Monday, December 8, 2008

Starbucks (Factoria / Bellevue)

Since my wife was disappointed by her mocha at Caffe Vita, she demanded that I get her a peppermint mocha from Starbucks this morning. With my ragging on Starbucks, I figured that this was a good opportunity to order a latte and see if Starbucks could compete with the small shops from Seattle.

The answer is a resounding no. To put in terms that even the least knowledgeable coffee drinker can relate to, the Starbucks latte is coffee flavored hot milk whereas the small shop's lattes are espresso with a touch of steamed milk. Hey, if you like coffee flavored milk, by all means go to Starbucks. I know that it appears that I have some sore of vendetta against Starbucks. I simply call it as I see it. The latte here just isn't in the same category as the other lattes I've reviewed. Even the fact that it was served in paper does not factor in.

This trip made me realize where Starbucks is successful, though. They are really good at making drinks for people that like the idea of coffee, but actually want to drink some sweet coffee flavored concoction. Take my wife for example. She prefers a sweet mocha to a latte. Starbucks makes a really sweet mocha. The emphasis of the drink is the sweetness, not the coffee.

I tried her mocha at Caffe Vita on Saturday to see why she disliked it. The mocha over there was very intensely coffee flavored with a hint of chocolate. Even though I'm not a mocha drinker, this was how I would want a mocha. She, on the other hand, prefers the Starbuck's sweet mocha.

If you like a sweet mocha, stick with Starbucks.

I'll revisit another Starbucks again soon to sample some Clover coffee. They do have a machine at one of their Bellevue locations.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Caffe Vita (Capitol Hill)

With my in-laws in town for Thanksgiving, it had been too damn long since I've been to a coffee shop, so yesterday we loaded up the zoo and headed over to Caffe Vita in Capitol Hill. This was the shop that got it all started for me. This was the first place where I had top end coffee. It was an eye opening experience. So, I decided it was time to get back over there and give it a proper review. They are located at 1005 E. Pike St in Seattle's Capitol Hill area.

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Caffe Vita is also a coffee roaster, which is apparent as soon as you walk in the door. Behind a glass wall lies a massive coffee roaster. They supply roasted coffee beans to quite a few of the local coffee houses, such as Firehouse in Ballard.

Walking into Caffe Vita gives me the sense of what Seattle was like during the height of the grunge music scene. The barista as well as 2 other men had dreadlocks and they were all white. The clientele here is definitely not your soccer mom eastside sanitized coffee shop. That being said, it didn't feel weird to have my wife and 2 kids along with me. For some reason, in Seattle, I've never got a weird vibe from the people here that are much different than I am.
In the end, does it matter if the Barista is a cute UW student or some dreadlocked dude? Nope. For me, its all about the coffee. I ordered the latte as usual. This was a seriously full flavored latte. The espresso flavor is nice & intense, but not bitter. The only minor complaint I had about this coffee is that something was slightly off with the steamed milk. I'm not sure if the milk was too hot or cold, but the thin layer of foamed espresso and milk that sits on top didn't have that thick creaminess that I've come to expect. Regardless of this nitpicking, this was still a really good latte. One of these days, I'll need to come back, go moo-free and have an espresso here.
Based on the taste of the latte, I'd wager that the espresso is top notch.

If you are in town, and happen to be 40ish like me, and want to reminisce over coffee about the grunge days, check out Caffe Vita.

Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to brew coffee using a French Press

After trying out several different kinds of coffee makers over the years, I firmly believe that a French Press makes the best coffee you can possibly make. I think a lot of people get hung up on a few things pertaining to a French Press. One: it is too damn simple. How can a simple process of dumping hot water on coffee grounds possibly make better coffee than a fancy machine? Two: they are so cheap. Again, how can something so inexpensive make the best coffee?

Making coffee is really simple if you break it down logically. Coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in water at a certain temperature for a period of time. All of those fancy machines with all of the bells and whistles make all of the decisions for you except how much coffee you put in the machine. That is the beauty of a French Press. You get to control all of the variables that go into making coffee.

