Life’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

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I have been listening to Henryk Górecki‘s beautiful minimalist Symphony No. 3, Op. 36., which is also commonly known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. There are three ‘tracks’ or movements on this symphony. The first is about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ mourning for her son, the second is about a message (or lament) written on a wall in a Gestapo cell by a young Polish girl and the third is a Silesian folk song about a mother who has lost her son to the war. These songs, though beautiful, are really sad and really express the anguish felt by the three ladies. What is interesting to me is that as you listen to the sad, sad voice of the singer who really does a great job of expressing the sadness and the anguish of the three women.

As you listen to this music, you start thinking about the world today and realize that the world has not changed much at all. With all the crap that’s going on around the world, all the cries of “Never Again!”, all the hand wringing and crocodile tears, I personally think the world is getting worse. All over the world and especially in Africa, women are singing their own symphony of sorrowful songs with tragedies that are recurring on a daily basis.

All this makes me really wonder, where is the world really headed and does the world even really care where it’s headed?

Top Notch Coffee and Top Pot Donuts

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Its a little strange when you see one of your favorite coffee shop on the Food Network.

Now I tend to think of Seattle as this little city that doesn’t get much attention in the media. I mean pick just about any show on the Food Network. Even though Seattle has great restaurants, they barely seem to feature any of them. Or look at sitcoms, other than Frasier, I can’t really think of any sitcom that is based in Seattle. Or what about movies? Other than Sleepless, and I think Double Jeopardy, I am really hard pressed to count off movies that are supposed to have taken place in Seattle. So you can understand, that when I saw Top Pot Donuts on TV, I thought that was exciting.

Now what was not exciting was that on the show, the only featured the new, modern store located downtown on 5th Avenue and didn’t even mention the flagship store, the one located on Summit Avenue up on Capital Hill which I personally think is the coolest. Top Pot also have three other stores, one up on Queen Ann, one in Bellevue and one in Wedgwood. I haven’t been to either of these three, but I have driven by the one on Queen Ann.

I thought the story of how top pot actually got its name was rather fascinating. The two founders bought this huge old sign for a Chinese Restaurant called Topspot. They lugged the sign home and left it sitting out in the back for four years. By then the s had fallen off and I guess they liked the ‘new’ sign, Top pot. So the name stuck. You can actually see this sign if you go to the original shop… and I think the Food Network should have shown the sign when they were doing the Top Pot segment… and especially since they did actually mention the story behind how Top Pot got its name…

Although Top Pot is really famous for their doughnuts, they do actually roast their own coffee beans. And they do a good job too… The blend that they use for the espresso drinks is their El Presidente blend which they describe as a medium roast blend made with beans from Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Papua New Guinea… I didn’t realize that Papua New Guinea grew coffee…

I also do think they make the best doughnuts in the Seattle area*. That plus the fact that they also serve great coffee is the major reason that I think the Top Pot location on Summit Ave is always packed… especially on weekends. Besides, I really like the atmosphere in the place… which is also pretty welcoming. They have huge bookshelves that run from floor to ceiling on the North and south sides of the shop and the lighting is soft and makes for really nice long exposure photography. And the free Wi-Fi is a bonus!

*As an aside, I think some would want to argue that Mighty O donuts are the best in Seattle, but I don’t know if I would agree yet. I have only eaten one Mighty O donut and I really wasn’t impressed at all but I also don’t want to make any comparisons until I have had a chance to sample a few other variety of Mighty O donuts so for now I am simply going to say that in Top Pot donuts make the best doughnuts I have eaten in Seattle.

Fuel Coffee… My Daily Fuel

Fuel Cup

Fuel Coffee has been a staple of the Eastern side of Capital Hill for a while now and has also been a favorite alternative source of mine. The first store opened up on Capital Hill (or maybe more accurately the Miller Park neighborhood… a couple of doors down from the famous Kingfish Cafe right on 19th. She then opened her second store on Montlake, in the same space where the Montlake branch of the Seattle Library system was located before they move to their new location across the street. She then opened a third store in the Wallingford area right on 45th almost directly across the street from Chocolati Café.

