Bellingham Coffee. Ottawa Coffee. and Coffee can Suck.
Posted September 23, 2003 8:15pm
Yesterday, Aaron De Lazzer and I went down to Bellingham (a nice 45 min drive from Vancouver) to check out a cafe owned by a CoffeeGeek member, Alexarc. It is the The Black Drop Cafe, and highly worth a visit. Why? Because the owners have serious passion about coffee and espresso, and providing a casual and cool place to socialize at.
Alexarc was kinda nervous at me and Aaron dropping by - it was evident in the time he took to build our drinks, and the way he served them, but he need not be nervous - he runs a first rate shop along with his partner Teri. We had his signature drink, something called a Marquis, which is sweet, milky and spicy, I highly recommend that too.
Bronwen Serna, a maestro of Baristi, also joined us at Black Drop, driving up the 1.5 hours from Seattle. It's always extremely cool to hang with Bronwen, even though she rides my case all the time, and never seems to like any shots I pour (grin).
Alexarc and Teri were both kinda freaked by our visit. Teri wrote in her blog, " Me, Iím just nervous as hell and scared to death Iím not even the one going to be behind the counter. I mean, I just rearranged the shop furniture this afternoon and marveled at how rickety the chairs are becoming! Weíre just a tiny little shop on a tiny little budget. We donít have plaques of recognition and photos of our baristi wrapped in American flags on the walls! We donít even pour consistent pictures in our foam!"
She wrote this prior to our visit. I wish I'd seen that before we headed down, but this kinda freaks me out too. I've never wanted to be in a position where people were nervous about serving me coffee, but it happens all the time now. I don't mind it when people try to delve out a good shot, but folks like Alex and Teri already pour the good shots. When folks get nervous about serving me coffee, or worse, refuse to serve me coffee because they're afraid it won't meet my expectations, it puts me on a level that a) I don't deserve, and b) I don't really want. I know some are worried I'll talk about their coffee here if it was crap, and on occasion, I do, but lemme tell you a few things.
First, I usually reserve the "their coffee was disappointing" stuff (where its warranted) for a) larger companies that should be doing better, or b) for those who specifically asked me to review and post on their coffee, shop, or service.
I've had plenty of "okay, or worse" coffee at a few shops I've never talked about here - and I donít talk about it because either a) the shops were trying their best, b) they maybe had an off day, c) they didn't expect me to review their coffee, or d) it was a purely social visit, and the last thing I want to do is hurt their business.
You gotta remember - coffee for me is as much a social thing as it is a taste and science and art thing. When folks are wary or freaked about serving me espresso, I lose that social thing because I get put on a false pedestal.
Back to my rambling point about what I post and don't post in regards to the espresso and coffee I sample out there in the wild, in The Black Drop's case, I'm doing the other thing I do - I rave about a shop that goes above and beyond, even if they did know we were coming. I sat in observance of things for a while, and lemme tell you, they have nothing to worry about. I loved the cafe, loved the interaction with all the customers (Teri or Alexarc addressed most customers by name as they came into the shop!), and the espresso was the tops. They're a small shop, they're a cozy shop, and they're a shop I highly recommend a visit to. Here's some more photos from the visit (thanks to Aaron, who took these with my his Nikon 4500):
Coffee in Ottawa
I spent over a week in Ontario, some of it in Ottawa, where I attended a wedding for a friend, and spent time with my family. While there I visited two coffee businesses I've come to know and respect, Morala Imports and BridgeHead.
At Morala, the ever charming Hamid and I spent time talking coffee biz, gossiping a bit (yeah, we were like two old ladies nattering over coffee :)), and checking out Hamid's latest wares.
Hamid went beyond the call when he helped me out for a camping trip to Algonquin Park - he gave me a Bialetti Moka Brewer and a hand crank grinder. I'm eternally grateful - it, along with some Bridgehouse coffee, gave me some seriously special "coffee moments".
I spent some time with Connie Berry from Bridghead, first on the Friday I was in Ottawa, then on the following Friday when I got back to Ottawa. The second visit had me tasting some experimental espresso blends Connie was tweaking for their house espresso. They have a Franke Ecolino machine for espresso (a super automatic) which is not the ideal tool for "tasting espresso" in evaluation, but we did our best, and I enjoyed the visit.
Coffee in Algonquin Park
I spent four days up at Algonquin Park, camping with my Mom and two brothers. It was a special, cherished trip, and coffee played a role. I wrote about it extensively in alt.coffee, and I don't want to repeat the typing here, but you can click the link to check it out if you want.
I gave the moka pot to my brother Michael when I left Ottawa - I simply didn't have room in my overstuffed (with souvenirs from Algonquin) bag, and I think Mike is enjoying it immensely - they sure did on the trip!
Other Coffee News
It's been an up and down few coffee days for me.
The good stuff? I had a long talk with George Howell (the famous guy who started up the legendary Coffee Connection in Boston decades ago) on the phone yesterday, chatting about coffee in general, espresso in particular, and roasting.
I can't say I agreed with everything George talked about, but I also defer to and respect what he said because, after all, he is who he is! I totally come from an espresso background, and it's obvious even to those who don't know George that he comes from a brewed, cupping coffee background. One very cool thing about George - even though he puts huge demands on farmers and their products, he's all about the farmers, their products, and promoting those products tha deserve promotion. I asked him why their espresso "blend" isn't a blend - it's a single bean (Brasil Cerrado), roasted to two levels - a N. Italian Roast, and a S. Italian Roast. His response? "It's all about showcasing the top farms out there". Not about "this bean can pull off a single-bean espresso" or anything like that.
The not so good stuff? I've kind of become persona non-grata with a few coffee-biz folks in the past week or so, as more than a few people have been avoiding me because they know a bit of news I've heard isn't sitting well. On top of that, my company's been left out in the cold with a big end run done around us. It's left me with an even more sour taste in my mouth for some of the bureaucracy and politics that go on (unfortunately) in the coffee world, and personally, I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt. People who I think of as friends were involved. Sometimes the world of coffee can truly suck. We'll see how this one plays out though.