Monthly Archives: August 2009

Seattle – the Coffee

Ahhh, finally I get to sit and write about the reason I went to Seattle in the first place!  Getting the grounds from the Mazzer

I first had the idea of a non-profit coffeehouse a few years ago.  About a year later I looked up “non-profit coffeehouses” and came across Q Cafe in a Google search.  Since then I have followed Eugene Cho’s blog and have been interested in the Q.  So this past spring, as I decided to give the coffeehouse a serious look, I decided to try to spend part of my summer at the Q to get a feel for the non-profit cafe and coffee in general (Seattle is, after all, the Mecca of coffee).  I shot Eugene an email asking to be able to come up there and if you watched the interview from a couple posts back you’ll realize that I was pretty persistent!  It wasn’t until late May that I got the thumbs up and it wasn’t until June that I found a place to stay (the whole time my wife had family there!).  So on July 15th I hopped on Alaska Airlines headed for three weeks of coffee, public transportation, and unexpectedly hot weather!

So my goal for the internship was to learn as much about the coffee industry as possible and to figure out the hardships of doing it all as a non-profit.  I was disappointed as the guys at Q and some other friends at The Green Bean, another non-profit, were very open about ANY questions and what made business difficult for each of their unique situations.  But that is kind of getting ahead of myself at this point…

The first few days I was there was just focusing on the coffee world.  Jake, the Q manager, gave me a packet from Stumptown, their supplier, full of great info on each of the farms that they have relationships with around the world.  It was also an intro to different espresso drinks, basic maintenance, and fair and direct trade practices.  Jake and Matt gave me a whole list of coffeehouses to check out while I was there (here is the Google Map I created with each of them and some comments) and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take off early to go check them out.  La Marzocca

After a couple of days Jake taught me how to pull shots out of their La Marzocco 3 group (Eugene told me that for the longest time it was the most valuable asset Quest owned!).  The first few were terrible, of course, as they came out either too fast or way to slow, trickling out of the portafilter.  But eventually I nailed a few between 25-28 seconds!  After I mastered pulling shots as well as can be expected in only a couple of days I was on to steaming milk, a much harder process.  Jake, Matt, and Josh helped me to learn to steam whole, 2%, skim, and soy milk.  Stayed mostly with the whole but I tried a soy latte for the first time, a little sweeter and thinner than what I am use too.  The hard part about steaming milk is hitting the right temperature and getting the microfoam that is critical for a good latte all at the same time.  Usually if I got the right temperature then I would have large bubbled foam that was no good or if I got the foam right the temp wouldn’t be quite right.  But when I nailed it I was pretty proud of myself!  So by the second week I was able to come in and make my own lattes in the morning!  I was also trying to make cappuccinos (the Italian way 2 oz. espresso, 2 oz. steamed milk, 2 oz. foam), mochas, and breves.

Stumptown's Hairbender flowing from the portafilter.I helped out with a few other things at the cafe, like putting lights together and helping with live shows.  But I also learned the struggles of the cafe as well as some of the hopes and dreams of their employees and patrons – which isn’t that the point of working at a coffeehouse!  As you can tell from the video I learned the importance of knowing your product, equipment, market, a business plan, and everything else that goes with running a business involved in the service industry.

My best day outside of Q was spent at Stumptown up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  Everyday Stumptown does a cupping (like a tasting) at 3 pm.  I showed up early one day and was able to just hang out with the roaster until things got started.  He filled me in on the roasting process and I was able to watch him go through about 3 batches.  During the cupping we smelled, sipped, and swished about 6 or 7 different coffees from around the world, all single origins.  It was amazing having an Ethiopian side-by-side with a Honduran aStumptown's roasting machinend actually tasting the uniqueness of each!  The Africans were clearly more fruity than that others while the Central American coffees differed from each other but as a whole were more mellow and balanced.  The staff at Stumptown was great and if you ever are in Seattle visiting you should definitely stop by around 3 pm!

