As you probably know, I have a very passionate relationship with caffeine. I dabble with tea (except white tea…can anyone explain that to me (is it water?)), nibble on a little bit of dark chocolate, turn up my nose at soda and energy drinks, but my caffeine of choice is espresso.
Even in Boise (where I live), there’s a coffee bar on almost every corner (where there isn’t a church or a brew pub). But coffee while traveling is also critically important. If we are staying at a hotel, it has to be within walking distance of an espresso bar. That works in this country, most of the time. But I can tell you that the coffee I’ve had in New Zealand turned me into a tea drinker. The coffee in Chile is mostly Nescafe, which is not coffee, but headache-inducing swill. I think it would be fun to have a Café Corretto at a café in Italy, made with espresso and grappa. Maybe we can go someday…
In spite of my love for espresso, I am not all that snooty about it. As long as it’s strong, hot, and not too diluted with something white, I’m pretty happy. I’ve learned that ordering a “double-shot Cappuccino wet” means many different things to many different baristas. I’ve also learned the hard way how much of the stuff I can drink and still be civil to anyone I’m married to or to the other drivers on the road.
So, on a recent trip to Seattle, my daughter-in-law, Gina (a full-time resident of the Coffee Capital of the World), surprised me with the news that there is a new kid in town: Starbucks Reserve. And that she hadn’t been there and that we should go there, after a visit to Pike Place Market. Now that’s a quintessential Seattle day!
We weren’t about to tackle Starbucks Reserve, whatever it was, on an empty stomach. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of anything I’ve ever tackled on an empty stomach except abdominal surgery (and I am SO done with that). So, we indulged in some amazing fried oysters with fries at one of those hole-in-the-wall places on the fringe of “the Market”…
…and some wicked Chile Mac ‘n’ Cheese at Beecher’s (just shoot me now)…
Fortified with this odd combination of culinary wonderfulness, we lumbered our way up Pike Street, about a mile to Starbucks Reserve – Roastery & Tasting Room. And here, a mere nine blocks from the first Starbucks that opened in 1971 (wow, really?, before I graduated high school?), is our first glimpse of the Mother Ship of All Things Caffeinated:
Enter Coffee Nirvana. This large, cavernous site is built around the roasting and packaging process of these new, special, small-batch, fresh-roasted, rare, meticulously-and-lovingly-harvested beans. This place is the stuff of marketing genius. You can see where the green coffee beans are stored. You can go to the Scooping Bar to determine which Reserve coffee suits your discerning palate and then, for a fair amount of coin, take that freshly scooped coffee home.
IF your coffee beans are super-duper fresh, they will tell you how long you have to wait before you can use them. They have to de-gas or something. I mean, I believe them; no one needs more gas. It could take up to a week…that’s a lot of gas.
The place was full of typical pale Seattle hipsters, young parents with their toddlers trying desperately to hang on to their coolness since becoming parents, and some non-descript caffeine addicts like Gina and me.
You can get wired and then try to focus on the pneumatic tubes on the ceiling (think your drive-through bank) that will usher (their word, not mine) your beans on their journey to the roaster…and beyond. The freshness of the beans is palpable. Any moment, those beans flying above your head could be in your very own bag and on their way to your very own kitchen.
You can even query a Starbucks master roaster as they ply their craft (not my words, are you kidding?) and look ever-knowing about all things bean-related.
Friendly, knowledgeable, and caffeinated Starbucks baristas plied us with samples of coffee with more complex flavors that I am used to from Starbucks…like lemon and dark chocolate. Or toasted black walnut and burnt sugar. It’s all so exotic and overwhelming. Gina is already smiling and she has only had two samples:
But at some point it gets real: We have to get brave and make our way to the Main Bar and actually order something. Gina is usually a venti drip coffee drinker, so we thought that would be straightforward. It was not. Every coffee beverage is handcrafted and brewed just for YOU. Because YOU are very special and deserve it. Damn straight.
Gina had to answer four questions before her order was complete. Which of today’s four coffees would you like, that you have never heard of? The beans flew noisily above our heads as she ordered the inspired Pantheon Blend (mostly because it was the easiest to pronounce, when compared to Sulawesi Pango Pango and West Java Preranger, for example). Would that be Clover Brewed or Coffee Pressed? What about a Mod Bar Pour Over? We needed to order quickly because…what if they ran out of the Pantheon Blend? Oh, no!
