Seattle Center’s Cafe Beignet

Cafe Beignet at the Seattle Center

Cafe Beignet at the Seattle Center , originally uploaded by andai.

This is the three day Memorial Day weekend. For those of you in Seattle, this means that we have Bumbershoot, the annual three day music and arts festival held at the Seattle Center. Since I don’t often come down to the Seattle Center during the year, Bumbershoot give me a great excuse to head on over to Cafe Beignet for a latte and some beignets.

Cafe Beignet is actually located in the food court at the Center House and is really a tiny stand that fits only three barista behind the counter. After you’ve received your order, you can then wander around the Center House and find a place to sit.

The ‘cafe’ uses beans from Bean Collection Company, a Seattle based roasting company. I think their lattes are actually pretty decent, though my wife might disagree with me. The beans have decent flavor and they do make a nice strong latte. What I really like about this place is that even their small i.e. 8 oz size latte order comes as a double. I think this is great especially when I think of some of the places I have been to where even the 12 oz latte comes as a single shot… $0.50 for the additional shot….

Other than Starbucks, Cafe Beignet is the only option for espresso within the Seattle Center. By the way, do not mistake this Cafe Beignet with a number cafes with similar names. There are quite a few with the same name in New Orleans, LA and also in Oregon…

Your Coffee Options at Bumbershoot

Strange Fruit
Strange Fruit, originally uploaded by andai.

I am spending the weekend at Bumbershoot, the three day music and arts festival held in Seattle at the Seattle Center. This is a great festival to check out various art types of performances especially dance, literary readings, improve, comedy and artwork from local, regional and international artists. There are also some interesting bands, most I never heard of but never the less, you get the chance to check them out. Each night there will be a major headliner who most would recognize. Tonight its Beck, tomorrow, the Stone Temple Pilots and Monday will be Death Cab for Cutie.

Whenever you have these kinds of huge festivals and events, there are usually huge crowds of people. Eventually these people get hungry and thirsty and Bumbershoot always has plenty of food and drink options. But with regards to drinks, and more specifically coffee, there are only three main options. The first option is Starbucks. No surprise there being that this is Seattle, the home of Starbucks. The second option is Tully’s another Seattle based coffee roastings company and the third option is a small coffee and beignet stand called, Cafe Beignet. All three of these operate year round from within the Seattle Center House at the Seattle Center. However, during Bumbershoot, Starbucks will also add a couple of outdoor coffee stands. One of the stands is usually within the Memorial Stadium and the other is located just south of the INTIMAN Theatre and right by the International Fountain Lawn. Tully’s does not have its own store in the Center House but they have an area within Bubbles Inc., so you can get your espresso fix there.

I tend to go to Cafe Beignet for my coffee and some beignets or I would get an elephant ear. As a side note, for those of you from Kenya (or Tanzania) who don’t know what a beignet is, think, mandazi. I find they have pretty decent coffee. The coffee is nice and strong. They use beans from Bean Collection Company, a Seattle based roasting company. The beans have decent flavor are actually not too bad at all. I would certainly recommend that if you are within the Seattle Center – Bumbershoot area, then this is the place to get a good cup of coffee. By the way, so not mistake this Cafe Beignet with a number cafes with similar names. There are some in New Orleans, LA and also in Oregon

But if you are a die hard Starbucks person, and I know there are a lot out there, then I would suggest that you go to the Starbucks in the Center House rather than the Starbucks tents they set-up temporarily for the event.

There are other options for good coffee but you would have to leave the Bumbershoot area for these. The closest is Cafe Zingaro which is on the corner of Mercer St and Warren Avenue North, just west of the northwestern entrance/exit. They have great coffee and I’ll talk more about it in a future posting. By the way, Zingaro is Italian for Gypsy.

Anyway Bumbershoot runs till Monday so there is still the rest of the weekend to go enjoy some great art performances and a nice espresso too…

My Bad Online Coffee Experince…

Online Coffee Downtown

In keeping with my theme on bad coffee shops, today morning I popped into the Online Coffee shop down on 1st Avenue. Since my office is pretty close by, there was a time I use go there almost everyday for my morning latte. Being that I have been checking out some of the other coffeehouses in the area, I have not been there in a while, and so this was my first time in over 6 months to go there for a morning coffee.

