I am pleased to announce that the ‘Grounds for Burnt Offerings’ blog is moving to its new home at GroundOfferings.com. Finally, a more ‘legitimate’ domain name for this blog!

For the past year or so I have been hosting this blog under ahaikuaday.com and this has worked well enough for the blog in general, and yet, there has been a number of factors directly or indirectly related to this domain and the host which have caused me to take on this crucial next step.

One of these restrictions is that the domain name does not really relate to the overall subject matter and theme of this blog. Coffee culture is not something that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the AHaikuADay.com.

Starting today, GFBO will now be found at http://groundofferings.com, its official home. Please update your bookmarks and pointers to the new site.

And over this coming year a number of exciting things are in the works for the new site so stick around… it will be a bit messy as we continue to transition and upgrade the site, but it will fun!

Attibassi at Tutta Bella, originally uploaded by andai.

Here I was, at Tutta Bella in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle enjoying a straight espresso shot pulled from Attibassi coffee beans. Then all of a sudden it really dawned on me, that the days were drawing near. It was with a bit of sadness that I realized that I was coming to an end of my stay in Seattle.

After having called Seattle home for over 10 years, I was now picking up my family and my belongings and moving to another land. I was moving to a land of espresso and raw sugar separated from Seattle by the vast Pacific Ocean, a land that I will make my new home for some time.

And so here I am, sipping my espresso from a tiny ceramic espresso cup with the Attibassi crest and name emblazoned on the side and thinking to myself, this espresso shot is pretty nice actually. I was also thinking to myself that this is just about the last time for a while that I will be enjoying espresso in Seattle. And at the same time I was wondering what New Zealand would have to offer in terms of espresso?

I was standing right at the bar, taking pictures of my espresso cup, pictures to add to my coffee collection. I was trying to position my shot so that the Tutta Bella espresso machine in would be in noticeable in the background. Yes, the espresso machine would be noticeable in the background but only from a bokeh point of view. Maybe I should take a couple of shots where the machine in the background would be in focus and the cup itself would be out of focus? Tried that… hmm… not too bad, maybe I’ll actually post the picture too.

I have to say that the espresso machines at Tutta Bella are pretty sweet. All three Tutta Bella restaurants have the same make. As far as I know, they are the only traditional lever-action (read manually operated) espresso machines in Seattle… I don’t know if that is really true, but that’s what one of the baristas proudly told me. I do know that I love checking out cool espresso machines and I haven’t seen any like those yet. I love the copper and silver plating but there is something even cooler about the machine that most people will not realize… that is besides the fact that the machine is manually controlled. If you were to turn the machine around, you will notice a large ‘sculpture’ on an eagle attached to the backside or is the back really the front? I forget the name of the machine but I will update this post with that info.

The other thing about Tutta Bella is that they only serve Attibassi coffee which is flown in from Bologna, Italy each week. I was curious why they would do this when they could have bought Italian style roasts from the likes of Caffé Umbria or Caffe D’Arte. The barista told me that the owner had actually toured Italy tasting and sampling and there he discovered Attibassi. Of course the rest is history.

Since this is going to be the last official Seattle related posting for a while, I will diverge a little from my normal format and talk about Tutta Bella’s pizzas. Now for those of you have haven’t guessed by now, Tutta Bella is a Neapolitan pizzeria that basically got everything, including the brick pizza oven from Naples Italy. I understand that they also get a lot of the ingredients that they use to make pizza and other things, from Italy too. I have to say, they do make the best pizzas in Seattle.

And so with this post, I have to say, farewell for now to Seattle, till we meet again…

15 Ave Coffee & Tea aka Starbucks, originally uploaded by andai.
I can’t believe it! I actually went to Starbucks with the sole intention of getting good espresso and not the usual stuff they have been serving at the regular stores… which by the way is what inspired the name of this blog. So I went to 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, the non branded Starbucks store.

I remember very clearly when the Starbucks store on Capital Hill’s 15th Avenue shut down. At first I thought they were gone as part of the restructuring going on at Starbucks when they closed a number of their stores. But I soon realized that something was up because they simply boarded up the place and soon after construction began behind closed doors. Now first forward a couple of months later and the rumors started coming out about the new Starbucks store that was opening on 15th. This new store was rumored to be different from the regular Starbucks stores we have all come to love or loathe depending on what type of a coffee person you are. This was going to be the first of the non branded Starbucks stores which were essentially going back to their roots. A time when they were more indie, less commercial and espresso was not done using an automated espresso machine.

I think it’s interesting that Starbucks chose 15th Avenue as the location for their first concept store. 15th Avenue has a number of independent café/coffee shops. These include Insomniax Coffee and Juice, Caffe Ladro, North Hill Bakery, The Bagel Deli and one of my favorite Seattle coffeehouse and roaster, Victrola Coffee. This to me sounded like Starbuck laying down the gauntlet especially to Victrola and Ladro. And there certainly was quite a bit of reaction to the news and rumor.