Items needed

  • French Press
  • Adjustable burr grinder (not the small grinder with blades)
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Good tasting water (use whatever source that you drink)
  • Something to boil the water in (I use an electric kettle)
  • Spoon
Making the coffee

  1. Water: Get the water to a boil. Water temperature is critical to how good the coffee tastes. I'll come back to that later.
  2. Grinding / Dose: The generally accepted amount of coffee to use is one tablespoon per 4oz of water used. That will make a fairly strong cup of coffee. Vary the amount to get the desired strength. Most burr grinders are adjustable. I set mine so that it makes somewhat coarse grounds. Again, vary the grind to find what suits your taste.
  3. Steeping the coffee: Here is where it all comes together. My process is simple. First I turn on my electric kettle and allow the water to boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil and the kettle shuts off, I turn my grinder on. This serves two important functions. First, the coffee grounds stay fresh. As soon as the beans are ground, the clock is ticking. All of the goodness deteriorates every minute once the coffee is ground. Second, the time to grind the coffee allows the water to cool off slightly. If you were to pour boiling coffee onto the grounds, the coffee would taste burnt. Once the coffee is done grinding, dump it into your clean and dry French press. Then, pour the water over the grounds making sure that all of the grounds are wet.
  4. Wait one minute: A crust of coffee grounds will be covering the water. During the minute of waiting, you should notice the grounds expelling some gas. This is good news. Those little bubbles are the gases being released from the fresh beans. If you just see a crust form without any bubbling, it is a sign that the coffee is stale.
  5. Gently stir the coffee: Using a spoon, gently stir the coffee grounds to disperse the grounds throughout the hot water. As you are doing this, get down next to the French Press and smell the aroma being given off. Like wine, different coffee types have their own nuances.
  6. Cover the Press and Steep: When you are done stirring the coffee, place the plunger / lid on the pot and wait for 3 minutes before depressing the plunger. Depending on the size grind, it may be somewhat difficult to depress the plunger. If it gets stuck, lift it back up slightly and try again until you get it lowered.
  7. Enjoy! As soon as the 3 minutes are up, pour the coffee into cups or an insulated container as soon as possible. Even though the plunger is down, the coffee grounds are still still being steeped in the water. The longer it sits, the more bitter and nasty the coffee gets.
Remember that the key factors into making coffee are freshly roasted & ground beans, the amount of coffee, water temperature, and duration of steeping. This is where experimenting comes into play. The biggest difference to the quality of my coffee was allowing the beans to cool slightly. The coffee was much less bitter.

Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the French Press. It allows you to control all of the steps of the coffee making process which will yield you the best cup of coffee.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Top Pot Doughnuts (Bellevue)

Bellevue? Where's Bellevue? For all you Seattleites, there is some decent coffee in that homogeneous, boring wasteland known as the Eastside.

One thing that struck me as being odd about Seattleites is the complete disdain that they have for the Eastside. I can't even count how many times a Seattleite has complained about having to drive all the way out to the Eastside. It is as if Lake Washington is some magical boundry that they just will not cross. I contacted a remodeler to see if he was interested in doing some work on our home a while back. We talked for a while & the entire time we discussed the home and the project, he was very enthusiastic. When I answered his question that we live in Bellevue, he replied "sorry, we don't go all the way out there." Since I'm a Chicago transplant, I was taken aback by this mentality. A short trip in the car in Chicago is 30 minutes. I found it odd that people are so frightened about a 15 minute drive from Seattle across a bridge to Bellevue.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. The Eastside has at least one decent coffee house, even though it bills itself as a doughnut shop. Top Pot Doughnuts is located right in the heart of downtown Bellevue on 106th Ave NE between NE 8th St and NE 10th St. The Google Map is slightly off, so just go north on 106th if you are driving on NE 8th. It will be on the right side of the street. As of today, the lot just south of the building is available for free parking assuming you are shopping at Top Pot.

View Larger Map

Today, I had a little time to kill before my daughter's swimming practice, so coffee sounded like a good idea. I ordered my usual latte and the barista must be used to the soccer moms, because he grabbed a paper cup. Whoa there! Can I get it in a mug please? Crisis averted!

This was a very decent latte. It was really smooth with no bitterness or burnt taste whatsoever. Since Top Pot roasts their own beans, its a good assumption that they will put out good coffee, and they did. I must admit that I really didn't expect much. I was just killing some time and found a nice spot. Oh, the doughnuts are good too. My daughter snarfed down a doughnut in no time flat. Why is it that a 4 yr old can eat a doughnut faster than I can, but when it comes to dinnertime, they take forever?