I often drive past Fuel Coffee on my way to the office (or client site) and will stop and get a latte for the road. I will usually rotate between the one on 19th which has the old coffee shop feel to it similar to Bauhaus or the original Top Pot, and the one on Montlake Blvd which has a more modern feel to the design. Regardless, I really like the design concept of the old 50s, 60s gas station that the stores are build around. I believe the Fuel Coffee in Wallingford even has a vintage gas pump in it… I have to go back and check to confirm.

But what I think is really interesting about Fuel is that even though the serve the Cafe Del Sol espresso blend from Cafe Vita, as many coffee shops in Seattle do, they clearly pull their espresso shots and froth the milk in a way the flavor comes out distinctively different from all the other coffee shops using this same blend. I am not sure how they do it, but I’m sure they would be willing to chat. They do have La Marzocco espresso machine that has a really awesome custom design i.e the Fuel racing strips… I wonder if that is the machine that makes the difference. I will have to get the background story on their machines, but clearly I think they do a decent job with their lattes otherwise I wouldn’t be going there at all…

And I find that the baristas there are generally nice… and there are a couple at the Montlake branch who are really cool. I don’t know their names or anything like that but I recognize them whenever I go there for a coffee.

The other thing I like about Fuel is their merchandise. They do have some really great t-shirts, mugs and insulated cups and a host of other pretty cool merch. I am not one to usually buy that kind of stuff, but I really do like their t-shits…

Insomniax Coffee on 15th

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Insomniax Coffee & Juice is yet another of those coffee shops that I pass by on a regular basis, but I rarely, if ever go there. The main reasons for this are twofold. The first is that I usually don’t hang out in the area as such, and because of this, easy parking tends to be important to me because when I do tend to stop at such places, I am in usually on my way somewhere else. Thus, the second reason is the need for easy parking which then allows me to quickly pop in and out… this is actually a bigger issue than the first.

In the case of Insomniax Coffee, I actually live a few blocks away from the place, so I can walk if I really wanted to… so there is actually a third reason why I don’t go to the place… and that is the coffee. I am not a big fan of their lattes. This is a shame because the do serve fair trade certified coffee supplied to them by a roaster called Café Mam. The actual blend that they use for espresso is Café Mam’s Royal Espresso blend. I have now been there twice and I have come to conclude that I don’t like their coffee much. Now don’t get me wrong, the lattes were not a bad per se, it was more of the darker roast and flavor that I didn’t like so this is more of a personal opinion on taste as opposed to a critique on bad, bad coffee.

At the same time, I know off folks who do like their coffee and for this reason I would suggest that if you are in the area of Group Health hospital up on 15th on Capital Hill, try out the coffee and let me know what you think.

And for those of you who are curious about Café Mam, they buy and roast coffee from the fair-trade cooperatives of the native Mayan farmers who live up in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. The coffee, which is gown in high altitude, is 100% organic, fair trade certified and shade-grown. The farmers are mainly Mam, Tzetzal and Mochó. You can read more about Café Mam and the farmers who grow the coffee here.

Voxx Coffee on Eastlake

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Voxx Coffee on Eastlake is another coffeehouse that until relatively recently, I had driven by too many times to count but never actually stopped there to get a latte.

The two main reasons I think I hadn’t stopped there in the past were;

  1. I have never heard of Voxx Coffee other than seeing the place when I drive by. Normally when you hear about coffee shops, you tend to hear of the Victrolas, the Vivaces, the Stumptowns, the Caffe Umbrias etc. It is because of the fact that I never really heard about them that sub-consciously I really didn’t want to stop there. This naturally would bring me to the importance of coffeehouses and roasters getting their names out there… but this is a post I will reserve for later
  2. The other reason I was reluctant to stop there was because the parking situation in that area of Eastlake is not pretty… Finding parking is at times a beast

It was only after I started this blog, in addition to collecting paper coffee cups did I actually determine to stop there and get a latte… and a cup for my collection. So I pass by once with my wife.., though I sat in the car while she got for me the latte. I liked my latte. I thought they did a decent job… They actually use Stumptown Coffee beans… and as I found out later, they use the hair bender blend. I have noticed that a number of other coffeehouses that they serve Stumptown coffee will use the hair bender blend. But other than that I didn’t know too much about the history of the place. Since I wanted to check out the place and talk to the baristas, I knew I was going to have to come back another time…

I have been back a couple of times. The last time I was there was about about two weeks ago. I wanted to ask the barista a little more about the owner of the place since the barista I spoke to the last time I was there had told me that the owner used to own The Sitting Room which is up on Queen Ann.

