Stanley M. Fried
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From Of Coffees and Coffeehouses - Seattle


Seattle's neighborhood of Capitol Hill is similar to San Diego's Hillcrest. Restaurants, movie theatres, bookstores, boutiques, bars, and coffeehouses abound amidst the students, gay and lesbian couples, and tourists who frequent the area. It is situated on a hill just above the Downtown office buildings. Traffic and parking are usually impossible. And, like Hillcrest, Capitol Hill is an area of town where people like to walk along the sidewalks to shop and meet friends.

Espresso drinks are advertised in window signs along Broadway and the adjacent streets. It seems as if one cannot walk for more than a hundred feet without stumbling onto yet another coffeehouse or espresso cart or a bar with a flashing neon sign proclaiming that it serves espresso. And, like the taverns here that proudly boast their selection of micro-brewery beers in neon from their windows, the brand of espresso is usually noted well in the signage. Caffe d'Arte, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Caffe d'Italia seem to be most prevalent. Starbuck's is often served outside of its own establishments. Illycaffe and Lavazza are seldom to be seen. One cart goes so far as to roast its own coffee. Some places have their coffees roasted for them by one or another of the many small roasters in Seattle. Espresso is to Seattle as Coca-Cola is to Atlanta.

It was late one Friday afternoon. I had been on a job interview Downtown. A friend said he would give me a ride back to where I was staying and would pick me up in Capitol Hill. I walked around looking in the bookstores and watching people sitting at outdoor tables at restaurants and coffeehouses as rain clouds began to near from off Puget Sound. Wandering off the main street of Broadway, I found my way down Olive Street to the B & O Coffeehouse. by this time, the rain had begun to come down so I ducked inside to dry off.

The B & O Coffeehouse is one of a small chain of locally run coffeehouses. It is owned and operated by lesbians. The clientele there is as rich and varied as could be possible. The service counter there is separate from the two seating areas. I ordered my double espresso and asked if smoking were allowed. The woman behind the counter laughed and told me the staff would not survive a day of work there if smoking weren't available. She directed me to the upper level smoking area. Here, the air was kept clean with a "Smokeeter" air filter. The room was filled with people whose cigarettes bloomed into wispy strands of smoke, yet the air itself was clear and there was little scent from the burning tobacco.

I sat down at a banquette table. To my left was an older woman who was writing. Her ashtray was filled to the brim with cigarette butts. One empty and one half-filled cup of cappuccino sat in front of her on the table. To my right, a father sat talking to his daughter. The father wore a business suit. The daughter was poured into a tight, black shift that exposed great amounts of cleavage. The two sat talking about her future now that she was graduating college.

Across the room from me were table lined up against a wall where groups of people sat in animated conversation. Two women directly across from me sat holding hands across the table as they stared longingly at each other through what appeared to be a serious discussion. A jovial group of four women sat behind them loudly talking about films and books they had recently seen or read. A little farther away sat two men with notepads and pens talking loudly about theatre. The rest of the room seemed to be scattered with solo men or women like myself who sat looking about the room or reading.

On the wall across from me were a series of pastel drawings of belly dancers. Having once been an aficionado of belly dancing when I lived in San Francisco many years ago, I got caught up in reveries of past days as I studied the lines of the drawings. From outside, the sound of tires sloshing along wet streets broke through the music playing softly in the background. The coffee was brought to me and I sat in that room with the others feeling very much at home.

Most supermarkets in Seattle either sport espresso carts a their entryway or have an espresso bar inside. Millbrook seems to be the ubiquitous bulk coffee of choice being sold in supermarkets. yet, alongside the acrylic bins of Millbrook, most stores offer at least one other brand of whole bean coffee in vacuum packed bags. Safeway is partial to Seattle's Best Coffee. QFC offers what has become my own personal favorite for drinking at home here which is Torrefazione. This locally roasted coffee has supplanted my many-year love affair with Lavazza Famiglia as the espresso I like to prepare at home. Their Perugia blend is smooth and full bodied. It produces a rich crema and is highly aromatic. Best of all, it is available at a nearby grocery. Torrefazione espresso is served at Common Grounds in Downtown San Diego and at Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts in Hillcrest. Tom at Common Grounds carries a full line of Torrefazione coffees in vacuum packed bags to try at home. if you think that all espresso from Seattle tastes like Starbuck's, trying the coffee at Common Grounds will change your mind. Another of Seattle's finer coffees is Caravelli. This espresso is served at the coffee bar at Horton Plaza's Farmer's Market. Or, at least it was the last time I was in San Diego.

For those who have been asking, my job search here seems to be nearing a close. Soon, I will cease seeking a job and begin the search for housing. Looking for work and looking for a place to live are the two things I loathe most in life. They seem to change the course of everything. Once these are settled, I will feel more myself again.

So far, there is nothing I miss of San Diego other than the friends who I have left behind and my two cats who I gave away to another home. Perhaps my feelings will change over time as the weather fouls into the wintertime. That is something I will have to discover when the time comes. For now, it feels comfortable here in the cool, clear air that comes in off the water of Puget Sound and amidst the greenery that abounds in parks, along the streets, and in people's yards. But, some people come to mind more often than others and I have been terrible about not writing to my friends. Carrie, Michael, Susan, Linda and Camille, Scott, Jeff, Kelly, Debbie, Jenny, John, Shawn, Jackie, Basam, Jamison, Terry, Jason, and Russell are the ones who come to mind most frequently. There are so many others who I did not see so often, the thoughts of whom linger. Thank you all for such pleasant memories. I hope we can stay in contact.

©1994 - Stanley M. Fried


This was the last article Stanley Fried wrote for The Espresso after his move to Seattle.
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