One other experience that can’t forget to mention is the slow bar at Seattle Coffee Works.  I had met one of the baristas, Eric, who had invited to come by for a vacuum pot of a Kenyan coffee they had just received.  Seattle Coffee Works had just opened a new store right off of Pike Place Market and installed a 20 or so foot man sipping a cup of coffee above their front marquee.  The store is great but I really loved the slow bar counter.  It was made of a map that highlighted the coffee growing region of the world.  The slow bar is really an educational experience as you get one-on-one with a barista who tells you about the coffee s/he is preparing.  If you are ever at Pikes Place Market skip the original Starbucks and head over to Seattle Coffee Works.  I guarantee you will get a greeting from Sebastian, the owner, and enjoy a much better experience!

Seattle Coffee Works - the arm actually moves up and down!I really enjoyed my time in the Emerald City but I was glad to finally be back with Amber!  I gained invaluable information that will continue to help me and challenge me in this mission.  If you have any questions about my trip then please let me know or leave a comment.

Follow the link to see more of my Seattle coffee pics.

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Seattle – the City

Seattle from the ferry

This will be my first post in a series of three on my trip (not including the last post where I included the video).  This one is obviously about the city of Seattle, the next one will be about coffee, and my last post will be on Mt. Rainier.

I spent a total of three weeks in the Seattle area.  I say area because I did not stay “in” Seattle but in a suburb south of the city.  My wife has family in Des Moines, about a 45 minute drive down I-5.  That said, I spent the majority of my awake hours in the city.  My days would begin at 6 am and I would get on my one and half hour bus ride around 6:50 (shout out to the 194!).  Every morning I would walk in between Safeco and Qwest on my way to my second bus stop (that was an hour and a half total).  I usually would arrive at Q Cafe around 8:30 and immediately make my self a latte or an americano (even when it was sweltering outside).  At the cafe I would spend the morning and early afternoon learning how to make coffee drinks, writing, picking their coffee brains, and hanging out with the regulars (typical coffeehouse day right?).  I would typically leave Q in the mid to late afternoon and either check out either coffee shops or spend a couple hours at my favorite Best book store in Seattle - Elliot Bay Booksbookstore, Elliot Bay Books.  Then I would work my way back to the stadium area for the long, and always packed, ride home.  I would usually be hungy and exhausted and always prayed my hosts wouldn’t think me rude when all I did was eat and then crash (and they didn’t).

The first saturday that I was there, before my stint at Q began, I headed to the city to jump on a ferry and explore one of the islands.  I wanted to go as far north as possible.  I had in mind a remote island clouded in fog with whales popping up everywhere.  Unfortunately the downtown Seattle ferries to not go that far north, so I went to Bainbridge Island instead.  But first I should mention that on that day the Seattle Sounders Football Club (soccer for my friends in the south) was playing Chelsea Football Club (a soccer team from the English Premier League, again for my friends in the south).  I arrived at the stadium area around 9 am and the place was already swarming with green jerseys 3 hours before the game.  For a second I almost decided to abandon my ferry trip and go to the game but I soon found out the match was sold out!  As I made my way through the Pioneer Square district there was a constant stream of green jersey making their way to Qwest field.  Then again when I was waiting for the ferry I would say approximately 80-90% of the passengers from Vashon and Bainbridge were decked out in Sounders gear.  I eventually learned that the crowd, 64,000+, was the third largest ever recorded at Qwest!  Back to Bainbridge Island…the ferry ride to the island was beautiful.  The ride alone is worth the price just to get a full view of the city!  We traveled west and just as the city was growing smaller behind us the Olympic range was looming larger and larger in front of us.  I had a map for the island but when we got off I just followed the flood of people to whereever everyone seemed to be going and eventually found myself in Winslow, the small harbor community on the southeast side of the island.  I had a great time walking the streets down to the harbor and exploring Eagle Harbor Bookstore and drinking coffee at Pegasus Coffee.  My only complaint about the day was the fact that there was nowhere to rent scooters!  I mention the idea on Twitter and a few local Bainbridgers responded with surprise that there wasn’t a rental spot.

