The ABC of Tea at the T-Spot

Our guest blogger Ndunge, lives in Nairobi and absolutely loves everything about tea. Her kitchen cupboard can testify that she owns stacks and stacks of different types of tea. In her words, “I went to kericho once and toured several tea farms…Funny thing was I had my worst cup of tea in Kericho.”

The T-Spot

I discovered this little gem quite by accident, next door is a garage and I took my car in for some service. Unfortunately the garage was quite busy. I joined the queue but was soon very bored of sitting in the car surrounded by greasy men and petrol fumes. I decided to look around for a restaurant where I could sit down and read my book while perhaps sipping a decent cup of tea. When I asked one of the garage attendants if there was one such place he looked at me like I was the silliest woman he had ever seen. He very brusquely pointed out that the next building was actually called Chai House and the restaurant called T-Spot.

How could I have missed that? Kenya Tea Development Agency has its headquarters in that building and in their mission to develop tea in Kenya they set up a tea restaurant. T-spot is a project of this agency. Who else knows more about tea?

I expected a poky restaurant with no style. I was pleasantly surprised. The first words that came to my mind “airy”, “simple” and “fragrant”. The décor is relaxed and inviting. I hate cluttered restaurants. At T-spot you own the area around you and one can relax stretch out…feels like home. The seats are comfortable this could be the reason why people tend to stay for hours and hours. The staff is really friendly and there is always someone ready to advice on what the different types of tea have to offer. They have seating outside where you can watch the city move while you sip your tea cocooned in your own paradise. Or upstairs where you can sit in silence and muse over life and love and whatever else.

Many are the times that I have been disappointed by a cup of tea but not this time. The menu offers so many types of tea; many I had never heard of. I admit to being a coward and ordering a cup of Masala tea and not trying the ones that I did not know.

This is the problem that I have with Masala tea in other restaurants; they use store bought powder masala. I can always tell the difference. The Masala tea at T-Spot did not have that old spice taste…the ginger was sharp and so was the cardamom…and the spicy fragrance that wafted from my cup…sigh…I literally spent five minutes just holding the cup to my nose and breathing in deeply. That was an awesome cup of Masala tea.

I was hooked on T-Spot. I am a regular now; I am still working my way through their delightful menu of unique teas.

They offer green teas for days when you feel like you need to detox. They have flavored teas; Cardamom Tea, Lemon Grass Tea, Ginger Tea, Cinnamon Tea, Clove Tea, Masala Tea, Vanilla Tea and Hazelnut Tea. Iced Teas, White tea, and a special blend of tea called Oolong Tea ( Which I am yet to sample).

Whenever I leave T-spot I feel rejuvenated and cannot wait to be back. So if you ever find yourself on Koinange Street and smell tea…follow your nose you will not regret…I promise!

Wallingford’s Gypsy Cafe

Gypsy Java, originally uploaded by andai.

I visited Gypsy Cafe in Wallingford. Unfortunately my experience there was not quite what I had expected or hoped for. I’ll tell you why in a moment… but first, a little background…

I have driven by Gypsy Cafe on numerous occasions over the last six or eight year now. Of course at that time the place was called Gypsy Trader. My understanding is that the place was home to some kind of consignment store… that also included a coffee shop too. Now the main reason why I had not yet until rather recently, bothered to go there is simple. The place just did not look interesting or even inviting from the outside. This has not changed by the way.

Anyway it was just recently that I read about the place in the Seattle Times and that the place being sold to the current new owners, Debbie Galassi and Ben Steele, Debbie’s boyfriend. On reading this blog post, I decided, against my better judgment, to patronize the place.

It was one of those overcast Seattle afternoons with the light rain. I had not had any coffee all day and I was really in need of a latte. Now normally I would stop into a familiar coffee shop, but this time I decided to risk it and try Gypsy Cafe. I mean why not, I was close by anyway.

As soon as I stepped into the place and met the barista, I knew I was sunk. The barista was clearly one of those college kids who does not really care about coffee or anything like that, but works at the coffee shop simply to pay for college. How do I know this? Well, besides the fact that it was written all over his face, he was hanging out with his buddies at one of the tables and came over reluctantly when he noticed me waiting to place my order. Then when I started asking him about the coffee, he was basically clueless about coffee he was serving.

And the taste of the coffee actually reflected his personality. Under normal circumstances I would give the place the benefit of the doubt, and go back again just to see if the coffee is really that bad, but in this case, I just did not find the place that interesting to go visit and hang out. Maybe to put it another way, I find that the place really does not have any personality. And as a result, I have no real desire to go and try out their coffee once again, so I will reserve any further judgment on this place. However if any of you readers like going to the place or want to check it out, please let me know of your impressions of place and whether you think the place is great or not.

Coffee and Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Our guest blogger Kathleen VanDerAa writes for the Seattle PI and Altrooist. She lives in Seattle where she takes her coffee with 2 sugars and 2 creams.

