 0z cappuccino/latte AND a traditional 5 oz. cappa? A cappuccino is a cappuccino, 5-6 oz. There is no need to distinguish and make one for the masses. Step up boys! Victrola rocks, but lay down the law!

I spent some time talking with Keith, their roaster, and he gave me a tour of the Diedrich. Keith knows his craft pretty well. Kudos to Keith. In a nutshell, Victrola was probably the best overall combination of drinks and ambiance. I will definitely return.

Our second stop was a late night visit to Caffe Vivace at Alley 24, by the REI. As always consistent art

I had ordered a caramel latte because Vivace's espresso tends to blend well with the caramel, and it did this time too. However, the latte that Yiching got on this trip was definitely off.

It had ashy notes and a bland finish possibly due to coffee oils. I think the portafilter had not yet been cleaned following the last rush. So this time, Vivace did not have a stellar performance.

Saturday was a longer haul. We hit Lighthouse, Seven, and Zoka thanks to good usage of the Metro trip planner and a decent bus system. Except for the damn long wait to catch a connection from Seven to Zoka, it went off without any problems.
Here's my report.

Lighthouse was our first stop of the day. Lighthouse is located in more of a residential area and perfectly fits in to the surroundings.

I had a cappuccino and an almond pastry.

The cappuccino was served traditionally, monk's cap and all, and this is the way I prefer my cappuccino. Sweet thick foam blending perfectly into a nice base of milk and espresso. Balanced. Tasty.
Yiching had a small latte, which was nicely presented in a tumbler, and a chocolate pastry.

The latte was 'comfortable'. It was pleasant, didn't grab your attention with unnecessary flavors. A latte you can have morning or late night. For this trip, Lighthouse had the most balanced, best tasting drinks. But the vibe at Victrola nudges them slightly ahead in the overall picture.

Seven Coffee Roasters is an interesting little shop hidden out around the corner from Pete's Eggnest on 78th N and Greenwood.

This shop is minimalist to the core, and the owner, Sean Lee has done a fantastic job sticking to the core essentials. A Lamarzocco Linea, a couple of Rio Grinders, and a handmade rack for by the cup filtered coffee are all that adorn the front of his cement topped counters.

My wife ordered a small latte,

and I had a (pourover) cup of the Guatemala.

The Guatemala was nice and crisp, vanilla, and hint of caramel nuttiness. The latte was smooth, tasty, lacked a little definition through the cup. I also had an espresso (not pictured--lost). The espresso was good, crisp, clean, and possessed a nice flavor, but seemed to lack complexity and depth. I have made this same and many similar profiles in my own roasting journey, and it's all part of the learning curve. Sean definitely will get it down pat, he seems to be a perfectionist at heart, so it can only get better with each successive batch. Seven Coffee Roasters is a definite up and comer and worth checking out.

Zoka was our final caffe for the day. I really need another visit as I was highly tweaking on caffeine by the time we reached Zoka, but nonetheless, here is my report.

Zoka is BIG.

I ordered a Clover brewed CoE coffee.

I was ready for the Clover experience! And I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps it wasn't dialed in right, but outside of it having having good body and a hint of honeyness to it, it did not present and noticeable or outstanding flavor nuances. I preferred the flavors from Seven's Guatemala. Clover? Is it fantastic? The jury is still out, but definitely a "so-so" on that cup. And as it was getting to be the hotter part of the afternoon, Yiching ordered an iced latte.

Iced latte was nice. Hard to say.
I would like to give Zoka another crack when I am less heavily caffeinated. Great looking spot. Barista seem to do everything right. Too many laptops.

Another new place I wanted to check out was Seattle Espresso Works, which we managed to hit on our last day this trip. Seattle Espresso Works is a good concept where they utilize several different local roasteries, and can brew the espresso side by side on a three group Synesso, and you can taste the difference between the various espresso.
The long and short of it-- great concept, they don't come anywhere close to pulling it off. While the Sengware ceramic cups were nice looking,

the espresso on the latte was sharp, probably underextracted and/or at the wrong brew temperature, cappuccino was drinkable, but that's the best compliment I can give it. Glad I didn't try the straight espresso.
So for our Seattle Caffe crawl July '07, based on overall experience, reputation, and meeting or exceeding that reputation, I would say it was Victrola by a hair, followed by Lighthouse, Seven, Zoka and Vivace, and finally, in a very distant sixth place, Espresso Works.

I'll be tackling the restaurant reviews this weekend.