The Terroir of Seattle

Zeitgeist: 1)The spirit of the time; general trend in thought or feeling
2)Coffee shop in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood

Coffee: 1)A beverage consisting of the decoction or infusion of the roasted, ground or crushed seeds of the two-seeded fruit, the coffee berry
2)Known to the early church as ‘the Devil’s drink,’ (until the Pope actually tasted it, and changed his mind)

Arabica Coffee: A tree, Coffea arabica, of the Madder family, and the chief coffee tree of commerce (aka, the Good kind)

Rustica Coffee: Anything else (or, the not-good kind, aka, instant/Folgers/Maxwell House)

Seattle: The most caffeinated city in America (though not in the world, the Dutch apparently have us beat 3:1)

Coffee Crawl: An entirely pedestrian tour through the heart of Pike Place Market and the greater downtown area, put on by Seattle by Foot


..dancing in and out of the beans of a neon mug..

So began our Seattle Sunday tour, under the neon mug of Seattle’s Best Coffee in The Market.  Ten of us on tour, seven coffee shop stops, six tastings, three manhole covers (more on that), two hours and one free bus ride.  That’s what  it takes to know Seattle coffee culture and history just a little bit better.

For instance, did you know that Seattle’s Best Coffee began in 1971, by the Stuart Brothers as an ice cream shop, and is now owned by Starbucks (a Seattle original; claim to (in)fame), has just changed its logo and is being offered in such fine establishments as Burger King and Subway?  In all fairness, the ice cream-style counter in the Market location is super cutesy, and the double chocolate salted toffee mocha is real Arabica winner.

Sirens bid the sailors in to their death. I'm just saying

Moving on down the market, we come to the original Starbucks (ok, ok, so technically not the original: the real original was one block down, but had to be evacuated because the building was being demolished, but the counter, shelving, tables, chairs and equipment were all saved and moved to the ‘new original location’.)  What’s the best way to tell it’s the “original”? Note the bare-chested mermaid above your head (times 3) and you’ll recognize where the nation-wide (and decidedly less risque) logo got its inspiration. There’s even a Pike Place Reserve blend of beans (that boasts the bare-chested siren) available only on location.

Moving away from the waterfront, you cross over 2 streets and….wait, this is where we come to the manhole cover explanation.  Seattle is an incredibly artistic city – bedazzled tiles line buildings, glass lights are implanted into the sidewalks, public art is a given and the hatch-covers atop the city’s underground are functional maps of the city complete with “You-are-here” stainless steel beads showing your location among the cross streets.

Coming back to coffee, if you’re looking for a bold, dark and aromatic cup, Caffe D’arte would be an excellent

Just sharing the love, with my first attempt at latte art

choice, especially if you want the rich notes of smoke and chocolate to linger in your mouth.  They receive their Italian roasted blends every week and offer 5 different espressos on tap. They specialize in latte art, things like hearts, roses, swans, and even squirrels and otters.

To speed things up, we hovered around an indoor coffee kiosk – residing in the ticket booth of an old theatre near Westlake Mall – where you get a discount if you ride up on your bike, but get charged more for talking on your cell phone while ordering. There’s also a prominent sign threatening charges for asking where places like Banana Republic, the Gum Wall or the nearest Starbucks are.  Oh, and this Monorail Espresso has proudly been in business since the year 1 B.S. – Before Starbucks.

Now for the true coffee snob, I mean, connoisseur we will travel to single-origin land; where Papua New Guinea, Colombia and Barundi represent for the day.  As one of the only independent coffee shops IN THE WORLD to own and brew with a Clover, Trabant Coffee and Chai baristas receive fresh roasted beans and formulate – through daily tastings – how many grams of coffee and how long of a brew time and what specific temperature compliments a particular origin’s terroir.  *Single origin coffees appear to be the trend (zeitgeist) in coffee culture these days, and most are roasted more lightly so as to show off the fruity, herby and floral notes of the coffee berries.

A definitive Seattle tour? Perhaps not.  A tour centered around what defines Seattle? Perhaps so.  In any case, it will leave you to ponder the local trend of the times at the appropriately named 3rd place (assuming the 1st is your home and the 2nd is your place of work, this 3rd being your coffee shop): Zeitgeist Coffee.


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