Thursday, October 16, 2008

Late arrival to the coffee party

I can't exactly remember when I first noticed the trend toward a more mainstream appreciation of coffee in the U.S., but I always dismissed the coffee-snobbery as just an overblown yuppie fad. Well, if it is an overblown yuppie fad, you can now count me in as a follower.

I thought I'd seen coffee-snobbery in DC, but apparently we don't take it nearly as seriously as the caffeine-junkies of the Pacific Northwest (as well as many other places, I presume). This shouldn't be surprising, as Starbucks started in Seattle, and subsequently took over every single street corner in the world. I have no idea if this is true or not, but a Seattlite told me that the Emerald City has the most coffee shops per capita. And hot damn, are there a lot!

I visited Seattle with a San Fran coffee fiend friend of mine. She introduced me to the macchiato. The word alone used to scare me. Why such a fancy Italian name for a cup of coffee? Aren't there enough other fancy names? Well, it turns out the macchiato is now my new favorite coffee drink - a good one anyway. Espresso straight up is a little too bitter, and lattes and cappuchinos are too foamy. The macchiato is the baby bear's porridge of espresso drinks. Juuuust right. It literally means "marked" or "stained," meaning it's espresso with a stain of milk. A skilled barista can make sweet looking designs with the milk/espresso mixture too.

I had macchiatos at five different places in Seattle and Portland. The best one was at a little stand on the street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle, a magical little place called Vivace. The staff were friendly and skilled, and the coffee was soooo delicious. I'm not up on the coffee-lingo, but to my untrained palette, it was smooth and flavorful, and just the right consistency. (Vivace gets bonus points for being right near Dick's a walk-up fast food burger joint that is a Seattle institution.) Other good cups were from Caffe Vita and Stumptown in Seattle, and ... another Stumptown in Portland (where the chain originated). 

I'd had all of those good macchiatos, so I guess I didn't appreciate how hard it can be to make it correctly. Thinking all macchiatos were made relatively equally, I ordered one at the coffee shop across the street from my Portland Hostel, called World Cup Coffee and Tea. I don't know if it was the beans, the machine, the barista, or all of the above, but that thing was awful. It was bitter, foamy, and didn't have any cool design. This made me appreciate my earlier cups and baristas even more.

I hope I can find a place that makes good macchiatos in DC. If anyone knows of one, I'd love to hear from you. Until then, I will just reminisce about those delicious tiny cups I had on a street corner surrounded by hipsters and homeless people. Ahh memories. 


Kate said...

Murky Coffee
660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE Washington, DC (202) 546-5228 and 3211 Wilson Boulevard Arlington, VA (703) 312-7001.

Ali said...

try murky or big bear. I hear they are the best around. +1 for stumptown hairbender.