Farewell Attibassi, Tutta Bella and Seattle, I’ll Miss You

Attibassi at Tutta Bella, originally uploaded by andai.

Here I was, at Tutta Bella in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle enjoying a straight espresso shot pulled from Attibassi coffee beans. Then all of a sudden it really dawned on me, that the days were drawing near. It was with a bit of sadness that I realized that I was coming to an end of my stay in Seattle.

After having called Seattle home for over 10 years, I was now picking up my family and my belongings and moving to another land. I was moving to a land of espresso and raw sugar separated from Seattle by the vast Pacific Ocean, a land that I will make my new home for some time.

And so here I am, sipping my espresso from a tiny ceramic espresso cup with the Attibassi crest and name emblazoned on the side and thinking to myself, this espresso shot is pretty nice actually. I was also thinking to myself that this is just about the last time for a while that I will be enjoying espresso in Seattle. And at the same time I was wondering what New Zealand would have to offer in terms of espresso?

I was standing right at the bar, taking pictures of my espresso cup, pictures to add to my coffee collection. I was trying to position my shot so that the Tutta Bella espresso machine in would be in noticeable in the background. Yes, the espresso machine would be noticeable in the background but only from a bokeh point of view. Maybe I should take a couple of shots where the machine in the background would be in focus and the cup itself would be out of focus? Tried that… hmm… not too bad, maybe I’ll actually post the picture too.

I have to say that the espresso machines at Tutta Bella are pretty sweet. All three Tutta Bella restaurants have the same make. As far as I know, they are the only traditional lever-action (read manually operated) espresso machines in Seattle… I don’t know if that is really true, but that’s what one of the baristas proudly told me. I do know that I love checking out cool espresso machines and I haven’t seen any like those yet. I love the copper and silver plating but there is something even cooler about the machine that most people will not realize… that is besides the fact that the machine is manually controlled. If you were to turn the machine around, you will notice a large ‘sculpture’ on an eagle attached to the backside or is the back really the front? I forget the name of the machine but I will update this post with that info.

The other thing about Tutta Bella is that they only serve Attibassi coffee which is flown in from Bologna, Italy each week. I was curious why they would do this when they could have bought Italian style roasts from the likes of Caffé Umbria or Caffe D’Arte. The barista told me that the owner had actually toured Italy tasting and sampling and there he discovered Attibassi. Of course the rest is history.

Since this is going to be the last official Seattle related posting for a while, I will diverge a little from my normal format and talk about Tutta Bella’s pizzas. Now for those of you have haven’t guessed by now, Tutta Bella is a Neapolitan pizzeria that basically got everything, including the brick pizza oven from Naples Italy. I understand that they also get a lot of the ingredients that they use to make pizza and other things, from Italy too. I have to say, they do make the best pizzas in Seattle.

And so with this post, I have to say, farewell for now to Seattle, till we meet again…

Espresso from Starbucks’ 15th Avenue East Coffee and Tea

15 Ave Coffee & Tea aka Starbucks, originally uploaded by andai.
I can’t believe it! I actually went to Starbucks with the sole intention of getting good espresso and not the usual stuff they have been serving at the regular stores… which by the way is what inspired the name of this blog. So I went to 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, the non branded Starbucks store.

I remember very clearly when the Starbucks store on Capital Hill’s 15th Avenue shut down. At first I thought they were gone as part of the restructuring going on at Starbucks when they closed a number of their stores. But I soon realized that something was up because they simply boarded up the place and soon after construction began behind closed doors. Now first forward a couple of months later and the rumors started coming out about the new Starbucks store that was opening on 15th. This new store was rumored to be different from the regular Starbucks stores we have all come to love or loathe depending on what type of a coffee person you are. This was going to be the first of the non branded Starbucks stores which were essentially going back to their roots. A time when they were more indie, less commercial and espresso was not done using an automated espresso machine.

I think it’s interesting that Starbucks chose 15th Avenue as the location for their first concept store. 15th Avenue has a number of independent café/coffee shops. These include Insomniax Coffee and Juice, Caffe Ladro, North Hill Bakery, The Bagel Deli and one of my favorite Seattle coffeehouse and roaster, Victrola Coffee. This to me sounded like Starbuck laying down the gauntlet especially to Victrola and Ladro. And there certainly was quite a bit of reaction to the news and rumor.

