Back to Kitanda for Brazilian Espresso



D’arte at Kitanda, originally uploaded by andai.

Last December, I wrote a post about my first visit to Kitanda, the Brazilian Cafe and bakery down in the Bellevue/Redmond area. I had initially noticed them when I was driving back to work after lunch and since I am always on the lookout for new places to try. I was pretty excited to try out their Brazilian espresso as was advertised on their huge sign. This was certainly welcome too since the main choices for espresso you have in that area are Starbucks and Jitters Coffee. It was shortly after that that my work required me to commute to Kent so I was absent from the Redmond area for a while.

Fast forward to a few months later, I was back in the area, working on a new project. On this particular day I just had this craving for a baked good from the Brazilian bakery which of course meant that I was going to have to order another espresso drink. Besides the baked goodies, I really wanted to see if they had improved, not in customer service for which they are great at, but in the making of their espresso drinks.

So I stepped up rather gingerly to the cashier and placed my order for a double tall latte. I mean they are using Caffè D’arte which is one of my more favorite coffee bean roast so how bad can they really be?

Well to my surprise and slight disappointment, the double tall latte they served me tasted more like a single Grande. My latte was really weak and milky! And I asked them if this was a double shot or whether they have actually served me a single shot? The assured me that what I was holding in my hand (they didn’t use this exact phrase) was indeed a double shot latte. I was really surprised and at first I was going to ask them to add another shot of espresso, but then I decided it wasn’t worth it.

Although the coffee wasn’t great, the guys at the café were really pleasant to talk to. We chatted a bit about the language they spoke, i.e. Portuguese and also about traditional Brazilian pastries and baked treats. They told me about their other retail location in Kirkland and also a bit about the blend of coffee they serve. They also did not have any problem with me taking pictures in the place. I think they probably thought I was a little weird.

I think I have to give the place one more try. I need to go order a double short (8 oz) latte and see if that will make any difference to the quality of coffee that I get. If they serve me a nice strong double short latte, I will be pleased. If however the coffee if mediocre, then that would probably be the last time I go there. Life is too short to keeping going to the same place if they are not going to serve you good coffee

The Back Porch Café

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.

Flat White at The Back Porch Cafe
Flat White at The Back Porch Cafe

Coming from a country where it is common to have ‘coffee and cake’ at around 4pm in the afternoon, I still haven’t managed to adjust to the fact that most cafés down here close just around that time, if not earlier. I suppose Kiwis prefer an early Saturday morning coffee break so they can spend the rest of the day surfing, hiking, kayaking, paragliding, fishing or sailing.

Since my perfect Sunday involves sleeping in, having a late breakfast, browsing through a book or magazine for a while, taking a long shower and then heading to town to stroll around the little shops, by the time I enter one of the cafés, most of the other people have already left.

The same happened on Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks back, when I walked into The Back Porch Café, a neat little place between a strip of shops on the road towards Mt Maunganui. I asked whether their kitchen was still open, and the lady behind the counter said it wasn’t, but that they would make me something anyway. So I took a seat on the back porch (of course), and minutes later she brought me a big plate of bacon and eggs, with a warm slice of salty buttered baguette, a bottle of water as well as a creamy flat white, which is what lattes are called here in New Zealand. And while I was eating up what tasted absolutely homely and delicious, I could hear the chef cleaning up the last pans in the kitchen, happily whistling a tune.

The coffee they’re offering at The Back Porch Cafe comes from a small Auckland brand, Velvet Coffee Roasters. And that name alone makes me crave another flat white right now, while I am typing this.

Updated: Maximilien at the Market (with Stella)

maxi2

In my previous blog posting, Maximilien at the Market I talked about the Mother’s day brunch celebration we had at Maximilien, the French restaurant at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. When I took a look at the menu, I noticed that they offered coffee from both Caffè D’arte and Stella Coffee. These two are actually really good Italian style coffee roasters here in Seattle and so it was a no brainer that I would find myself ordering an espresso right off the bat.

The only problem here though was the waiter. He waiter just did not seem to know much about the coffee they were serving even though is was right there on the menu. The Caffè D’arte was for espresso drinks, while Stella Coffee was the choice for drip coffee. On talking to the waiter, I quickly found he didn’t really know what coffee was being served so he went to the back to ask. He finally came back from the kitchen, triumphant told me that all they served was Caffè D’arte…. none of that Stella Coffee stuff. Well fair enough I thought… even though they had Stella Coffee on the menu, maybe they would issuing new corrected menus sometime soon.

