Alimento in the Bay of Plenty

Our guest blogger Tina is German but lives and works in New Zealand. She enjoys the coffee culture in New Zealand and is sending posts of her espresso sojourn

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There are a lot of cafes in the Bay of Plenty that I like for a number of different reasons. But if I had to pick one, I’d probably name Alimento in Tauranga as my overall favorite. It is located centrally, they serve good coffee and lovely food, play nice music and the staff is always friendly. The latter by the way is something not hard to find in this corner of the world.

The interior is just the way it should be, with brown wooden furniture, walls in black and white, and a beautiful original stone floor. Looking around, you can find red bits and pieces in every corner, from round lamps to old scooters. The central piece in the store is the massive, bright red coffee machine, where they brew flat whites, lattes, short and long blacks with beans from Coffee Supreme, a Wellington-based roaster.

As with most cafes in New Zealand, you make up your mind from a huge chalkboard, order and pay at the counter and get a number to display at your table. Breakfast is served until 2pm, and includes all-time favorites such as eggs on toast, bagels, pancakes and muesli. There are fresh salads, wraps and pasta for lunch. Sweet goodies include homemade lemon tart, raspberry muffins and little orange almond cakes.

The only downside may be its location opposite a grey parking garage. But sitting in the courtyard under the century-old karaka tree with the sun shining and the seagulls calling, one can easily forget the garage, as well as any worries of the day.

Of Motore Coffee, Vespas Scooters and Helmets

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One of the unfortunate things about Motore Coffee is that its location. Well, let me rephrase that. Motore Coffee has a location that is great for many who work down-town in the Denny triangle, unfortunately, that is really not that convenient for me. This is simply because I don’t normally hang out in the Denny Triangle area of down-town Seattle and so even if I wanted to stop in to get a quick drink, finding parking is a whole other story. I find that I like the place and the interior design but I haven’t really found the time where I can actually go to the place, to sit down and just savour the environment over a nice latte.

On of the things I found particularly interesting about the place was the interior deco. The place looked like an ode to the Vespa even down to the six, classic scooter helmets on the wall behind the baristas, each with a letter in red, spelling out the name, ‘Motore’. This rather intrigued me so I decided to poke around and find out why the Vespa decor. Now normally I would talk to the baristas about this, but since all the times I have gone there, have been during the morning rush and its hard trying to engage the barista in chit-chat while other customers were waiting…

But I was still able to go onto the internet and find some interesting details behind the décor The inspiration for the interior design came from the Vespa scooter culture which from what I have observed is actually pretty big here in Seattle. The interior features a modern, industrial style with reminders of the scootering (is that really a word?) community all over the place. This includes a how of helmets on the wall behind the espresso machine/counter and a really awesome Vespa on a little raised platform right by the front entrance. And all this makes sense when you realize that the owner of the place just happens to be pretty big into the whole Vespa scooter thing.

The coffee I have got from the place has been pretty decent coffee. Motore Coffee does serve Cafe Vita’s Cafe Del Sol blend for the espresso coffee. I am not sure what they have for drip. I do like that the baristas I have meet there have all been pretty friendly and welcoming. And this is a place I would go back to every so often if it wasn’t out of the way for me.

The one thing that intrigues me about the interior and the design is whether they do actually have a decent following from the Vespa crowd being that Seattle does have a really decent sized Vespas community.. that would be interesting to find out… especially since I’d still think that parking would be an issue 😦

Btg Coffee on Capital Hill

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Bedlam/to.go aka Btg Coffee is a little, almost nondescript street-side coffee stand that one could easily pass without thinking much about what they may have to offer. Well here is a little known secret about the place. Btg Coffee serves some of the best espresso you’ll ever drink on Capital Hill and I say that from experience. The BTG coffee stand is located almost at the top apex of Madison Avenue, just to the west of Madison Market. I would say that a lot of the patrons are those who are walking by and need to get a coffee to go.

I don’t know what it was that made me first check out the place. It could have been that I had basically tried all the coffee shops in the surrounding area… Or may be it was the old vintage Open sign, or what I like to call the Betelgeuse sign, this is a huge arrow sign with the big star on the top, the wording, “OPEN” and the arrow pointing in the direction opposite to the stand… It also could have been the animated TV screen that I think included the menu.. for some reason I just can’t recall though one section of the screen featured a black Labrador rolling around in the grass… this was put in a loop. But I think the main reason that I took so long to check out the place was simply a matter of parking. There really wasn’t any great parking in the immediate vicinity and that the time I first checked out the place, I was taking the bus to work and I think I may have just decided to walk up a little, get a coffee there then take the bus on to work…. I just can’t quite remember…

But whatever the reason it was that I actually first tried it out, I was glad that I did and after that I have passed by there a few more times since. The reason I’m glad I discovered that place is because BTG, to put it simply, has great coffee. You wouldn’t think so when you walk by the place because what you mainly see is a ‘shop/stand’ with some guy sitted behind the counter and the wall behind is covered in a plethora of colours, and what looks like stickers and other little designs. The actual BTG sign is really simple compared to the overall look and feel of the stand… and I think it is really easy to ignore a place that is not a proper walk in shop, a place where you place your order standing outside on the side walk.

