Blog entries

We pit three Olympians against two Seattleites against one Spokanite

Posted in our über-incorrigible libation guide: Coffee.

Team OlyCOOL recently undertook the first few steps of a Fact Finding Mission™ in Olympia, Spokane, and Seattle, where we pitted the cities’ finest coffee spots against each other. After countless meetings and seminars filled with deliberation and soul-searching, we are finally ready to reveal our findings.

Olympia

Obsidian (414 4th Ave E)

There’s something kind of interesting about a family-friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Yes, Obsidian is different, and their coffee is something Count Grishnackh would approve of. (I mean, he might be a convicted murderer and all, but he’s also Norwegian, so I assume he has an impeccable taste in coffee.)

The beans of choice here are from Stumptown, and the Americanos were surprisingly good. Again: a family friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Obsidian is just not somewhere I’d expect to get a good espresso based drink, yet the shots were well pulled, and the temperature of the Americano was just right.

It makes sense in retrospect, I suppose, what with the darker Nordic theme. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised the coffee here is reminiscent of what one finds in Scandinavia, currently the epicenter of the hipper than thou coffee scene.

Olympia Coffee Roasting (108 Cherry St)

We have previously posted about Olympia (as we affectionately refer to it as), but with its new downtown location and all, we see no reason why we wouldn’t mention them again.

Their new spot is quite enjoyable. It has a Scandinavian meets Northwest look to it, with a decent (though probably not large enough) seating capacity. Everything here seems customized and automated, from the «Olympia Coffee» branded espresso machine to the Poursteady. The latter made our Honduras pour-over, which was about as good as non-human-made coffee can be. Flavor wise, Olympia’s beans were great as always, and here they were slowly and automatically poured. Perfect timing and perfect temperature—humanity was overrated in the first place.

We’ve had the good fortune of trying many great coffee spots over the last few years, Olympia is right up there with the best of them. It doesn’t take much to figure out why they won Roast Magazine’s «Micro Roaster» of the year in 2013. Currently they’re our favorite of the Mission™, and we’re just fine with that..

Bar Francis (110 Franklin St NE)

Located within Dumpster Values’ bourgeoning vintage-mall is Bar Francis, and a good spot it is. Granted, our coffee was served in paper cups, so make sure you specify you want a mug should you decide to hang out.

Our shots were properly pulled, and the Americanos tasted great. The interiors are, somewhat (but probably not) interestingly, kind of in-between that of Obsidian and Olympia. Think Obsidian’s colors inverted, and you get the idea. A little grungy, yet inviting—a black metal fan who doesn’t like black.

I don’t know, there’s really not that much more to be said about Francis. They do a good job in a good space, and really, while that might sound sort of uninteresting, it’s what a coffee spot should be.

Spokane

Indaba (210 N Howard St)

One could probably argue that Indaba is not Spokane’s premiere coffee-spot, though then again, one could probably argue that it is, too. Either way, Indaba is quite excellent, and their espresso maker on tap system is pretty impressive looking in its own right.

As for the coffee, my Americano was great. Excellent, in fact. It was served at a lower temperature than most of the others we tried during this test, which certainly helped kick up the flavors. The beans—from Indaba’s own roaster—were light, not exactly to Scandinavian levels, but still to the point where the more delicate details were easy to pick up on.

The space is comfortable, and the baristi friendly, all adding up to a great experience.

Seattle

Milstead & Co (770 N 34th St)

This was quite possibly the biggest let-down of the Mission™. Milstead has quite the reputation to live up to, but fell flat during our visit. This largely came down to an overeager barista who pretty much punched the AeroPress plunger through the filter-cap in the span of three seconds, jumping on top of it to literally squeeze grounds through the filter. (That might be a hyperbole, but you get the picture.)

OK, the end-result wasn’t actually that bad, but it had a bit of a bitter aftertaste to it, something I attribute to the overzealous press. Still, one should expect a bit more from a spot of Milstead’s reputation.

Vif (4401 Fremont Ave N)

The surprise hit of the Mission™ was Vif, located in the Fremont district. Their pour-over, using light-roasted beans from Olympia Coffee, came out perfectly, highlighting the Ethiopian beans’ acidity, and the currants slapped our faces in a stern but loving fashion. (I know it gets a bit old to point out a coffee’s currant flavors, but you know what… It’s a good litmus test, the fruit-flavor.)

Vif holds a good café feel, with a wine selection, good food, and excellent background music. Kinda French in other words, just with good coffee.

Conclusion

In this first part of the Coffe. Fact Finding Mission™, five of the six spots held high enough of a quality to live up to Washington’s coffee culture reputation. The last one was a disappointment. And for good measure, we threw in Batdorf & Bronson, which we visited a while back, too.

And speaking of coffee culture, why not end on this Anthony Bourdain quote? There is no culture around coffee. Coffee is a beverage, not a culture.

The standings so far…

  1. Olympia Coffee Roasting
  2. Caffé Vita
  3. Obsidian
  4. Indaba
  5. Vif
  6. Bar Francis & Co
  7. Milstead & Co
  8. Batdorf & Bronson