And to be honest, I enjoyed my latte and I was thinking that I would certainly come back anytime for another and another… hoping of course to get a different waiter who could give me a little more background on their coffee.

So imagine my surprise when I received a tweet today afternoon from @maxi_sea. They had read the posting and now they wanted to set the record straight once and for all, in 140 characters or less. Apparently, the waiter got it wrong… they actually serve Stella Coffee and not Caffè D’arte… And in answer to my question posed in the previous posting, the reason why Maximilien choose to server Italian style coffee rather than a French coffee is simply because the Italian style coffee is great. If you ask me, Italian style coffee certainly kicks butt and leaves French style coffee in the dust… but that’s just my opinion…

And I must say that I do like Stella Coffees, having been to their downtown shop on a few occasions, I am glad the barista at Maximilien is doing some great work with the espresso drinks. I also like the fact that Maximilien is open and honest about their food, drinks and mishaps… I would say nice use of twitter to help set the record straight….

Maximilien at the Market

maxi

Each year, I spend Mother’s Day brunch with my relatives here in Seattle and since they love to go out to nice restaurants, we tend to try out a different place each time. This year’s choice for brunch was Maximilien, the French restaurant at the Pike Place Market. If you know where the famous ‘flying fish’ stall at Pike Place Market is, you want to take the little hallway to your left. Just be sure to be ready to duck, just in case some butterfingered tourist misses the catch and you get smacked by one of the fish. Sometimes the fish guys will let the customer catch the fish.

Not much to say about the food that they served, not that it wasn’t good or anything like that, but only because we are here to talk about espresso and not French cuisine! So I ordered a latte. The lattes come in little 8 oz cups which is just fine by me. As I was trying to find out more about their coffee, the waiter was not as knowledgeable about the coffee as I thought he would be…. But that was ok, because on the menu, the indication was that they served Stella coffee for drip while Caffé D’arte was what they used for espresso drinks. So here is where the confusion comes in because according to the waiter, they only served Caffé D’arte. They don’t have Stella Coffee. Ok fine, whatever… yet I also found this too be really odd and surprising.

The first thing that came to my mind while I was checking out the menu was, why is this restaurant, which bills itself as a romantic French restaurant, serve Italian style coffee. Not only is Caffé D’arte clearly an Italian [style] coffee, but so is Stella Coffee. This I think was the biggest surprise for me… But… that wasn’t going to stop me from ordering my latte.

The latte looked great when it arrived in the medium sized espresso cups. No surprise there when I took a few sips, the drink was pretty decent. After all, Caffé D’arte is one of my top four favorite roasters and any place that does a good job with Caffé D’arte espresso beans is certainly a place note. Ok, so they don’t serve French roasts or any French style coffee, but that is an oversight I a willing to overlook. I have no problem going back, just to enjoy a nice espresso… and hopefully even a chat with a knowledgeable waiter who can give me the inside scoop on how this French restaurant decided that Italian coffee is much more ‘romantic’ than French coffee.

Updated: Java Java and Ikea Coffee

So after the whole deal with Java Java and Ikea Coffee I decided to revisit each once again and then make my final conclusion on whether Ikea would be a source of espresso for me.

So the first thing I did this past week, was to give the Bryggkaffe Mellanrost or as I also like to call it, Ikea Coffee another chance. This time I ground the coffee even finer, put it in my Krupp espresso maker and I actually made a latte with it. OK now before you get on me and my Krupp espresso please realize I got it 10 years ago when I didn’t know much about making lattes, and it sat in its box for almost 2 years before I finally busted it out. I will probably get a new one next year for reasons I don’t want to explain at the moment… but I digress… So I steamed the milk and all that, added sugar to my taste… and found out that the latte really wasn’t to my taste. I then took a step further and blended my fine coffee beans with some other coffee beans that I have and that didn’t work either. I found that the flavor of the Ikea Coffee really strong and quickly overpowered the other coffee flavors… so that was that. I took the remaining Ikea Coffee and dumped the contents into the trash. I don’t think I will be buying Ikea Coffee again.