There was quite a bit of fanfare on the opening morning. Personally, I wasn’t interested in waking up to go stand in line at 6:00 am the morning of the opening, I decided that I would give the place a week or two just so they get settled down into their regular routine, then I would go there so try the espresso. And so I did…

The inside was interesting. At first glance the place looked like some indie coffee shop that bought used, well worn and weathered outdoor furniture to provide sitting for the customer. But then on second glance you quickly realize that the place was clearly designed by some highly paid interior decorator to have that look and feel. Thus it reminded me almost like a staged house ready for sale, and I think here they were trying a little too hard to look retro. Yet, they did have some nice stuff on the walls i.e. old, colonial style looking boxes for shipping coffee and gunny sacks.

But what I really appreciated was they do actually have a La Marzocco machine so they are actually hand pulling the coffee by hand as opposed to pushing buttons. This machine is a rusted looking, copper colored plating which gives the machine an old ‘I have been making espresso for years’ kind of look. This actually is once again in line with the interior decor which has a lot of old (or recycled) looking furniture.

Oh and they also have a Clover, which I haven’t yet tried… yet…

15 Ave Coffee & Tea Coffee Cup, originally uploaded by andai.

The latte I got was actually pretty decent. This was the first latte in years I can honestly say that I have enjoyed from Starbucks… even though they were trying to hide that they were indeed Starbucks. It could have been a tad bit stronger but it was much better than I would have thought.

In an effort to find out what the deal was here, I had an Interesting conversation with the barista. I asked her why they had the “Inspired by Starbucks” tag if they were trying to get away from the old image of Starbucks… and she explained that they were actually trying to do was to get back to the old Starbucks image of being passionate about their coffee and the community. I take this to mean that the store was inspired by the Starbucks of old, the original Starbucks when it was really all about the coffee. Fresh roasted coffee pulled by a real barista.

This barista also told me that they order the coffee directly from the roasting plant in Kent so their coffee is not more than 4 days old, whereas the coffee at the regular Starbucks stores can be up to a month old! They serve the regular Starbucks espresso blend and also the decaf blend. But then they also have a single origin bean that they serve. At the moment (at the time I was talking to them) they are serving Ethiopian Sidamo coffee of which she gave me a whiff… I must say it smelled great.

One think I do have to say that made me happy about the place is thank goodness they don’t wear the silly green aprons with the even goofier baseball caps that US fast food franchises love to dress their employees in. And also none of the “Welcome to Starbucks may I take your order please” type of greeting you find at some of these places. The baristas don’t wear uniform and although they are friendly, it actually felt more genuine.

I have to give credit where credit is due. I think this was a step in the right direction for Starbucks. The only problem that remains is to see how they duplicate this concept and make each and every new concept store different and fresh.

Coffee at Columbia City Bakery

Columbia City Bakery Sign, originally uploaded by andai.
One of the reasons I was somewhat looking forward to moving to Columbia City was that I would be close to Columbia City bakery. Now depending on which Seattle neighborhood you live in, you will probably be familiar with Columbia City Bakery since they are one of the two more well known bakeries that supply bread to a number of the cafes and bakeries in the area. The other bakery is Essential Bakery, which as two locations, the first in Wallingford and the second location in Madison Valley.

The irony of bring just down the road from Columbia City Bakery was that where I was staying, a friend would bake fresh homemade bread every other day. So I really wasn’t interested in actually buying bread from the bakery, however I was more interested in their coffee. The other irony was that I only went there a couple of times for coffee. More often than not, I would go to Empire, Tuta Bella or some of the other ones on the ‘hill’ like the recently opened Porchlight Coffee.

Part of the reason that I didn’t really hang out at Columbia City Bakery was because the place tended to get just a little too crowded, especially on Saturday mornings, and so finding seating was the main problem. The other problem is that the seating area is relatively small so it does not take too many people to fill out the place, so you are left standing watching and waiting to see when some family will vacate the table so you can quickly jump on it. The crowd that seemed to patronize the place was more of the young couple with the kid(s) type of crowd, or the young couple and the girl’s parents (boy’s in-laws) catching up on the past week… pretty much the newer, gentrified Columbia City demographic … not the older generation that have traditionally lived in the area.

Customer service at the place was not supper exceptional, but I couldn’t really complain. The first day I went there for my latte I was surprised to see one of the baristas working there whom I remembered used to work at Essential Bakery. She was pretty cool to chat with as we talked about her previous life at Essential and her move to Columbia City. She made me a decent latte… decent enough for me to go back. However, the next latte I got there, from a different barista no less was nothing really to write home about. And I think that was the main reason I wasn’t super excited about going back too many times. The lattes were decent, but certainly nothing that was exceptional that I had to go back there. But now that I no longer live in Seattle, I don’t know that I would have the chance to try them again oh well…

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