If you find yourself in the downtown Bellevue area and need some caffeine , head over to Top Pot Doughnuts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company (University District)

Last night my wife and I made some Japanese food (Shabu Shabu) and I must have drunk a little too much sake, because my head was pounding this morning. My morning coffee didn't have enough caffeine to get me started, so I headed over to Zoka in the University District. I went there a few months ago and saw that they had a Clover coffee machine. In a nutshell, the Clover machine is one of the biggest technological advancements in coffee in a long time. The machine, which was developed here in Seattle, has tremendous control over the parameters of the coffee brewing process to optimize for a certain type of coffee bean and roast.

As I eagerly walked into the store, I had an uneasy feeling as I looked over to the counter where I was expecting to see the Clover machine. Maybe they moved it where I couldn't see it. When I was asked for my order, I asked if they still made Clover coffee. There was an immediate look of disappointment on her face and there was a pause before she said "no, sorry, we just make French press coffee now." Well, I can make French press coffee at home, so I just ordered a latte. Normally, I'm really excited to get a latte of this caliber, but I was just bummed about the absence of the Clover coffee.

As I was waiting for my coffee, I figured I'd ask the barista about the Clover. Again, as soon as the word Clover came from my mouth, there was the look of disappointment on her face. She told me that since Starbucks bought Coffee Equipment Company (the company that developed the Clover), they will neither sell machines (and here's the kicker) nor sell parts to independent companies.

Rant on.

In a bunch of my posts, I've been slightly negative about Starbucks. I started feeling a little uneasy about these comments especially in light of their financial performance lately. All of those feelings are now gone. Anyone that knows me, knows I'm the most pro free market advocate there is, but this just makes me sick.

Did Starbucks spend the money to develop this technology? Nope!

Did Starbucks get on the bandwagon early and buy these $11,000 machines and install them in their stores? Nope!

The clover machines were bought by small independent coffee houses that are passionate about producing the best that can be produced. They took the big financial risk (a French press costs $50) while Starbucks was trying to figure out a way to schlep music CDs to their customers. Nice strategy there! Instead of focusing on their core business, they just keep experimenting with all of this silly lifestyle crap.

Now Howard Schultz (Starbucks founder and CEO) enters the scene about a year after the Clover was introduced to the market. He supposedly "stumbled" on the Clover machine on a trip to NYC. This is just great. The CEO of the largest retail coffee company in the world doesn't even know about the Clover a year after its introduction? Way to go there buddy! Nothing like keeping abreast of current trends in the marketplace.

So what does Schultz do after seeing the apparent interest in this new technology? Of course, he buys the company and removes it from the market. This is no different than my 4 year old taking away a toy from my 18 month old for two simple reasons: because she can and because my 18 month old was enjoying the toy. Starbucks is just being the bratty big kid. They could have simply purchased the Clover machines like the independents, but they knew that they would still be at a disadvantage. Their coffee beans just can't compare to the independents in terms of quality roasting and freshness (just think of micro-brew beer vs. the bug guys), so they took the toy away from the little kids. (Turn on whiny bratty voice) You can't have it!

Rant off.

Zoka University District is a top notch outfit. I adore their espresso drinks. My latte was great. I don't think that any more needs to be written.

Go out and support your independent coffee houses. If you appreciate innovation and pursuing the finest things in life, those will come from the entrepreneurs, not a big fat bloated company that only reacts to the market instead of leading it.

University Zoka on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stumptown Roasters (Capitol Hill)

What do lesbian couples, septuagenarians, families with small children, twenty somethings, & girls with nose rings have in common? They don't mind waiting in line for coffee at Stumptown Roasters. This place has a more diverse clientele than the waiting room at the DMV. They must be on to something.

Stumptown Roasters is a Portland based coffee roaster / coffee house that has locations in Portland and Seattle. The location I visited this morning was on 12th and Madison in Capitol Hill. This is down the street from another of my favorite restaurants in Seattle : La Spiga.

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Since my morning coffee didn't seem to get me fully awake, I grabbed my camera and drove over to Stumptown. This place reminds me a lot of Herkimer Coffee. The interior of Stumptown has the same clean, minimalist vibe. There are no comfy couches to lounge around on. There are two long benches with some very small tables that force people that are staying there to sit together. This seems to be more of a place to get out of the rain for a few minutes to drink some coffee rather than a place to pull the laptop out and hang out for a while. There was one big difference between Herkimer and Stumptown. Stumptown was jam packed on a weekday and Herkimer was practically empty on a weekend. Go figure.