Now here is the Java Java story. It just so happened that today I needed to go back to Ikea to get some stuff and since I had an extra dollar in my pocket and so I decided why not. Since I am here, and its only a dollar for a 12 oz so I should at least try one last time and if I didn’t like the coffee, that I can truly say that I tried and gave it all I had and throwing away a dollar is better than throwing away four.

So I when up to the counter to place my order. It came to exactly one dollar, including tax, so that was nice. I asked for whole milk but all the use is 2% (or skim) milk and fat free. At least they didn’t offer to pour half & half into the 2% to make whole. I then asked the lady to make it a double short (8 oz) instead of the 12 oz. It was a bit scary watching the one lady make the coffee because I am used to getting coffee from baristas and I actually considered telling them to hold my order and give me my dollar back… but I fought that impulse. I instead asked her how her day was going and she was really nice and friendly so I felt that I would support her in my own way by graciously accepting the latte.

It turns out that the latte was much better than I had expected or hoped. Certainly a vast improvement from the last time, many months ago when I had a latte there. Not that it was the greatest latte I had, but simply considering the circumstances and certainly the price, it was OK. I think the biggest difference this time around as opposed to the previous times is that instead of ordering the 12 oz, I asked them to reduce the milk and give me an 8 oz. And I am thinking that I probably could even have asked them to make it a 6 oz, but…

I guess my final conclusion is as follows. I really dislike the Ikea Coffee brand that Ikea gets from this particular roaster in the Netherlands. The flavor is just not to my taste. Maybe someone else would differ with this view. On the other hand, the Java Java Coffee that Ikea serves in their cafeteria area is OK, considering the price… and if you’re going to order it, I’d suggest that you ask them to give you a double shot latte that is between 6 and 8 oz latte rather than sticking to the standard 12 oz.

I will be revising this posting once again sometime in the future, but this time it will be an Ikea location outside the US.

I Say Good Espresso! You Say Bad Espresso!



Dixie aka Generic Coffee Cup, originally uploaded by andai.

Eventually when you publicly state an opinion about something, even something like coffee, you will get those whose opinions are in strong opposition to yours and some of these folks will certainly let you know this. I find this inevitably happens when you start to share your preference for one particular coffee roast over another, one coffeehouse over another or even one locale over another and state that opinion with certainty.

Although I had actually started on this post a while back, what actually inspired me to flesh it out was a post I did a couple of weeks ago where I talked about how Volunteer Park Café (and Marketplace) had decided to replace the Seattle based roaster, Café Vita with Stumptown, the roaster originally from Portland for all their roasted coffee beans needs. The two comments that followed were rather interesting. One was in support to my notion that I vaguely remember the Café Vita drinks I enjoyed there as being tastier than the Stumptown drinks that I currently get there.

The second comment however was in total opposition to the Café Vita coffee and I could see there clearly were some pretty strong emotions behind each of the comments. Now in that post, I clearly stated that it would have been nice for me to do a comparison of the two coffees having being served out of the same café, but since it was quite a while back when I last drunk the Café Vita there, I just didn’t remember enough to do a fair comparison. But it is also clear that I was not enjoying the double 8 oz lattes Stumptown lattes as I have their 12 oz Stumptown lattes.

But the argument between these two folks, who somehow were clearly standing their grounds sort of got me thinking a little more about me perceived preference for one roast over another, one roaster over another and the supposed superiority of certain blends vs. others. It also get me thinking more about being fair and impartial whenever I review experience certain espresso drinks of coffeehouses. And I do hope that I am being fair and objective and not stuck with preconceived ideas about the inferiority of certain coffees over others.

And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that if I don’t like the coffee at a certain coffee shop, I try to give the place the benefit of the doubt. I have found that in many cases it might not actually be the coffee but the ingredients or the preparation of the actual drink. And so I will try and look at some of the reasons why this is so. And the reasons are plenty. Starting with the less obvious we are talking about bad milk, re-steaming milk which I hear actually pretty common, stale beans or maybe you simply have a bad (or apathetic) barista. One thing we have to remember, when looking for coffee in Seattle, there are only so many coffee roasters that supply coffee to these shops and so eventually given time, you will pretty much sample 95% of the coffee roasts available in the area.