So this last time as I popped in, I started asking the barista a little more about the owner… and it just so happened that the owner was right there. She was pretty cool and told me a bit about herself and Voxx Coffee.

The owner, Miriam, is originally from Lyon, France and still has the French accent. She told me that after 10 years in the restaurant business, i.e. The Sitting Room, she decided that it was time for a change and hence she started Voxx Coffee. And with the current downturn in the economy, restaurants tend to take quite a hit. At the same time, running a restaurant is a lot more hard work and stress than running a coffeehouse… so she’s pretty happy.

I also asked her about the name, Voxx. The told me that voxx is latin meaning voice and her coffee shop was sort of a play on that… but even more was that Voxx was easy to work with in terms of design and logo work. I thought she was really nice and friendly… and the baristas have all been pretty nice too…

I would certainly go back there. I would like to hang out there and enjoy the atmosphere since the past three times I’ve been there, I have been in a hurry and on my way to appointments or running errands…

Check out what others are saying on Yelp.com about Voxx…

My Bizarre Elbasha Cafe Experince

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First of all I must say that I have drive past the Elbasha Cafe many a time and the sign has always intrigued me. The sign for this cafe depicts a Moroccan looking guy wearing a Fez and almost looks like some old portrait photograph from the 40s or 50s. I also like the green colors on the logo. What’s even cooler is that they have same logo done in chalk on the brown menu chalk board. I am now thinking that I need to start collecting pictures of the most interesting menu chalk boards in coffee shops I visit.. but I digress…

The only problem I had with trying to visit Elbasha is that it is located at the North end of Belltown in an area that I don’t normally frequent so I haven’t really had a chance to check out the place until just a few weeks ago. There was parking right by the place and so I was able to make a quick stop there while on my way to a client’s office.

Right off the bat, I liked the north half of the space… with comfortable looking couches and a fireplace… so if you had a bit of time, a place the looked nice to hang out. But the southern half of the space was which includes the ordering counter look a little like a cheap deli… not so exciting.

The barista was the most ‘interesting’ barista I have met in all of my coffee shop experiences. First of all, he was rather suspicious of the fact that I had a camera and wondered out aloud why I had a camera with me… to take pictures of the coffee shop in some sort of covert operation?… he even went as far as to ask me if I owned my own coffee shop because the idea of someone collecting pictures of coffee shops and coffee cups as a hobby was absolutely foreign to him. I asked him to talk to his supervisor who on the other hand, did not have a problem with me taking pictures inside the cafe.

After this, I asked the barista what coffee they served and he either had no clue or simply didn’t want to tell me. Unfortunately, I think it was the former and not the latter. I then asked if they served whole milk in their lattes and he said yes they served 2%. When pointed out the error of his ways and kept insisting that 2% was whole milk. After going back and forth, he finally turned to his supervisor, who was in the kitchen area, and asked him if he knew anything about whole milk. The supervisor informed him that whole milk was the equivalent of 4%, not 2% and they did not have whole milk.

At this point I was thinking that I had enough and it was time to go, but the barista then asks me if I am really here for the coffee… or in other words, you own a coffee shop and you are trying to find out how our cafe is run… I decided that since I had gone through all this trouble, the very least I could do was order the latte and try it out.

To be honest, the latte was not super bad, but it was not that great either. On top of that, the flavor of the coffee was familiar. I knew I had had that coffee before but I just couldn’t remember what roast or blend that coffee was. And maybe I should have asked the supervisor what blend of coffee they use. Will I go back? After thinking about this, I think I would go back but I would have to have a latte made by someone else as opposed to the barista who served me… and that way I may have a different and more pleasant experience.

Faire Gallery Cafe for Coffee, Art and More…

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I checked out Faire [Gallery] Cafe when it first opened. This was quite a while back and quite honestly I didn’t quite remember what the latte experience was like and I knew that if I was going to add a post about the place, I would have to go back and try another latte… And so I did just that a couple of days ago..

