Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Cup of Culture

Seattle is coffee crazy and I guess the reason Seattle is known for coffee is because Starbucks is based here and the weather is so gloomy. There is nothing better on a cold and rainy day than a nice hot cuppa Joe! I have always been a fan of good coffee. I remember the smell of the percolator at my grandparents house as a child. My Poppy was a coal miner and worked the overnight shift and the smell of the coffee in the morning meant he was soon to be home. That was the highlight of the day for my sister Connie and I. He drove a VW Bug and would take us for a ride around the block before breakfast, which was always bacon and "dippy" eggs with toast. I can still smell in my mind the combination of bacon, coffee and cigarette smoke in that long ago kitchen in Rowes Ron, Pennsylvania. On rare occasions he would make us our own cups of coffee that were comprised of 9/10 milk and a splash of coffee. That was a very special treat and only when Grammy was not around! Which made it all the more special to us, a shared secret. And so began my love affair with the bean.

Starbucks epitomizes the funky coolness of Seattle. There is one on every corner, sometimes 2 or 3. You can't swing a dead salmon in Seattle without hitting a Starbucks! And there is enough business for all of them. There is also a plethora of Tullys, Peets and Seattles Best. With that being said, they are not quite the novelty here that they are elsewhere. Locals do not go to Starbucks, unless you are at the mall and there is nothing else. Or when traveling and you need something at the airport while you sit and wait.  Most people that are serious about coffee here have a local coffee house or stand that they become devotees of.  In B-Town there are three that I have visited on more than one occasion. My favorite is 909 Coffee and Wine, in olde Burien. A great place to relax and meet neighborhood folks and a have wonderful coffee concoction. Or a great glass of wine and tapas in the afternoon. An all purpose hangout. Where decor is a big factor with the big chains (consistency of brand, yada yada) the small coffee houses almost embrace a lack of decor. Just comfy places that are more about the coffee and the fellowship than the upholstery.

Another place I like is the Burien Press. Fine Coffee and Fine Print, their slogan sums it up nicely. The perfect place to sit and read the Sunday paper and have coffee. A family owned shop in the Town Square district of Burien. They have wi-fi and indoor seating or outdoor on a nice day.  They serve delicious Caffe Vita coffees and fabulous pastries and PIE! Very hip and the service is great, the drinks are awesome and you can hangout there all day if you want.

My third regular coffee place, is one of those Seattle phenomenons, the espresso hut.

Bikini Barista Controversy

Every parking lot in the state of Washington, has some kind of espresso hut.  Even the gas stations have a mobile espresso stand or hut. Remember the old Fotomat Huts?  Mine is at the top of the hill going into town after leaving Three Tree point, before you get to Burien. Right across the street from the Seahurst Post office. I don't know if it has a name, but they make great coffee and the owner always has a treat for Charlie when we drive through.

It's an old gas station, converted to a coffee and espresso drive through. There is also some plastic patio furniture for walk up customers. A couple of retired neighbors seem to meet there each mid morning. They also have pastries from Alki Bakery, yummy! One of the great things about spending my coffee dollars at one of these quaint establishments is that I know where it goes. Not to Howard Schultz (who is surprisingly unpopular here) but to my neighbors and the business owners in my town. Am I a more savvy consumer because I shun the marketing, or is a lack of marketing a marketing ploy? Discuss amongst yourselves. My backlash against the establishment is not going to Starbucks.

One of the most fascinating types of the Coffee House here in Seattle is the Bikini Barista. I had never heard of the concept before arriving in the northwest. But yes, we have strip club coffee stands here. With catchy names like Twin Perks, Java Juggs and Cowgirl Espresso, which is the largest chain in this area and pretty well known. Needless to say, they have caused quite an uproar in the areas that have them.  They range to actual bikinis and lingerie clad baristas, to topless servers. You drive through what looks like a regular espresso stand, and when you pull up to the over sized window you are greeted by your stripper/barista.  They are very controversial and there have been arrests for prostitution at several stands.Bikini Barista ControversyBikini Barista Controversy
Most of the stands are very respectable though and the girls love their jobs.  I happened upon this unique type of coffee stand by mistake, but the girl was awesome and made a superb mocha. She said that her job was no different than being a bartender, except that she didn't have to put up with the drunks. I recommend Peek a Brew and support these lovely ladies in their career choice.
So I don't know if we drink more coffee than the rest of you do, but we certainly have more options. If you find yourself in the Seattle area, don't run to Starbucks, find a neighborhood coffee house and support our local families instead.  I accidentally asked for a venti nonfat latte at my coffee hut recently. So Starbucks must be doing something right if they have me ordering in their language at my alternative coffee house. Then again, they didn't get my money. Then again, I am talking about them right now. I have to stop. I think I need another cup.

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