Hot Chocolate at Cafe Du Monde by Kathleen VanDerAa
Hot Chocolate at Cafe Du Monde by Kathleen VanDerAa

Back in March I got a chance to take a business trip to New Orleans. Months before I had started making lists, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, but mostly the lists contained things I wanted to eat. The original Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter was very high at the top of a mighty long list.

The first night in New Orleans I headed straight there. I had waited months to try a beignet and I wasn’t about to wait any longer. I had already endured months of anticipation – to build it up in my head to more than it could ever hope to be – months to ruin it with overly high expectations. Looking back it was like I was trying to ruin it before I even had the chance to experience it. How could it possibly live up to all that? Except it lived up to everything I could possibly anticipate and more. The fact that they had coffee was just an added side benefit.

Cafe Du Monde, even at 10 o’clock at night, did not disappoint. I take that back, especially at 10 o’clock at night, Cafe Du Monde did not disappoint. I was immediately charmed by the bustle, the covered outdoor seating, the striped green and white awnings, the cafe chairs, the heavy dusting of powered sugar over nearly every flat surface, the clink of the plates, the hustle of the servers, their diverse ages, and the the variety of the crowd taking it all in.

I ordered a plate of beignets to share and a water. The coffee would have to wait for another day since it was closing in on midnight and caffeine and I, that late at night, decidedly do not mix. But as soon as the beignets arrived I immediately regretted my choice to share. I wanted them all to myself. Airy fried dough covered in sweet powered sugar. I immediately turned to my companions and declared that I would be coming back every day until we left town, and that’s exactly what I did.

A couple days into my seven days in town, I ordered an iced coffee. It was bitter. That was to be expected. After all they add chicory to the coffee here. I added some sugar and it tasted fine. However no better than simply buying a can of Cafe Du Monde coffee and making it at home. But, for me, experiencing Cafe Du Monde wasn’t really about the coffee. It was about the place, the history, the sights and sounds.

My last day in New Orleans I made one last trip to Cafe Du Monde. I bought two orders of beignets to bring home with me, back to Seattle. In hindsight I realize how silly this was. Like trying to catch fireflies in a jar. You can’t box up the magic and simply bring it home with you, and passing along day old beignets to an innocent bystander would only take away from the authentic and delicious melt in your mouth delightfulness of experiencing Cafe Du Monde in person.

By the time I stepped off the plane the beignets has toughened and the powdered sugar had all but entirely fallen off. It’s not just that they didn’t taste as good. It’s that tasting them all chewy and unsweetened had in some small part taken away from the magical memory of Cafe Du Monde’s previous perfection. And that’s when I realized it’s better to simply enjoy it while you’re there, and vow to return someday soon. Which is exactly what I plan on doing. Soon. Very soon.

Get Your Fix At “The Fix” Espresso

The Fix Espresso

I have always been a bit apprehensive about espresso carts and especially those espresso carts that tend to locate themselves in weird places like at gas stations or at Seven eleven type delis. In general, I rarely get my espresso drinks from espresso carts, not because an espresso cart equates to bad coffee, but because I have seen my fair share of the really bad ones. And yet the irony here is that I was first introduced to and hooked on espresso drinks by a friend of mine who used to work from an espresso cart. Then there are a number of great coffeehouses that started off as espresso carts and of course if you keep up with the World Barista Championships, you’ll remember that Gwilym, the WBC 2009 champion from London England runs and serves espresso drinks out of two coffee carts. The moral of the story here is that even though there are quite a number of really bad espresso carts, there are also plenty of really great espresso carts out there and each one of them needs to be given a chance and needs to be judged individually and not collectively.

Now With that in mind, I decided to check out “The Fix Espresso”, a espresso cart that I have driven by for a number of years now. This cart is located in Montlake right by the SR 520 on-ramp. This is one cart I have been reluctant to try because it is located right outside the market deli, next to a gas station. That location just never really spoke to me as ‘good coffee’ but the fact that I had exhausted all the coffee options in the immediate area, i.e. Fuel Coffee and Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace, I was thinking that maybe it was time to put down my fear and loathing and at least give the place a try.

And I am glad that I did. The owner of “The Fix” is a pleasant lady whose husband bought her the cart about three years ago as a gift. The cart has been there much longer though. The previous owner of the cart, Mark, had operated the cart for about 12 years prior to this. Apparently when she first started out, she didn’t know too much about espresso but she learned pretty quick. She was able to retain most of the customers, learned to make good coffee and try out something new.