Personally, what I have come to discover is that you can have great coffee that is totally ruined by a not so great barista and this has gone with my experience with Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown is generally known has great roasts and some coffeehouses do a good job with the Stumptown beans… then there are those, with the same beans, are at best average. I think often it is these average coffeehouse experiences that tend to give the coffee roaster a bad name even though the beans may totally be fine.



Espresso…, originally uploaded by andai.

Thinking back about this, I remember the first time I drunk a latte that I knew was made with Tony’s coffee beans. It was my first time at the Buzz Stop. This is a little drive-thru on up in the Capital Hill/First Hill area I tired out once… and I just remember that that my latte was so bad (and I rarely ever say that about places where I don’t enjoy the coffee) I vowed not only to never to go back but also to avoid any place that served Tony’s Coffee at all costs. Now little did I know that I had actually been drinking Tony’s Coffee all along at another of my favorite places and thoroughly enjoying their drinks.

This place just happened to be Madison Market which ironically is on the same street but at the top of the hill. All this time I have never really thought too much about where the beans that Madison Market served were actually from, but I knew they had good coffee. It was only much, much later, and partly as a result of my blogging about coffee that I actually decided to find out where Madison got their coffee… to my shock and surprise.

Ignoring the giants like Starbucks, and some of traditional non-indie roasters like Tully’s or Seattle’s Best Coffee (a Starbucks brand), here in Seattle the following are what you tend to get in any given coffeehouse. You have the following roasters available Café Vita, Stumptown, Bartdof and Bronson, Lighthouse, Zoka, Victrola, Vivace, Fonté, Café D’arté, Tony’s, café umbria, Intelligentsia etc. And even though I do have my clear favorites, I can certainly tell you that I have been to at least one coffeehouse that served these coffees and I have had a decent espresso from each of the above roasters. Ok, I didn’t mention Java Java and Olympic Coffee Company because I have only had them at one place each and these places were not great and in fact the place that served the Olympic Coffee Company beans, a little drive-thru stand, did a really, really bad job with the coffee.

I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes preferences are just that, preferences. The coffee may be great, but someone else may think it’s awful. Of the coffee might not be that good but you have some guy swear by it… and I have seen that at work with the office coffee. I also think sometimes people get a little too emotional and don’t realize its coffee and in a few hours you’ll pee the stuff out anyway. But then again who am I kidding? I too feel pretty passionate about excellent coffee and even under the treat of death, will not touch crap… unless I am in the office…

Her breath smelled of fresh onions…



Springtime, originally uploaded by andai.

I am listening to this song by Ruxpin titled “Your Body Smells of Cinnamon” and that song brings me back to a quote I read in a book by Enid Blyton where the young boy is really struck by the beautiful young country girl whose breath smelled like fresh sweet onions. I always imaged how she must have looked and wondered if I would ever get to date a beautiful country girl whose breath smelled like fresh onions.

This song got me thinking once again about the many beautiful sunny weekend afternoons where rather than being outside enjoying the sun, I was instead holes up in my room reading. I remember reading was one of my favorite pastimes as a teenager and the fact that at that time there really wasn’t anything on TV really helped me devour books like there was no tomorrow. I remember my mom really supported my reading habit by buying us books and comics and whereas most kids wanted to go to toy shops all the time, I used to bother my mom to take us to my favorite bookstore in Westlands. I don’t remember the name but I remember exactly where it was located.

What I really liked even better was that during the school holidays that I spend in the countryside, I had access to a small library where I could get lots of new books each week, It was at this library that I happen to pick up this particular book just on a whim and also on the cover design and once I started reading it, I was instantly drawn to the whole series. The title of this book I checked-out was, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

Taking it back a few years before, I remember how I pester my mom to read to us every evening before bedtime. Then imagine my shock and horror when one day my mom turned around and told me that she was no longer going to read to me because I was old enough to be reading on my own. I was about 7 years old. This day I was the day that my love for reading as opposed to just books, started… well after that initial 20 minutes of shock, despair and tantrums. It was shortly after this too that I received the first gift that truly really meant something to me and I treasured for many years to come. My very own dictionary! How I loved it. I would be reading my books and if I was unable to understand a particular word I’d quickly turn to the dictionary for the meaning of the word. This dictionary was given to me by my uncle who knew that I loved to read.