I walked up and ordered my standard large latte. Thankfully, they don't fall into the grande / venti crap. Even with the large line, I was served my latte promptly. The barista was working on her own, but was cranking out the orders quickly. I got a little nervous as I was watching the barista, since it appeared that she was making my latte and going to serve it in a glass. My suspicions were when she called out the order for a large latte. While it's not like drinking coffee out of a paper cup with a plastic lid, a glass just doesn't seem right. It's like when my in-laws are at my house and serve themselves milk in a mug. It's just odd. Am I the weird one?

Anyways, the latte was a very good latte. I just couldn't get into it drinking it out of a glass. It was kind of a bummer. I know I sound like a baby, but it just didn't do it for me. Verite Coffee used Stumptown's beans and turned out a better final product. The next time I head back to Stumptown, I'll order a medium latte and see if it is served in a mug. The coffee was definitely good enough that I'll try it again.
Stumptown Coffee on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2008

Herkimer Coffee (S. Ravenna)

Sunday morning, I headed out to grab some coffee, but I had an ulterior motive. So far, with the exception of Firehouse Coffee, I have really liked the coffee at the shops that I've reviewed. I don't want to act like Rachel Ray and pretend that everything I taste is the best stuff on the planet. So I did very minimal research and found Herkimer Coffee, which I had never heard of before. I assumed that since I hadn't heard about them, they must not be anything to write home about. Boy, was I wrong.

Herkimer Coffee has a couple locations, but I visited the one on 5611 University Way NE. This is 5 blocks north of the bustling University district area. It almost right next door to one of my favorite restaurants: The Caspian Grill.

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This is kind of a swanky coffee house. It seems brand new inside. Everything looked like it was recently polished and was clean as a whistle. There was some jazz being pumped into the room. This place has a really neat atmosphere. Be forewarned, this place only takes cash. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I could be crazy, but I'm guessing that's why this place doesn't appear to be a hangout for the soccer mom crowd.

On to the coffee. Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to drink some burnt crapola coffee, so I could rip on it. This was not even close to what I was hoping for. This was an excellent latte. There was no harshness whatsoever. It was a nice rich, evenly balanced latte. It seemed to have the perfect amount of milk since it didn't have that diluted taste that often happens when you order a large cup and the ratio of espresso to milk gets out of whack.

The only puzzling thing was this place was nearly empty. I arrived there at 8:45am on Sunday, which is prime time for weekend coffee. When I went to Zoka in Greenlake at about the same time, the place was jammed. If I lived withing walking distance of this place, I'd be a regular here.

If you are headed out to do some shopping at the mall in the University district and need to get caffienated first, head over to Herkimer Coffee.

Herkimer Coffee on Urbanspoon

El Diablo Coffee (Queen Anne)

Saturday, my wife and I loaded up the kids and headed over to Queen Anne and stopped in at El Diablo Coffee. I told a friend of ours that I was writing about coffee houses in Seattle and said that we had to try El Diablo out. She said that it was the best mocha she had ever had. They are located at 1811 Queen Anne Ave North. As you drive up the hill on Queen Anne Ave, they are a few blocks past the Five Spot.

This coffee house is a little out of the ordinary for Seattle. They specialize in Latin style drinks, as opposed to the normal espresso drinks. I had a Cafe Cubano, which is 2 shots of espresso served with sugar. If you aren't used to espresso and normally drink coffee with milk or cream, this will be a shock to your system. The first sip is like taking that first sip of Scotch. Wow! After the first sip, however, I really began to appreciate this style of coffee. If you aren't in the mood to sit around or are in a hurry, this kind of drink fits the bill. The sweetness of the sugar balances out the espresso and it just works. I didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Another interesting side effect was the caffiene buzz. I normally have a latte which has either 2 or 3 shots of espresso in it, so this drink was really no different, but I was jittering around like a fool for 4 hours after I had this. I'm not sure if the sugar did it, but this stuff kicked my butt.

My wife had the Mocha. For the record, I usually hate these kinds of drinks. Any kind of drink that is a mocha, carmel, or other sweetened drink is just too girly for me. She had a few sips and demanded that I try it. I winced, but tried anyways. I'll admit, this was a decent drink. They give you a choice of the type of chocolate that is added to the drink and she chose Mexican chocolate. Rather being overly sweet, it comes off as being more spiced with cinammon than being sweet. For you Mocha fans, give this place a try. You won't be disappointed.