In the past whenever I went there, the baristas were pretty nice, they were quick to take your order and ‘dispense’ your coffee, and they made a good strong latte. No matter how big the line was, they were fast and efficient and that’s why I used to go there all the time. Convenience was a big factor too, but they did make good coffee.

Today’s experience was totally different. Right from the start, this was a pretty lame experience compared to my past experiences. I didn’t recognize any of the barista… but at least they were pretty friendly too. The problem was that they were slow. I mean they were really, really slow. When I entered the shop, there were four people ahead of me in the line and placing the orders was relatively quick. The problem was pulling the espresso drinks. It seemed like it took five minutes to get each drink ready and every time a drink was ready people would come out of the woodwork. After waiting for about 15 minutes for my drink I finally realized that a number of the people on the computers and on the couches were still waiting for their drinks. In fact one of them actually came up to the espresso machine guy to complain that he had been waiting for quite a while. Now I had a meeting in 15 minutes and after doing a quick estimate, I realized that at this rate it would be at least another 20 minutes before I got my drink. I knew it would be faster to simply go to another coffee shop for a latte.

I went up to the counter and at first I started asking for my money back, then I thought it might just be easier to get a credit and come back to the shop when I was done with my meeting. They kept apologizing saying how busy they had been. I just shook my head because there was barely a line in the place. I was thinking to myself, these guys don’t know what busy really means. If they want to see busy, they should go check out Caffe Migliore, one of the best coffee shops in Seattle, now those guys get really busy yet they have a fast and efficient system so you barely spend much time on the line. At least I got my credit.

To cut a long story short, thirty minutes later I was back, place my order, took a few minutes to get it ready at which someone who had ordered earlier ended up taking my drinks because the barista had forgotten to make his drink and he had been waiting for goodness knows how long. She quickly made up some excuses then started on his remaining order which meant that I was now once again waiting for my drink. I also heard that she had been telling someone else who was having issues with their service, that they had been really busy and his retort had been, “but isn’t making espresso what you’re supposed to be doing anyway?” I have a feeling quite a few people were not happy with the service.

I finally got my order… and the coffee was not so great. This is not up to the usual standard that I was used to from Online Coffee Company. I have certainly had much better coffee in the past at thsi particular shop, and they have two great stores on Capital Hill with great coffee and nice baristas. My take is that the baristas were not so great. And after this experience, I now have a greater urgency to finish up my next post which I had already started, the title being “How to Spot a Bad Barista.”

How to Spot a Bad Coffee Shop

Untitled, originally uploaded by andai.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into a coffee shop, ordered a latte and then quickly realized I just threw away $4.00 including tax, plus tips. Some places simply server awful espresso drinks with great smiles… especially when you tip well. And with the high price of espresso drinks, there is absolutely no reason why I should be frequenting some of these really bad coffee shops and stands out there. Granted, sometimes it will take a bit of time for some of these places to get on their feet, but some I doubt will ever improve.

And for these reasons, I have come up with some six tips to help those of you who want good coffee, avoid the not so great coffee shops. If you go into a coffee shop and you find at least three of the following below, then you know might just be in a bad coffee shop… or you really enjoy bad coffee

  1. They have more syrupy flavors than Baskin-Robins and Ben & Jerry’s combined. Why do you want to adulterate good coffee by adding all sorts of flavors into your drink.
  2. The place smells of people, animals, food, fruity drinks… anything else other than the smell of fresh ground coffee beans. Yep, they are selling just about everything else and it almost seems like the coffee is an afterthought.
  3. No whole milk. You only get to choose skim or fat free. Some places may have half and half and will ‘kindly’ offer to mix the half and half with the 2% to make ‘whole milk’… sigh…
  4. None of the baristas have tattoos, piercings or any kinds of body modifications at all.
  5. Patrons have to pay to access the wifi. Hello? Why do we still have to pay to access wi-fi at coffee shops? If I have my laptop and my latte which costs a small fortune, then the Wi-Fi surcharge needs to part of the final bill. Gimme my Wi-Fi now!
  6. The ‘regulation’ dress code for the ‘baristas’ is a bikini with the option for pasties. Ok, we know that if this is standard dress code of the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, then you’re probably not going for coffee because they make excellent espresso…

I found a couple of sites here that also talks about bad coffee shop experience… and then you get those who like Starbucks too…
There you have it. If you keep a watch for the above six factors, you will be on your way to getting a great espresso drink from that particular coffee shop.