I remember the first time or two I ordered my latte there, I really liked the coffee and I asked the owner where he got the coffee from… he wouldn’t say. In addition, he gave me such a look, it took me a couple of therapy sessions to get the courage to go back again… or maybe it was the lure of the coffee. Some months later I asked him a second time where he got his coffee from and this time he was a little more relaxed… though he still wouldn’t tell me. All he said was that he gets the coffee from a friend of his, somewhere in Montana, who roasts the coffee for him then ships it him. That was all he would tell me. I was glad he just didn’t eat me alive 🙂

Every time I have gotten a coffee from there, I have not been disappointed… The coffee is consistently good, a nice and strong cup with great flavour. And when I think about it, I guess it is easy to be consistent when you find the same person behind the counter always and that person is the one who always makes your drink.

Anyway, if you find yourself walking along Madison Avenue on Capital hill, I would highly recommend that you stop and get a coffee… I really think you’ll like it.

Alex of The Fresh Pot Places First at NWRBC

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Alex Pond (pictured above making his signature drink) of The Fresh Pot won of the 2009 Northwest Regional Barista Competition (NWRBC). Kevin Fuller of The Albina Press and Robbie Britt of Zoka Coffee Roasters came in second and third respectively. These were the top three of the six finalists who battled it out to determine the top barista in the Pacific Northwest region.

The competition which started on Friday and run through today, Sunday. It featured some of the more recognizable coffeehouses in the Seattle and Portland area. Personally, as I was looking at the list of entrants, I was much more familiar with the Seattle coffeehouses as I was with the Portland ones.

Although I didn’t attend the finals today, I had driven down to Tacoma yesterday, to the Temple Theatre where the competition were being held, to check out the heats that led to the selection of the six finalists for today. These six finalists were Robbie and Brett from Zoka Coffee (Seattle), Kristina from Lava Java (Ridgefield/Portland), Alex from The Fresh Pot (Portland), Kevin from The Albina Press (Portland) and Michael from Espresso Parts (Olympia).

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The basic format of the competition was as follows. The competitors are each given fifteen minutes to prepare four espressos drinks, four cappuccinos and four of their own signature drinks. These drinks were then served to a panel of four judges who watched the proceedings intently and judged the barista on proficiency and preparation, cleanliness of work area and their knowledge of the specific coffee blend that they used. They also judged the barista on taste of their drinks. It was interesting to note that there were four sitting judges that actually tasted the drinks, but it also looked like there were an additional four or so judges that were walking around the espresso station also judging, but these roaming judges did not actually taste the prepared drinks.

Each year a different coffee roasting company will host the competition. This year, Dillanos Coffee Roasters hosted the competition and the espresso machines are provided by the Italian manufacture, Nuova Simonelli. The Barista Magazine blog has a post about the heats, they also have a post on the finals and pictures of the participants and their support teams. You can also find current and past information on the various barista competitions at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Northwest competitions web page.

I have included here is the full list of all the coffee roasters or coffeehouses represented. I think these would be interesting coffeehouses to visit since they obviously take pride in their espresso drinks and sharing their skills with others.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters (Seattle)
Zoka Coffee Roasters (Seattle)
Trabant Coffee (Seattle)
Victrola Coffee (Seattle)
Satellite Café (Tacoma)
Espresso Parts NW (Olympia)
Olympia Coffee RoasOng (Olympia)
Batdorf & Bronson (Olympia)
Lava Java (Ridgefield)
Blend Coffee (Portland)
The Fresh Pot (Portland)
Little Red Bike Café (Portland)
Coffee House 5 (Portland)
Coffee Bean International (Portland)
The Albina Press (Portland)
Mon Ami Café (Vancouver BC)

Kafeoke for Karaoke and Coffee

Our guest blogger Laura is volunteering in India and plans to spend some time in the new year traveling in South East Asia. She is sending posts of her experiences of the Indian and Asian coffee culture.
 