Outside the original Starbucks.  Know how you can tell?  Spot the difference in the logo!Of course, like any other Seattle visitor I spent plenty of time exploring Pike Place Market, made my pilgrimage to the first Starbucks location, and took a picture of the Pike Place Fish guys doing there fish-throwing-thing.  The market was a fun place to explore and you could always tell if there was a cruise ship in town by how packed the market was.  But most days I would skip the market area so I could hang out at Elliot Bay Books and explore other parts of the city.  Part of my explorations took me to the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the East Village section of Seattle.  It was an interesting mix of affluent, hippy, and trendy culture all running together.  These three ingredients also make for an excellent coffee culture as this is the area that I was told to check out for the best coffeehouses (of course there are exceptions to this which I will get into in my next post).  There were plenty of boutique shops, luxury vehicle dealerships (Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes), and even bakery shops that specialized in cupcakes!

I spent my final day in the city exploring sections of downtown I hadn’t gotten to yet.  In particular I was in search of one building that had a unique architectual exterior.  I had been talking about architecture quite a bit with Matt at Q Cafe and knew from our converstations that my trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete withoutSeattle Public Library spending some time in this building.  It was the Seattle Public Library and it lived up to its billing!  The SPL is a beautiful, angular glass building surrounded by towers two to three times its height (even though it was about 15 stories).  I was certainly impressed by the outside, but the inside took my breath away!  My two favorite spots was the computer area all they way at the top and the third floor which was full of couches because of the expansive glass that provided such a unique scene and plenty of natural light.  I can 3rd floor of the Seattle Public Librarysay that I am truly jealous of Seattle-ites, who should be proud of such a building!

That was quite a bit more that I had planned to write.  Other highlights include being in town for the Sea Fair, Bite of Seattle, the opening of light rail in Seattle, and the opening of a pretty controversial coffeehouse.  But the biggest news has to be that I was there for the hottest day on record, 103 degrees!  Which normally for me isn’t a big deal, except for nobody in Seattle has AC!!!  But I made it and can now add that to my list of big events that I was a part of!

Follow the link below to see my pictures of Seattle.

Seattle – the City

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Seattle, Coffee, and the Interview

It has been a long time….sorry.  I didn’t intend to not write while I was in Seattle but I didn’t have a card reader and wanted to incorporate pictures into my posts. (Is that a good excuse for my laziness?).  Anyways, almost a month later and I finally have time to sit down and write a little.

So as most of you know I went to Seattle to get my feet wet and learn a little bit more about both the coffee industry and, more specifically, the non-profit cafe.  As far as the coffee aspect goes, my head is still buzzing from more than just the caffiene!  I learned more than I could have imagined.  The guys at Q were able to answer a lot of my questions and just give me more info on the coffee world in general.  I got a chance to talk to each one of them pretty in depth about different subjects -with Jake about the business end, with Matt about more of the supply end as he has a history in that area, and with Josh about latte art and the east coast scene.  Each one of them really helped to teach me how to make the drinks too.  It was kind of a process when it came to the drinks to!  Jake taught me the grind, tamp, and most of the stuff with the espresso.  I spent most of my time with Matt practicing steaming milk (whole, skim, soy, half & half, etc…).  Finally, Josh attempted to give me a crash course in latte art – which was not about to happen in only a couple weeks!

Latte Art - Josh did this, not me!

On the non-profit side of things, I have to give a special thanks to Jake and Eugene at Q Cafe and Summer at the Green Bean Coffeehouse for all their help.  They were really open about some really tough questions and because of that I am much more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of this type of business as I go forward.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting more on my trip.  I will probably split them into three posts:  one on Seattle itself, one on coffee, and one on Mt. Rainer.

Until then, enjoy this video that I was able to do with Eugene, the pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, while I was up there (yeah, I know, I look like a dork!).  Again, thanks to everyone at Q for allowing me to follow them around for a couple of weeks – especially Jake, Matt, and Josh!

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