Now what Next time I will give you my tips on how to spot a bad barista who may happen to be working in a great coffee shop

Getting Ready

Getting Ready, originally uploaded by andai.

This is a picture of my neighbor’s yard one Friday evening, one week ago as they were getting things ready for a Mexican fiesta for the next day. The party included pinatas and a 4 person mariachi band. The band was great! The party sounded great and went on well into the night… unfortunately I was not invited…

For a while there I pondered actually crashing the party, but then again, the crowd there was really not quite my type of crowd… did I mention that the music was great?

Forza Coffee, Good Coffee, Nice Cup Design

Forza Coffee Company, originally uploaded by andai.

I stumbled upon Forza Coffee Company a couple of weeks ago in the most unlikely of places Dupont Wa. Dupont is a little town located in about a 15 to 20 minutes drive north of Olympia, Wa and one that you’d not really think to find any coffee shops other than a Starbucks. Funny enough, I don’t remember actually seeing an Starbucks stores there.

I chatted a bit with one of the baristas who told me a bit out the Forza Coffee Company. She told me that there were a number of Forza Coffee locations all over Washington state. Surprisingly, they do not have a location in Seattle… at least not yet. It is also my understanding that a number of these locations are franchise stores. I don’t know how I feel about that… but then I don’t own the stores so who cares what I think anyway…

She also told me that they get their beans from Dillanos Coffee Roasters and the beans are actually a roast that is made specially for Forza. One quick note about Dillanos. I have seen their trucks around Seattle, but I only know of one place on Madison where they serve Dillanos coffee. I plan on finding out other coffee shops here in Seattle that serve Dillanos so I can get a good feel with regards to Dillanos coffee beans

Ok, that’s that. Now on to the coffee. Actually, they did have pretty decent coffee. They made a nice strong latte that was fairly ‘soft and creamy’ and enjoyable. Keep in mind that at the time I had ordered the coffee, I had just picked up a latte from the Stumptown Coffee Shop located right next to Cafe Presse in the Capital Hill – First Hill area, and drinking it on the drive down to Olympia. So by the time I got down to Dupont, even though I was full of coffee, after seeing the Forza coffee cup design, I just couldn’t resist ordering another double tall latte for the road.

According to the Forza website, one of their stores is located in Kent, WA so I’ll probably be popping in there sometime later this week for another go…

Victoria BC Coffee Scene Poised for Greatness

Union Pacific Coffee Company Sign

Union Pacific Coffee Company Sign, originally uploaded by andai.

Keep in mind when you read this, I was only able to sample a very small number of the coffeehouses and cafes in and around the Victoria BC area. I was only there for about two and a half days and that is really not much time to properly check out all the coffee places that Victoria offers. So take this post with a grain of salt and feel free to suggest places I should try out next time I am back in Victoria.

The first thing I noticed when driving/walking around Victoria BC is that the locals really do like their coffee. It seems like just about everywhere you look, there are folks walking along with their espresso drinks on hand or just lounging in some of the plentiful coffee shops you find all over the place… Some of these include the usual suspects in Canada, i.e. Starbucks, Tim Hortons and Blenz Coffee, but there were also tons of smaller independent coffee shops and cafes to try. Now I tend to stay away from the big boys and try to support the indie shops as much as possible. On this particular trip, I was able to sample coffees from the following places;

  1. Salt Spring Coffee Company
  2. Serious Coffee
  3. Murchies Tea & Coffee
  4. Dolce Vita Coffee Art
  5. Sounds Like Coffee

Out of the five above, my favorite was Salt Spring Coffee. The rest were decent but I didn’t feel that they were exceptional. But the one coffeehouse that I was really excited about but turned out to be not quite as expected was Dolce Vita Coffee Art. You can check out my posting describing my experience there.

