Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seattle Decaf Cafe Crawl

Stumptown 616 East Pine Street

Apr. 9, 2015 - Seattle decaf cafe crawl  - ordered decaf macchiato at 4 of Seattle's finest

1st stop: Stumptown at 616 Pine st.  - As soon as I stepped it it felt like "welcome to Seattle." There were eclectic young people behind the counter and at the tables - noticeably few with laptops. I love the back-to-the-future turntable behind the bar pumping out the tunes. (Can't remember if the Portland store had that. I know Four Barrell in San Fran, does.) Loved the floor-to-ceiling art and coffee beans behind the counter.

Barista staff was welcoming and generous (threw in a decaf macciato no cost after chatting enough to learn I was in town for the SCAA.) But alas, what a disappointment the decaf was. The taste was there -- I give them that -- a touch of berry, sweetness, and really lovely. But especially at Stumptown and especially in Seattle during SCAA -- I would have guessed they would have some transparency on the origin. But no - zippo, zero. All the barista knew is that it's from Trappers Creek (so Stumptown doesn't roast their decaf??) and it's "probably a Latin American blend."

Stumptown 616 East Pine Street

Value chain data points at Stumptown: Rwandan Huye Mountain, $17.50; decaf "Trappers Creek" $15.50.

Stop #2: Bauhaus Coffee & Books, 414 East Pine St.
Bauhaus 414 East Pine Street
Stop #3: Starbucks Reserve & Roastery
Starbucks Reserve Roastery 1124 Pike Street

My experience here truly blew me away. Hats off, Starbucks. If anyone in this industry was asked to create a "no expense spared -- all out the best you can do -- coffee experience place" this is probably what they would build. Claire took my order on a mobile device and introduced me to Coulter Smith, General Manager of the reserve location. Coulter has been with Starbucks 12 years and seemed justifiably delighted with the success of the operation he was managing. My decaf macchiato was served beautifully to me on a personal tray by Aaron. Tasted lovely, with the citrus high notes I would expect from a Costa Rica. Unbelievably -- Starbucks ends up taking the prize for the most transparency on their decaf!! Of the four cafes I visited that morning, only Starbucks served a single-origin decaf where they were proud to share the cooperative name. You've come a long way, baby. Seems like yesterday I was writing complaints about Starbucks baristas on the Ohio turnpike telling me they don't serve decaf after noon -- and with a "by the way don't come back" kind of attitude.

Pipes bring the coffee from see-through silos to the roaster. Just like the Roasting Plant in downtown Detroit - which by the way was the brainchild of an ex-Starbucks exec. Guess he DID show them - and now they've copied him in a big way.

At the "scooping bar" (same concept as a deli counter), I order 1 bag (12 oz) of the Bella Corte Costa Rica Decaf beans and James writes out the label for my freshly packaged Starbucks Reserve. He tells me that since it was roasted on 4/6 and today is 4/9 he recommends waiting a few more days before brewing. He tells customers 5 -7 days off roast is the ideal degassing. Amazing -- Starbucks advising customers on the freshness of the roast. And no -- the beans were not burnt.
Caffe Vita 1005 East Pike Street
Stop #4: Caffe Vita - 1005 East Pike St.

Decaf macchiato photo shows it a little 'past prime' because I got distracted by the 2 Ochoa brewers they have behind the counter for cold brew called "Kyoto". It takes 12 hours to brew. Barista kindly gave me a free taste. Colombian with bright citrus notes and smooth nutty finish. The decaf macchiato was also delicious. Nutty with sweet dark chocolate notes.

I got a sneak peek in the back at the roastery where the roaster was giving a talk to some guests -- possibly an SCAA tour? There were at least three roasters in sight -- each one a different size.

Caffe Vita appears to be a beloved favorite in Seattle. I ended up going on the recommendation of my brother who lives in Snohomish, about 20 miles north.