What I found fascinating while talking to her is that she really knows her product well. As We talked, she gave me some really great advice on how to pull good espresso shots without burring the beans. As I ordered my usual double tall latte, I told her about my need to have a drink that was a little stronger than normal and she assured me that the coffee that she used was a really good strong bean and very flavorful. She told me she gets her coffee beans from Seattle Mountain coffee which she believes is a really great roasting company and great beans. She uses their espresso blend which is a blend of Columbian coffee beans

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the coffee. It could have been a tad bit stronger, but I actually liked the coffee. The flavor was pretty nice actually and the taste was nice and bold and based on what we had talked about earlier, I tried to really pay attention to discern the various nuanced flavors in the coffee. Now the only downside to this is that I tend to pass by there in the morning on my way to catch the bus to work so to some extent I am not necessarily able to just sit and relax and just enjoy the coffee since I am thinking about all the stuff that I need to do at work that day.

One other point I wanted to mention is that I really like her excellent customer service and her ability to quickly remember the various drink preferences of her customers. I really do feel that she certainly appreciates her customers and is pretty conversational with them. This is a place I intend to go back to every so often, especially when I am on the go and don’t necessarily need to sit by the cart and hang out. Now just in case you do, there are a couple of tables available for seating.

Now that I am much more open to seeking out good espresso carts, I need to work on my prejudice for espresso drive-thru stands. However but I draw the line on those stands that dress their baristas in bikinis, lingerie and other skimpy ‘outfits’. My philosophy is that if you need to dress up your baristas that way, then clearly, serving good coffee is not your main focus.

e.t.g in Fremont is Espresso to Go

Whenever I’m in the Fremont neighborhood, I tend to head over to Fremont Coffee Company (FCC) for my latte. I do this for couple of reasons, first, they have great Wi-Fi and second but even more important, they serve Lighthouse Coffee. It is for these reasons that I often driven by e.t.g. Coffee and never really bothered to drop in and try them out, only saying to myself, “one day I will have to get a latte there”. Well, after all these years I finally decided I needed to make that one day today… and so I actually dropped in for a latte and to see what they are all about.

The first thing that struck me about the place was that it is really, really tiny inside. And when I say the place is tiny, I mean its really, really tiny… for a coffee shop. There is one table inside so a couple of people can get really cozy inside, but for the most part, unless you want to sit on the outside chairs, you are likely to be getting your joe to go. Now one thing I didn’t really check was whether they had seating in the back… but I know they don’t. Why? let’s think about this for a moment. The name of this coffeehouse is e.t.g Coffee. I asked the barista what e.t.g. stood for and she told me it’s Espresso To Go. So that makes sense I guess that the owner would expect that most of the customers would be ordering their espresso to go.

The other cool thing about this place is the vintage interior décor. This includes a chandelier, some great mirrors, but best of all, the antiquated cash register that actually still works. When I stepped into the place, I felt like I had been transported to the Moulin Rouge era.

e.t.g . has been around for quite a while now, over 27 years is what I was told. My understanding is that the place was opened in 81 by Laurie and she run the place for about 25 years after which she sold the business to Mark who has been running it for the last two years or so. And he seems to be doing a great job. The coffee I had from there is pretty good I have to say. The barista told me that they actually serve Cafe Vita’s beans, but a custom roast that they do for them called the e.t.g blend.

I guess the only thing about e.t,g. is that I wish they had more seating so that I could have hang out there more often… but then is that was the case, maybe they would have lost a little of their charm… but I think the coffee would still be just as good!

Attending the Yellow Church Café

The Yellow Church Café in Ellensburg is a kind of cool looking house (or church) that’s been converted to a cafe. I love that the outside is a bright and sunny yellow color that really makes it stand out. Once inside, you can clearly see from the architecture that this used to be a church. I think its interesting that Gordy and Cat Wollen, who own and run the cafe, are actually both P.K.’s or preacher’s kids. Seems to really fit their background I must say.

The place itself is very family friendly and it seems to be pretty popular with the students from Central Washington University (I believe). The food was good, but I wouldn’t really go raving about their lattes. But then again this is Eastern Washington and whenever I go to cafes in Eastern Washington, I tend more often than not to be at the best unimpressed, at the worst, disappointed. I think with this place it was somewhere in between… And I don’t even remember where their coffee was from…

My visit to this place was a one off visit and I doubt that I’ll be going back. But I have to say the breakfast was pretty good, I just wouldn’t order any espresso drinks …


SAM, originally uploaded by andai.

I am tired, really tired…. I am physically and emotionally tired exhausted.

There are times that I feel like maybe I should throw in the towel and just walk away… Walk away from this match and just keep walking… And where do I go? I don’t know… anywhere but here… I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be blessed and be aware that others around the world are suffering… rather than my current situation… wondering, what would it be like if I was in a place where I felt that I would be able to help others, daily… yet I know that this is the sort of thing that makes me afraid and anxious.

Anxious of the future if I was elsewhere but here… It is me, myself and I also known as the panic station at the drop of a pin… this probably more than any other makes me wonder how successful the coming transition is going to be… and what it will mean… this makes me wonder if I need to walk away or stay…

But… as Shakespeare would say, the die is cast!

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