This place reminds me of being in Miami or in the Florida Keys. This place doesn't look like the typical Seattle joint, but you can imagine yourself sitting in a cafe on Duval Street in Key West. That is until you step outside and the cold mist smacks you in the face and reminds you where you really are.

As I uploaded my pictures, I realized how poor my pictures were after this trip. Having 2 kids around that are acting like lunatics surely doesn't inspire any creativity.

El Diablo Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bialetti Mukka Express Review

The Bialetti Mukka Express is a stove top cappuccino / latte maker. I've always wanted to buy a real espresso maker, but my priorities haven't allowed me to spend more than $1,000 on a machine and $400 on a grinder so that I could come close to making a cup as good as a local coffee house. That math just doesn't add up in my head. $3.50 for the best latte money can buy or spend $1,500 on equipment to come close?

That's why this device intrigued me. It's cheap. The selling price is $89. I've got a decent burr grinder at home that I figured would be good enough to complement the Bialetti. The Mukka Express has received some decent reviews and its estimated that nearly every household in Italy has one type of a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker.

Last weekend I was running some errands at Target and was browsing through the small appliances section and saw a few boxes of the Mukka Express on the endcap. I saw one of those little red stickers that are the markdown stickers, so I ran over to check out the price. It was marked down to $22. That was too good of a deal to pass up so it came home with me.

This device, like any other coffee maker, requires some trial and error to get things right. Here are a few tips:

-Like any other coffee making, buy fresh beans and grind them just before making the coffee on the finest setting on the grinder.
-When filling the coffee into the receptacle, make sure that the area around the threads are wiped clean. Any coffee grounds will mess up the seal and coffee will leak out.
-Tighten the top down onto the bottom very snugly. Don't be a wuss here. If you wuss out, bad things will happen.
-Use the small gas burner on medium heat. This is critical. If you use the large burner and the flames wrap around the sides of the maker, bad things will happen. Trust me.
-Once the valve opens and the milk is done frothing (about 15 seconds), leave it on the flame for another 30 seconds. If you pour the coffee right after it is done frothing, it won't be warm enough.
-When cleaning, run cold water over the maker to eliminate any built up pressure remaining in the lower part. This will help you seperate the unit. For those of you that have cooked with pressure cookers, its the same thing.

The factors that will affect the coffee the most are the quality of the beans and the amount of heat you give it. Each stove is slightly different, so vary the flame until it hits the sweet spot.

The instructions recommend making 3 pots of coffee and discarding them before drinking. Today, I finally got around to doing that and made a few different pots to sample the capuccino. Again, this is about expectations. If you've sampled coffee from some of the good independent coffee houses in Seattle, the Mukka Express isn't going to compare. This unit will definitely make a capuccino as good as Starbucks. I should cut Starbucks a little slack. They do make acceptable coffee drinks. Its hard for them to be able to compete quality wise to the smaller shops that roast and brew the same day.

If you want to make some decent capuccinos / lattes at home and don't want to break the bank, head over to Target and see if you can get a marked down one. Even at $89, its a worthwhile purchase, but at $22 its a steal.

Edit: I've done a bit of tinkering around with the Mukka Express and have another tip to report. When grinding the coffee, do not grind it as finely as used in espresso. With espresso, the hot water will only be in contact with the grounds for 30 seconds or so. With the Mukka Express the water will contact the beans for 2 minutes or so, so the ground needs to be more coarse. If the grind is too fine, the coffee will be overextracted and taste bitter and/ or burnt.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Victrola Coffee Inc. (Capitol Hill)

What a beautiful day in western Washington! It's late October and its about 60 degrees and sunny, the leaves are changing, life is good. I was able to sneak off this morning without the family, so I headed over to Victrola Coffee in Capitol Hill. My wife took her sister there a while back after watching Giada De Laurentiis feature Victrola on her show. My wife liked the place, so I figured I'd give it a try.

The location I visited is located at 411 15th Avenue E in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. This seems to be a central location for caffeinating as there is also a Cafe Ladro and a Starbucks within a block of Victrola. Why someone would go to Starbucks when there are top notch independent coffee houses so close is beyond me. It's not like the high-end coffee houses charge more for their drinks than Starbucks and the quality is just not comparable. I guess if you load up your drink with carmel and vanilla and all that other sweet crap, the coffee itself probably doesn't matter.