There was quite a bit of fanfare on the opening morning. Personally, I wasn’t interested in waking up to go stand in line at 6:00 am the morning of the opening, I decided that I would give the place a week or two just so they get settled down into their regular routine, then I would go there so try the espresso. And so I did…

The inside was interesting. At first glance the place looked like some indie coffee shop that bought used, well worn and weathered outdoor furniture to provide sitting for the customer. But then on second glance you quickly realize that the place was clearly designed by some highly paid interior decorator to have that look and feel. Thus it reminded me almost like a staged house ready for sale, and I think here they were trying a little too hard to look retro. Yet, they did have some nice stuff on the walls i.e. old, colonial style looking boxes for shipping coffee and gunny sacks.

But what I really appreciated was they do actually have a La Marzocco machine so they are actually hand pulling the coffee by hand as opposed to pushing buttons. This machine is a rusted looking, copper colored plating which gives the machine an old ‘I have been making espresso for years’ kind of look. This actually is once again in line with the interior decor which has a lot of old (or recycled) looking furniture.

Oh and they also have a Clover, which I haven’t yet tried… yet…

15 Ave Coffee & Tea Coffee Cup, originally uploaded by andai.

The latte I got was actually pretty decent. This was the first latte in years I can honestly say that I have enjoyed from Starbucks… even though they were trying to hide that they were indeed Starbucks. It could have been a tad bit stronger but it was much better than I would have thought.

In an effort to find out what the deal was here, I had an Interesting conversation with the barista. I asked her why they had the “Inspired by Starbucks” tag if they were trying to get away from the old image of Starbucks… and she explained that they were actually trying to do was to get back to the old Starbucks image of being passionate about their coffee and the community. I take this to mean that the store was inspired by the Starbucks of old, the original Starbucks when it was really all about the coffee. Fresh roasted coffee pulled by a real barista.

This barista also told me that they order the coffee directly from the roasting plant in Kent so their coffee is not more than 4 days old, whereas the coffee at the regular Starbucks stores can be up to a month old! They serve the regular Starbucks espresso blend and also the decaf blend. But then they also have a single origin bean that they serve. At the moment (at the time I was talking to them) they are serving Ethiopian Sidamo coffee of which she gave me a whiff… I must say it smelled great.

One think I do have to say that made me happy about the place is thank goodness they don’t wear the silly green aprons with the even goofier baseball caps that US fast food franchises love to dress their employees in. And also none of the “Welcome to Starbucks may I take your order please” type of greeting you find at some of these places. The baristas don’t wear uniform and although they are friendly, it actually felt more genuine.

I have to give credit where credit is due. I think this was a step in the right direction for Starbucks. The only problem that remains is to see how they duplicate this concept and make each and every new concept store different and fresh.

Coffee at Columbia City Bakery

Columbia City Bakery Sign, originally uploaded by andai.
One of the reasons I was somewhat looking forward to moving to Columbia City was that I would be close to Columbia City bakery. Now depending on which Seattle neighborhood you live in, you will probably be familiar with Columbia City Bakery since they are one of the two more well known bakeries that supply bread to a number of the cafes and bakeries in the area. The other bakery is Essential Bakery, which as two locations, the first in Wallingford and the second location in Madison Valley.

The irony of bring just down the road from Columbia City Bakery was that where I was staying, a friend would bake fresh homemade bread every other day. So I really wasn’t interested in actually buying bread from the bakery, however I was more interested in their coffee. The other irony was that I only went there a couple of times for coffee. More often than not, I would go to Empire, Tuta Bella or some of the other ones on the ‘hill’ like the recently opened Porchlight Coffee.

Part of the reason that I didn’t really hang out at Columbia City Bakery was because the place tended to get just a little too crowded, especially on Saturday mornings, and so finding seating was the main problem. The other problem is that the seating area is relatively small so it does not take too many people to fill out the place, so you are left standing watching and waiting to see when some family will vacate the table so you can quickly jump on it. The crowd that seemed to patronize the place was more of the young couple with the kid(s) type of crowd, or the young couple and the girl’s parents (boy’s in-laws) catching up on the past week… pretty much the newer, gentrified Columbia City demographic … not the older generation that have traditionally lived in the area.

Customer service at the place was not supper exceptional, but I couldn’t really complain. The first day I went there for my latte I was surprised to see one of the baristas working there whom I remembered used to work at Essential Bakery. She was pretty cool to chat with as we talked about her previous life at Essential and her move to Columbia City. She made me a decent latte… decent enough for me to go back. However, the next latte I got there, from a different barista no less was nothing really to write home about. And I think that was the main reason I wasn’t super excited about going back too many times. The lattes were decent, but certainly nothing that was exceptional that I had to go back there. But now that I no longer live in Seattle, I don’t know that I would have the chance to try them again oh well…

Empire Espresso, originally uploaded by andai.