Before I get into the details, I must say that many a time, especially in the evenings after work or at night, I have driven by the place on my way home and seen the place completely packed! Not just people sitting down to coffee and treats, but people listening to live music, poetry readings or other performances. The remarkable thing about this is that Faire Gallery Café is actually a relatively small place. What helps though is there is upstairs seating although the upstairs does not span the whole floor space, rather it semi-circles three sides of the wall. What I mean by that is the people sitting upstairs can look below and see everything going on, on the main floor.

Jessica, the owner of the place seems to have some sort of French connection or affinity and even the name of the place, Faire is a french verb meaning “to make.” On their MySpace page, she indicates that her hometown is Paris. That I thought was rather interesting was that they don’t serve French coffee, rather, they serve Italian coffee i.e. Caffe Umbria but then I was pretty happy with that since Caffe Umbira is one of my favorite coffee roasting companies.

So that is what I ordered… a double tall latte. Now to be honest once again, I really did not like my latte as I would have thought I would considering it was Caffe Umbria. That I found out though was that Faire uses the Arco Etrusco blend which is a dark roast. I can’t quite tell if it was the dark roast itself or whether it was simply the barista who made a latte what wasn’t really memorable to me. I do know one thing for sure, if that is typical of their lattes, I’d rather walk a further one block south to Bauhaus Books and Coffee where I know I will get a great latte

One thing I have to say about Faire is that I have heard great things about their service and their food, especially their salads. I thought the barista was really nice to me and she even had no objection with me taking pictures in the place… as long as she was not in the picture… I would certainly frequent the place for try out their other eats and enjoy the arts… just not for the coffee though.

Before I end this post, here’s a little trivia for you coffee and/or Italian lovers… the Arco Etruscio is the name of the famous arched entry to the Umbrian town of Perugia and is also the official logo for Caffe Umbria.

Herkimer Coffee… Much Ado About Nothing…

herkimer coffee sign

Today I dropped by the Herkimer Coffee shop, the one located in South Ravenna, on University Way NE. I was in the area running an errand and I saw the sign for the shop… and since I was parking right by the shop, I thought this would also be a good opportunity to try out the coffee there and also find out a little about Herkimer Coffee and their selection of beans.

The barista on duty was a rather interesting character. When I asked her questions about the coffee beans and the blend, all she could tell me was that Herkimer Coffee roasts their own beans. The roasting plant is in Phinney Ridge, which is also their other retail location. But she doesn’t know much about the blends because the owner doesn’t give out any details. I thought is was interesting that their espresso blend does not have a name at all… it’s simply known as the espresso blend…

I then asked her if I she minded if I could take a picture in the store. She was rather apprehensive about that and offered to ask her manager if I could. She wanted “to be on the safe side” and suggested that I can come back at another time and she’ll let me know what the manager said. I did not have the heart to tell her that unless the coffee was great, I probably would not come back to this store just to simply take a picture of the store inside. But on the flip side, she did give me an extra cup… so at least I can add a picture of that to my collection of coffee cups

So she made me my latte and on the surface, I liked the fact that the foam was a nice darker shade of brown and a cool little rosetta design… looks cool. I added my usual sugar in the raw and tasted. Now here is where I am conflicted. I liked the fact that the latte had that soft taste to it but overall, the latte was rather mild. Now I like a nice strong latte… not so big into the dark roasts but prefer the medium roast which I believe this must have been… but the coffee was rather weak… almost like she had made a single rather than a double shot. Finally, I have to honest in that I wasn’t too excited by the flavour of my drink. It was not anything that really stood out or in the least bit memorable. This is not to say that the coffee was bad… I wouldn’t say it was bad… it just wasn’t anything special.

Leaving the coffee shop, I know for sure that I wasn’t coming back to take the pictures. I am thinking that I might just go checkout the Phinney Ridge location and see if my coffee is much better than the one I got here. After all, it seems like a fair amount of people seem to think the coffee there is pretty decent

One other interesting thing that I find about Herkimer Coffee is the story behind the logo. At first I was wondering if it was a drawing of the Cascade Mountains or the Olympic Mountains, both of which can be clearly seen from different vantage points in Seattle. But it didn’t look quite right… however, after I poked around a bit on the Herkimer Coffee website I found out that the logo is actually inspired by (or is a drawing of) the old trolley bridge based on a 1930 photo of the bridge in the town of Herkimer, NY. The bridge still stands but is no longer in use.