With your first step inside Victrola, you immediately realize that this place is a little different than your local Starbucks. This is what I envisioned a Seattle coffee house to be when I lived in Chicago. The baristas are not your clean cut corporate trained baristas. They are rough around the edges, have purple hair and full arm tattoos. This is my kind of place! I placed my usual order for a medium latte and a scone and headed over to a table to wait for my order to be filled.
A little tangent: it is so nice not having to use made up sizes like grande and venti. I hate that crap. What is the purpose of having those stupid sizes? What is wrong with using a word that is part of the English language to describe the size of the coffee?

Sorry, for the rant. Ok, so I headed over to my table to wait for my drink and glanced over to the wall where there were a bunch of art pieces on display. This is not the kids of stuff that you would see at the local corporate joint. It seemed like the collection was done by an artist that watched The Cell a few too many times.
I almost hate to write this, but the latte was really good. On my recent outings, I really haven't found a bad cup of coffee. Compared to some of the other lattes I've had, this one was really smooth and creamy. The coffee flavor was subtle, but not weak. The one from Lighthouse was intense and Victrola was just the opposite. In wine terms, the Lighthouse was a young bold California Cabernet and the Victrola is a nicely aged Bordeaux. I wish I would have ordered the large size. It was really that good. I'm not 100% sure about this, but I think that Victrola also roasts their beans, but at the other location.

If you want to go to a funky counter-culture coffee shop, this is the place for you.

Victrola Coffee & Art on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lighthouse Roasters (Fremont)

This morning, much more so than normal, I desperately needed caffeine. I had some garlic fries at dinner last night and my stomach was churning all night. I woke up at 2 a.m. and didn't sleep much until I finally got out of bed at 5 a.m. I made a quick pot of coffee and had a cup to get me going. We loaded up the kids at around 7 a.m. and headed over to Fremont to go to Lighthouse Roasters.

Fremont, for those of you that don't know already, is slightly to the left of mainstream politicians. They just might think that Obama is a little too conservative for their tastes. Just take a look to see who greets visitors to the downtown Fremont area. I find it ironic that the communist leader is situated next to a corporate taco stand.

Enough about the politics of Fremont and let's discuss the coffee. Lighthouse is a very unassuming coffee house in a residential area at 400 N. 43rd St in Seattle. When you walk inside, you immediately realize that this place is serious about their coffee. There is a coffee roaster adjacent to the dining area that takes up half of the space inside the coffee house. When a coffee house is willing to go the extra step and roast their own beans, there's a really good likelihood that the coffee they make will be good.

As is usual, I ordered a 12oz latte and my wife ordered a drip coffee with hazelnut flavoring. My latte had a very intense, deeply roasted flavor on the first sip. With my head still being groggy after so little sleep, this flavor was just what I was looking for. I could almost feel the caffeine flowing into my veins. What I liked about this latte is that is was much more heavy on the espresso and lighter on the milk than most coffee houses. I really don't like how sometimes a latte can taste more like a coffee flavored milkshake than coffee. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that it was served in a mug. Touchdown! My wife claimed that she prefers my coffee to theirs, but I wasn't going to drink coffee with hazelnut flavoring to find out. Yucko!

The inside of Lighthouse is nothing worth writing home about, but who really cares how nice the place is when the coffee is so damn good? I could care less.

The baristas were a couple of guys. It just stands to reason that every coffee house won't have nice looking twenty somethings making my coffee.

If you are around the Fremont area, head over to Lighthouse and have a great cup of joe. If you are looking for a fancy place to hang out and fart around with your laptop and look cool, this place isn't the spot for you.

Lighthouse Roasters Fine Coffees on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Firehouse Coffee (Ballard)

Last weekend, we loaded up the family and headed to Walla Walla to sample some Washington State wines, so there wasn't a chance to head out to a decent coffee house. I had to make do by choking down some of the hotel coffee, which I had to load up with fake cream to dilute the nasty burnt taste.

Instead, I'll review a coffee house in Ballard that we went to a few weeks ago. Firehouse Coffee is located a few blocks away from the main drag in Ballard. It's located at 2622 NW Market Street, Seattle.

The exterior of the building has that Pacific Northwest kind of vibe going on. Think of bright colors (to help draw your focus away from the grayness of the sky), exposed wood beams, and metal roof. It has a very inviting curb appeal. Inside, it has a nice warm coziness to it that Seattle people have come to expect in a coffee house. So far so good.

