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…

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