It is interesting to note that a few years later, one of the other gifts that my mom gave my brother and I that I really treasured was a copy of the Gideon’s bible. I resolved to read a chapter every night before I went to bed, and I did for a while, but somewhere along the way, that resolve wore off. Certainly there are some chapters in the Old Testament that can be difficult reading for anyone… let along a 10 year old kid with no one to come along side him and explain the scriptures.

Well I don’t read for pleasure as I used to… and this something that I certainly do want to get back into. I think reading is extremely beneficial in many ways… and for anyone can bring pleasures unknown… and fond memories later in life. And is also something that one can do no matter how old…

Quest for the Perfect Coffee in Paradise

Breakfast at Paradis Malahide
Breakfast at Paradis Malahide (via TripAdvisor)

This, my first official post on GFBO was really inspired by the need to leave behind the daily stresses e.g. computers, traffic, etc., to seek solace in what can only be described as the exquisitely lush beauty of this country.

Over the past weekend, I embarked on a road trip with my girls from Kigali to Gisenyi. Now the city of Gisenyi is one of Rwanda’s most popular tourist destinations due to the fact that it’s situated on Lake Kivu. This trip takes about five and a half hours, with a couple of stops along the way. The road is rather awesome for the three hours from Kigali to Ruhengeri but then gets a little bit bumpy for reminder of the journey. Our trip was also a bit of an adventure since we decided to eschew private comfort and take public transportation instead. The bus, rather comfortable despite the lack of leg room was driven by a shifty driver who seemed to think it was perfectly fine to careen at full speed around the many treacherous curves winding up the hills. We arrived in Gisenyi at around 9pm then took a taxi about 6km out of town to a small village called Rubono where we finally reached our destination, the Paradis Malahide Guesthouse.

The view from the guesthouse was incredible… the company was fantastic… it was pure laughter from the second we arrived till the moment we boarded the bus for the return journey. The accommodation was simple and lovely. There were just a few bungalows, all of which had a lovely view of and are a few minutes away from the lake. A beach suitable for frolicking and/or lounging on ridiculously comfortable beach lounge chairs. All the furniture is wooden and handmade, with cushions covered in beautiful, colourful local fabric. The restaurant is spacious with a fire pit right in the middle, providing a serene and beautiful place to relax at night. The food sometimes took ages to arrive, but when it did… it was delicious, especially the fish. A highlight of the stay, however, was the breakfast and particularly the coffee.

The name of the coffee served at Paradis is ‘Maraba’ Coffee, which is grown primarily in the Butare area. I ordered the regular coffee which although strong, was very light-bodied with incredible flavour. It also came in an incredibly generous serving, a four-cup pot per order which everyone loved. The only negative aspect of this was for those who enjoy their coffee with milk. They served powdered milk on our first morning and long-life (or pasteurized) milk on our second morning. The long-life milk tasted rather suspicious. The black coffee, however, was incredible. It was naturally sweet, particularly the longer the coffee sat, and the flavour was reminiscent of toffee with a cocoa-like aroma. No need to add sugar, or milk which I tend to do most of the time.

But all in all, it was a soothing coffee experience, particularly as it was served on grassy terrace overlooking Lake Kivu. This was the best way to just chill and drink everything in, both literally and figuratively.

From The Land of a Thousand Hills

Mist Rising from the Forest Floor
Mist Rising from the Forest Floor

My name is Negrita and I will be contributing to the Grounds for Burnt Offerings blog from Rwanda, where I live, I love, I laugh, I write. I also indulge in some serious coffee consumption.

Rwanda, also known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, is home to arguably the best coffee in the world. Rwanda provides an ideal climate for coffee cultivation, with its high altitudes, relatively temperate climate, and volcanic soils. The Arabica coffee grown here is primarily Bourbon and promotion of the coffee industry is a recent phenomenon, as the country has been in the process of rehabilitation and rebuilding since the 1994 Genocide.

Although Rwanda boasts great coffee, the coffee culture in Rwanda is still in its early stages, with most of the population being tea drinkers, culturally and habitually.

But over the last few years, as the country opens up to residents from all over the world, as it joins the East African Community and as it generally becomes more dynamic, a coffee culture has emerged that combines recognition of the hard-working coffee farmers of the country and a new-found appreciation of Rwanda’s role on the international coffee scene.

Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills is where I will be reporting from…

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