A good cup of coffee is surprisingly difficult to find. The popular chain “coffee” houses usually serve some sort of foul brownish liquid made palatable with milk, sugar, cinnamon, caramel, and other such travesties. These shops are in the business of serving “coffee-based beverages,” but I just want coffee. DoubleShot Coffee in Tulsa, OK introduced me to coffee as a complex, flavorful beverage that stands on its own. As I travel, I struggle to find decent coffee. I’ve had many cups that barely deserve the adjectives “brown” and “warm”. I’ve had a few good cups.
I recently visited Seattle, the supposed homeland of awesome coffee. Here’s my opinion of a few shops:
- Victrola Coffee Roasters – I visited the Beacon Hill shop. At first, I didn’t see the shop and figured my smartphone had lied to me about location. But, the shop is there nestled between several larger storefronts. The espresso is fantastically creamy, thick, oily, and rich. And, the barista was making fun of caramel machiattos. Victrola is my current favorite espresso in Seattle.
- Espresso Vivace – Parking anywhere near here was an hour long driving-in-circles hell. But, the espresso is memorable and tasty. Unlike other shops that pull doppios, Vivace pulls ristrettos only, espresso made with less water than usual. Vivace lives up to its reputation for fantastic coffee, and I only wish I had more of it.
- Caffe Vita – After finishing at Vivace, I noticed that Vita was just down the street. With more than a hour left on my parking meter, I set out on foot. The espresso is certainly excellent, though my ability to really evaluate and appreciate espresso diminishes after three in one day. Vita was using bottomless portafilters, something I’d never seen before.
- Stumptown Coffee – Stumptown was my final stop of the day and did not disappoint. The espresso is definitely top tier, but my ability to say anything more intelligent diminished even more by the fourth in one day. Stumptown coffee is available in branded shops and independent shops throughout the region. The independent shops vary from pretty good to boring.
- Mondo’s – This coffee stand is in a grocery store parking lot just off the freeway. Judging by the morning traffic, it’s a popular stop for folks heading to work. The espresso is decent. The Americano is weak, watered-down, and nearly flavorless. But the stand is convenient.
- Vince’s Coffee - This shop is in Renton, a suburb southeast of Seattle. I had business nearby and stopped here for breakfast. The shop is pleasant with nice hardwood floors and plenty of seating. The espresso is decent, although the burrito I had was uninspired. If I lived nearby, I’d visit again.
- The French Bakery – Good coffee seems frustratingly difficult to find outside of downtown Seattle. This shop, besides offering very good baked good, sports a $22000 Mistral machine and the best espresso I’ve found in the ‘burbs. Downtown shops are still much better in my opinion.
- 148th Ave Coffee – This shop gets good reviews online. It was conveniently located near a nice park, so I dropped in. The staff is friendly, the WiFi is fast, and the environment is quiet. However, I feel bad for the fine coffee plants that died to make this place’s espresso, marked with overpowering notes of thin, sour, and foul.
- Starbucks – This chain offers the same mediocrity everywhere. Don’t bother unless you need free (albeit usually slow) WiFi.
I’ve also briefly explored coffee options in Bend, OR:
- Backporch Coffee Roasters - Backporch appears to be the single largest roaster in town with two shops. Both locations are nicely done, but I prefer the southern location over the northern because their roaster is here and the environment is a bit more relaxed. The coffee they were serving was very good but a bit too bright and acidic for my tastes. The cappuccino was exceptional in the traditional 5 ounce size.
- Lone Pine Coffee Roasters – Lone Pine is, literally, in a downtown alley and is a favorite. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful, and they roast in shop. The coffee is fantastic, and the shop is relaxed and pleasant. If I lived nearby, I’d be a regular.
I look forward to finding more coffee on my travels!