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Kafeoke is a coffeehouse-restaurant-karaoke joint-voice school located on the beach in a residential area in south Chennai. The setting is an inconspicuous big house in a quiet neighborhood, nestled between two fishing villages and set back from the street by a long driveway. We visited the place on a sunny Sunday afternoon and it was pretty quiet, filled with a handful of young, fashionably dressed Indian couples. The downstairs area is open to the outdoors, with wicker swinging chairs. No view of the beach though.

Upstairs has a modern interior with photos of musicians framed on the wall. The folks who furnished the place seemed to have been trying hard to encourage people to forget the beach that exists outside the building, fully covering all the windows with a thick fabric. The only place where you can sit and see the beach is from a smallish balcony upstairs.

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Kafeoke’s menu has the Indian/Continental fusion items typical of fashionable places catering to the young IT and call center workers with money to burn: paneer burger, chicken tikka pizza and “Serloin Steak” (made out of smoked chicken). The coffee drinks turned out to be a bit of a disappointment as the espresso machine was broken. As a result I ordered a filter coffee and my companion a masala tea (i.e. chai). Both drinks were fair – nearly identical to the drinks one can purchase at tea stalls on every street in the city, but at a fraction of the price of Kafeoke.

Kafeoke is an operational karaoke joint and I’m not sure this is an attractive feature from the perspective of the coffeehouse customer. Probably best to keep the singing inside the insulated voice-school room.

As a side note, Kafeoke coffee shop serves LavAzza coffee beans.

Welcome 2009, and One World Economy?

2009 is here. And as always, tons of folks around the world celebrate the new year with the obligatory new year resolutions… you know what I mean, be nice to your neighbors, world peace and all that. And I remember how I used to be optimistic back in the day… but I have lived long enough to know that… ok maybe I should say to surmise that things will probably not go so great for billions of people around the world.

Clearly, there are those whom as we speak, live under the curse of strife and conflict, poverty, disease and other sorts of calamities and tragedies. At the same time here in the west, folks tend to look optimistically towards the new year thinking that things will be better. But this year, it almost feels like we are entering new and uncharted territory. For one, the threat of global terrorism seems to be growing rather than subsiding. But the biggest story of 2008 clearly was the global financial crisis. The story not being that there is a global economic and financial crisis, but that some of the leaders in areas of power and influence are starting to talk more openly about having a more international or global regulatory system as opposed to the current system of regulation where each of the nation states define and implement their own rules and regulations.

I personally find this rather interesting because I have been wondering how in the one world economic system as described in the New Testament book of Revelation and it makes me wonder if this is the sort of event that can indeed usher in this one world economy. One thing for sure is that there is a lot of nationalism around the world. There are plenty of countries that are doing relatively well and as a result may be reluctant to join a global, single currency economy because they may have to help bail out countries that would gladly join simply because of their own dire economies. And there are those countries that are simply not going to give up their sovereignty due to political, class, racial or even religious reasons and so even though I truly believe we will have such a system sometime in the future, I just don’t know how it will come about…

Let me say that I cannot tell the future or what the future holds, so I don’t know that will happen… yet I hope that 2009 will be a much better year for everyone than 2008 was… so let me at least wish you all a blessed and happy new year!

Rounding Out 2008 with Neptune Coffee

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Neptune Coffee is the last coffee shop I visited in 2008… I discovered Neptune Coffee for the first time actually just a couple of days ago. Even though this coffee shop has been around for about a year or so in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle but I only discovered it by chance… I was actually on my way to Diva Espresso when I drove by this shop and decided to stop there instead. And I’m glad I did.

The barista who I spoke to was really nice and friendly. We talked about about the place and the owners, Dan and his wife, and also of Stumptown coffee which they serve. And you guessed it, they use the Hairbender blend for their espresso drinks. But what I really liked about the barista was that she had no problem with me taking pictures in the place. Sometimes you’ll get the uptight or freaked out barista who will not appreciate you taking pictures because “the owner might be upset” or “you might be trying to get ideas for your own coffee shop”. This is something I have never understood why some are so uptight about taking pictures, but I suppose to each their own…

All in all, even though I was in a hurry and I couldn’t really hangout, I thought the place was decent and the atmosphere was friendly. My latte was decent though it could have been a tad stronger…. but that is also what you get when you have been making your own really strong espresso drinks at home… I think that in addition to good coffee, the friendly baristas will always make for a good experience… and any slight flaws in the service. Neptune coffee was certainly a nice way for me to round out 2008, and now I look forward to going back there sometime when I happen to be in the area… oh and after checking out Espresso Diva which is just two blocks south on the same street.

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