And don’t even get me started on the syrups. Leave your peppermint-berry-almond-pumpkin mocha latte behind. Get ready for Demerara, Madagascar Vanilla Bean, and Orange-Piloncillo…a real steal at $0.50 a pump. You can even get Fior di Latti (sweet cream) or Crema (coffee-spiced foam). Another time, I might experiment with Iced Sparkling Espresso with Mint or a Shakerato Bianco. I wonder if I can get vat of Crema to go. Just ‘cuz.
So much new lingo to learn again; and I was just getting a handle on the “tall” means “small” thing.
Thank god my standard coffee order is still on the menu: Cappuccino. And none of this tall, grande, venti stuff. It’s now back to good, old-fashioned ounces. THANK YOU. A bit pricier, but hey, this is the good stuff. My cappuccino was made just for me, with a cute little cookie, and my very own little tray. I’m not special; everyone gets a little tray. So there’s that.
We found a little table for two in the Library, where you don’t have to be quiet…while you can peruse some 200 titles on coffee. We were too busy looking around and taking it all in to read. We watched with envy those with more refined palates, who were happy to spend $20-$30 for a full range of tasting experiences at the Coffee Experience Bar. We sipped, nibbled, and watched freshly-roasted coffee beans pour elegantly into Reserve coffee bags and await their fate.
We overheard people saying, “I’m just so overwhelmed…but isn’t it cool?!”
And then the caffeine kicked in. Our jaws clenched. We couldn’t sit still any longer. There was more to see.
Tables of new coffee paraphernalia beckoned. Believe it or not, you can buy a tamper for $119.95. Yep. A tamper. Still flat on the bottom. Just tamps; does not do windows.
The French Press is definitely back in style. You can buy them and a half-dozen sizes of Reserve mugs and special tea towels (for a very special price). Gina bought a mug for me because it was just perfect for my little hand.
We did not buy the tamper. But then you knew that.
But wait, there’s more. On the other side of the Roastery is another Seattle delight: Serious Pie, by Tom Douglas. Here, you can get starters, delicious and unique pizza with wine or cocktails, and yummy desserts. I could actually spend all day here, going back and forth from the Roastery to Serious Pie and back again. What’s not to love? Gina and I considered it, but had eaten too much before arriving to do Serious Pie serious justice. Sad, very sad. Hate to pass up Serious Pie or anything Tom Douglas. It’ll give us a reason to come back someday…
But I’d better save up. If my fantasy day includes going back and forth from Starbucks Reserve to Serious Pie and then back again, this is what I’ll be parting with:
Starbucks – Breakfast:
- Cappuccino, $4.50
- Pastry, $8.00 (because that little cookie just wouldn’t be enough)
Serious Pie – Lunch, etc.:
- Starter: wood oven clams, nduja butter, green garlic brodo, $13.00
- Pizza with roasted seasonal mushrooms, truffle cheese, $18.00
- Dessert: chocolate budino, murray river salt, olive oil, $10.00
- 2 glasses of 2013 cottanera barbazzale etna bianco, $22.00
Starbucks Reserve – To sober up for the drive home:
- Cappuccino, $4.50
OK, so with tip, to take semi-full advantage of much of what Starbucks Reserve and Serious Pie have to offer, I’d be out about $96.00. It’s not quite lunch at Mama’s Fish House in Maui, but it’s not far off. And there’s no ocean view at Starbucks Reserve.
Guess I’d better get a job.
But all good things must come to an end. With a serious buzz on, we walked out and started down the steep hill back to the Market.
This is sheer marketing genius, which I appreciate. I love the interior, the design, the logo, the almost J. Peterman-style verbiage in the menu. The feeling that I haven’t had it, I will never get it anywhere but here, so I must do it. No regrets.
If you don’t believe me, you can check it out for yourself:
Now, think of all of your parents and grandparents who paid a quarter or fifty cents for a cup of coffee. Now, granted, much of the coffee that they drank back in the Olden Days (before 1971, that is) wasn’t very good.
But that deafening sound? It’s the sound of all of our parents and grandparents, who drank their thin, diner coffee and paid less for it than we now pay in tips for espresso, rolling over in their graves. Like I said, no regrets.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.