Kitanda For Brazilian Espresso

Two days ago I was on my way back to from a late lunch when I drove by Kitanda Brazilian Espresso. I have never heard of Brazilian espresso so this certainly caught my eye. In addition to this, since this was in Redmond, this was even more exiting, primarily because the options for good espresso on the east side, i.e. Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland etc are extremely limited. The only place I can think of right now is Jitters Coffee and even that is not super great. So I resolved to pass by the next morning and find out exactly what Brazilian expresso, as opposed to Brazilian coffee, is all about.

So early the next morning, I stopped by Kitanda. As I was entering the shop, the first thing I noticed was the big Caffè D’arte sign that hang by the window. Hmm… I was thinking, maybe they don’t serve Brazilian espresso after all. But I decided to forge on and see. Maybe they have the Brazilian espresso on the menu. So I walk up to the counter to place my order at the same time taking note of the fact that all the paper coffee cups, and the 1 pound bags of coffee were all Caffè D’arte coffee bags/beans. It became pretty clear to me that I was in for Italian espresso and not Brazilian espresso.

The barista came out from the back. She was really nice and friendly but not too knowledgeable about the specifics of their coffee. The first thing I asked her was that blend of coffee they served… she points to the Caffè D’arte coffee cups and coffee bags and tells me that this was Brazilian espresso. Now I didn’t know whether to call her on her obvious mistake but I thought I’d let it pass. I then asked for a “double tall latte” and she proceeded to tell me that they did not have that particular blend. Ok, now I started thinking to myself that there was still time to back out and go to Jitters instead… but even that thought didn’t really excite me so reluctantly I decided to press on. At the very least I would have something that I could blog about.

So once again I asked for a double tall latte. After a bit of back and forth, I realized that she didn’t understand my request so I pointed out on the menu board exactly what I wanted. She finally got it and told me that she didn’t quite understand my accent and thought I wanted a pineapple latte!!!!!!???? That done, I paid and waited for my latte. I noticed that she was going to make my latte with fat free milk. Ok, one thing I must say is that I think fat free milk is disgusting and totally pointless and is one of the reasons why a lot of deserts here taste like crap but that’s neither here nor there. I was not going to have fat free milk in my latte so I asked her if she has whole milk instead. “Yes” she said with a big smile, “we have 2%”. Ok now here we go again. So I proceed to tell her that 2% != whole milk and she, knowing better than me, proceeds to argue with me. Knowing that I was in a hurry to get to work and I had no time to argue, I decided to try a different approach. So I asked her a simple question, “do you have any milk that has a red top?” “Yes” she replies and goes to the far corner of the shop where she pulls out a gallon of whole milk. I didn’t bother to tell her that Whole Milk == 4% == Container with Red Top.

By now I was thinking, let me get my Italian “Brazilian” espresso and even though it will be pretty bad, at least I will have tried this place and can talk about it. she gives me the latte, I add some white sugar (they don’t stock the sugar in the raw type sugar that I prefer) to it and taste it. Big pleasant surprise, the coffee was actually pretty decent. Certainly way, way more decent than Jitters Coffee or that other alternative on the east side, Starbucks. Clearly, using Caffè D’arte coffee beans was a factor the decent latte I got. The other factor was the whole milk, but I also think that part of it was that she wasn’t too bad when it finally came to making my drink and that to me as the biggest surprise. I am certainly planning on going back from time to time in the mornings.

I didn’t want to ask her anything about the actual Caffè D’arte blend they used in their espresso, but I noticed that the labeling on the Caffè D’arte coffee bags would seem to indicate that Caffè D’arte do a custom blend for them. The custom blend is called Kitanda Gourmet Espresso blend.

But what about this Brazilian thing? Actually the place, which is sort of a Brazilian bakery and cafe, does serve Brazilian cakes, pastries and pasties and other Brazilian type treats. I met the lady who baked a lot of the goodies and she was really nice. I promised them that I would come back and try out some of the goodies… and I certainly intend to keep my promise…

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