Once thing that I really liked in most of the coffeehouses I checked out was that most of the baristas were really nice and friendly and certainly made you feel like you wanted to come back. I to be honest, I would go back to just about all of places I had checked out, in part to see how they are evolving and improving and on part because they make you feel welcome.

My conclusion about the Victoria BC coffee scene, based on the 2-3 days I spent there, is that they are certainly growing and evolving, becoming more vibrant. I think when you see a city that has that many independent coffee shops, it indicates that the locals are aspiring for better quality, charm and uniqueness that you just cannot get from the likes of Starbucks and Blendz.

After having chatted with the baristas at ‘Sounds like Coffee’ and some of the other places, I realize that these folks are serious about their coffee, their art and the culture and I can only conclude that they are going to really help drive Victoria BC into becoming a city known for having plenty of options for excellent coffee.

I am certainly looking forward to going back and check out some of the other shops I didn’t get to try this time round and any new one that will have popped up by then. I want to see how they stack up.

Faith in Dilettante’s Hot Chocolate Restored

Dilettante’s, originally uploaded by andai.

A couple of months back, I was doing quite a bit of business related traveling and flying from Sea-Tac Airport. And because my flights were early Monday morning flights, the first thing I would do once I got through airport security was to head on over to the Dillettante Mocha Cafe or more accurately, their beverage stand for a cup of their ‘famous’ hot chocolate. What? No lattes? Once you go through security, the latte choices are extremely limited. There’s Starbucks, Kathy Casy’s Dish D’lish and then there is Dilettante. I’m not big on Starbucks and I’m not quite feeling Dish D’lish yet. As such, that leaves me with Dilettante. Since they are famous for chocolate, then the natural thing to do is check out their hot chocolate drinks.

To be honest, I thought their hot chocolate were decent, but really nothing much to carry on about and so I has sort of kept them in the back of my mind for one of those times when I absolutely have to have hot chocolate and there’s not a Trophy Cupcakes hot chocolate option close at hand.

All this changed the week before last. This was after I discovered one of the Dilettante Mocha Cafes located in Kent at the Kent Station shopping area. It just so happened that my current consulting project is in Kent and so I have been trying out the different cafes and restaurants in the little town of Kent. I finally decided to pop into Dilettante’s, just to see if my experience would be different at the shop as opposed to the stand they have at the airport.

My first order was the Milk Chocolate (41% Cacao with pure cocoa butter & full cream) with extra of the chocolate. That first sip was more than enough to restore my faith in hot chocolate drinks in America. It was totally awesome! The drink was not overly grainy but was nice and smooth, creamy and chocolaty. I didn’t have to add any sugar since it was already sweetened. In addition, the drink to not leave you feeling dehydrated like I have had with some of my other hot chocolate experiences. This was great hot chocolate.

I also had a chance to try one of their other hot chocolate drinks, the Ephemere® Dark 52% which I thought was also pretty good but certainly no where near their Milk Chocolate drink. I also also excited to try out their Viennese Cocoa, their Dark Chocolate (63% Cacao) and their White Chocolate (31% Cacao) chocolate drinks and see how they compare… so I’ll probably be visiting their Capital Hill, Broadway location mocha bar to try these out.

Quite honestly I think these folks are doing a pretty good job… now all they gotta do is to improve their standards at their Sea-Tac Airport location and all will be good.

Only in Seattle Part I

One Pleasant Evening

One Pleasant Evening, originally uploaded by andai.

Only in Seattle, can we have crazy hot days with almost record breaking heat, then in a flash, the clouds take over to bring the weather back to the status quo.

Over the years that I have lived in Seattle, I am coming to realize that even though I tend to enjoy the warm weather and the cloudless blue skies… I have certainly gotten acclimatised to the the cloudy overcast weather. Gosh…

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