I ordered my standard large latte and told them we'd be having our coffee there. The barista served my coffee in the standard paper cup and plastic lid. Bummer! There's nothing worse than sitting at a coffee house and having to drink your coffee in a disposable cup. I guess I'm the exception to the rule, since it seems to be a fashion statement when you carry your paper cup of coffee down the street and show off where you bought your coffee.

The coffee was just mediocre. It wasn't horrible, but it just wasn't anything that you would remember. I think one of the problems is that when you get served in a paper cup, the barista just fills the excess space with extra milk. This was just a boring, diluted latte.

There was a silver lining to the place though. They have a side room that is a dedicated space for children. This almost made up for the fact that the coffee was lacking. If you have young kids, you don't have to try to keep the little rugrats quiet. It is kind of nice to be able to just sit there and drink coffee without having to worry if you kids are pissing off the hippie sitting next to you.

So, if you feel the need to get coffee and don't want to worry if your kids are acting like monsters, go to Firehouse Coffee. Just don't expect to be wowed by the coffee.

Firehouse Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 17, 2008

Verite Coffee (West Seattle)

Last night a few friends came over and I think a little too much red wine was consumed, since my normal 2 cups of coffee didn't seem to wake me up. I was running some errands which brought me to West Seattle. I've driven past Verite Coffee several times and have been wanting to try it out. My hangover this morning was a good excuse. They are located at 4556 California Ave SW.

Verite is right on the main drag in West Seattle: California Ave. This coffee shop has a bunch of lefty art on the walls, is into film and other general nonsense, all of which I could care less about. The furthest thing from my mind is all of this crap when I have a hangover and need coffee.

I ordered a tall latte, which was served in a mug. Again, this is a good sign. I now had a decent feeling that this might be a good cup of coffee. Then I noticed several bags of coffee beans behind the counter which were from Stumptown Roasters. This is another good sign. Stumptown is a Portland based roaster which has a great reputation. The coffee didn't disappoint. It seems like I'm having trouble finding a crappy cup of coffee. This was an outstanding latte. The crema of the espresso mixed with the foamed milk was super thick and creamy. The coffee had a really deeply roasted flavor without that burnt taste that is commonplace with a certain large coffee chain.

This place is a definite thumbs up and if I happen to be in West Seattle, I'll be coming back.

Cupcake Royale (in Verite Coffee) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company (Greenlake)

For a while now, my wife and I load up the kids on a weekend morning in search of the best coffee to be had in Seattle. Last weekend, we went to Zoka Coffee Roaster in Greenlake. They are located at 2200 North 56th St. in Seattle.

This is a standard yuppie neighborhood in Seattle. Moms with kids are everywhere. There are no worries about safety in this area. One thing that has amazed me since moving here is how nice people are in Seattle. Coming from Chicago, the people in Seattle can be too nice, almost like drinking fake maple syrup from a bottle. The last thing I want to do before I get my chance to fill up on caffeine is discuss how nice my kid's stroller is with a stranger. Please move along and let me get my damn coffee!

Ok, back to Zoka. This place has a very warm and cozy atmosphere. This inviting, neighborhood coffee shop atmosphere is what Starbucks wishes they could achieve, but just can't do on a large scale. There are couches and booths and penty of places to relax and get caffeienated. There are plenty of options of things to nosh on and as I understand it, are made by Zoka.

Just to the right of the computer screen is a Clover Coffee machine. These are the $11,000 masterpieces that supposedly turn out the best non-espresso coffee anywhere. As I understand it, Starbucks bought out the company, so don't expect to see many of these in other coffee houses. I didn't have the Clover coffee, so I'll have to go back and report back later.

On to the coffee. I ordered my standard weekend coffee: a 3 shot latte with whole milk. The last thing on my mind is cutting calories on the weekend. Since Zoka roasts in house, I had high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. These baristas turn out a wonderful cup of coffee. Clearly, this place is on their game. The latte has a nice roasted, nutty flavor without being too bitter.
They met one of my primary criteria for a good cup of coffee: a real mug. The last thing I want to do is snarf down my coffee in a paper cup. That would be like drinking a glass of champagne out of a plastic cup.

Last, but not least, this place will not disappoint men that come to have some coffee. The baristas are all between 20-30 and none of them were hard on the eyes.

So, if you are looking for a coffee house to hang out in and have a high-end cup of coffee, this place fits the bill.

Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Co. on Urbanspoon