Empire Espresso is Seattle’s Columbia City’s newest coffeehouse. This place is that I discovered while I was temporarily living in Columbia City. I was also able to check out the ground offerings from Columbia City Bakery and Tutta Bella, the Italian Pizzeria who also have an Italian espresso bar. Now for those of you know aware, Columbia City is not a city, but a neighborhood in Seattle, just east of Beacon Hill. I have talked to quite a few, even from the Seattle area, who have never even heard of Columbia City.

Empire is actually owned and run by a pretty cool chap called Tino. What is interesting about Empire is that when you first step into the place, you notice immediately that the place is a little different in terms of the interior design. On talking to Tino himself, I quickly found out that the place was actually designed by a team of architects… the same architects whose offices are in the same building, up stairs. Apparently the architects are also his parents too… so I am guessing he probably got a great rate for the design work.

Tino has been in coffee for a while now. In a past life he was a barista, and even worked as a bar tender at one time. But it was last year that he decided to strike out on his own and start his own coffeehouse in the area where he grew up, that is, Columbia City. In addition to his parents being close by, I believe he has quite a bit of family in the immediate area.

And who did he get to supply him with coffee? None other than Seattle Coffee Works’ Sebastian Simsch. I was happy to find a place in Seattle that serves Seattle Coffee Works coffee. It is a little unfortunate that the majority of the roasted coffee beans in Seattle are supplied by a few big names like Cafe Vita and Stumptown. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that their coffee is bad. What I am saying is that it becomes difficult to sample new and exciting roasts from some of the other smaller independent roasters that also have great coffee, so it is always exciting for me to discover coffeehouses in Seattle that have something different. Hence my excitement with Empire.

Overall, I have to say that I liked the coffee there. Tino and his baristas are really friendly and great to chat with. When I first went there, I chatted with one of the baristas who initially gave me the low down about the place. I wanted to take pictures of the inside and I asked the barista on duty for permission. She told me that in general she wouldn’t mind, but since one of the owners was around, I should ask her instead. And she pointed me to this lady who was seated having a conversation about coffee with this other gentleman.

This was the same lady whom I had observed a few minutes earlier drinking a straight espresso shot for the first time and asking the barista a lot of questions about this particular espresso shot and about good vs. bad espresso shots in general. Since she was pretty much engaged in conversation with the other person, I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt so I figured I could come back another day and chat with her. Because of the way she was interacting with the barista and also from the way the barista had pointed her out to me, I initially thought she was the owner of Empire but it was only much, much later that I guessed, and I believe that I am right, she must be Tino’s mother.

The one thing that I didn’t like about Empire, and this is nothing to do with the coffee, were the operating hours. They would close pretty early in the afternoon, sometime between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. However, that was changing around the time I was leaving, and they were going start opening much, much later. This of course makes it easier for those who do not live in Columbia City to stop by later in the evenings since the early closings I think primarily benefits the locals.

So, if you are in and about in Columbia City, I certainly suggest you drop by and check out what Empire and Seattle Coffee Works has to offer.

When one has a laptop but no Internet access at home, finding places to connect to the Internet to check email and surf the web (i.e. if you don’t have a web enabled mobile phone) then becomes another part of your adjustment to life in New Zealand.

Unlike in the US where there are plenty of coffee shops that offer free wireless, and a few that actually make you buy coffee before they grant you access, here it seems those are more in the minority. In addition to this, the access provided in most of those coffee shops are restricted in either the amount of time you can use the access, the amount of data you can download and/or the types of data or files you can download.

To be fair, some of these restrictions are not unusual even in coffee shops in the Seattle area. For example, Fremont Coffee Company, located in the Fremont area requires you to buy coffee before they will give you a voucher with you time limited username and password. Some places like Victrola Coffee on 15th Avenue on upper Capital Hill turns off their Wi-Fi on certain days and at certain times to prevent ‘squatters’ who buy one cup of drip and hang out there the whole day on their laptops thus depriving others a place to seat and enjoy their espresso.. Starbucks had a deal with T-Mobile where one would set up an account for access. They also had a deal where you bought a Starbucks coffee card and somehow through that you could get some sort of Internet access but since I don’t really go to Starbucks to hang out, I never really tried to use their Internet access offerings.

However from the little I have seen so far Internet access is pretty much restricted in some form or the other I have yet to see one coffee shop, of the few that provide access, where you can hang out to your hearts content and download Gigs of iTunes trailers and podcasts. Here is a quick summary of what I have seen so far at three coffee shops;

The first coffee shop/café I used to get Internet access was one called Perretts Cafe. This I think had the most stable of the three. It was relatively easy to connect one the barista gave me the username and password. What in interesting is that I don’t think they actually change the password, nor do they generate multiple usernames which means that once you’ve been there, you can probably hang out somewhere close and access the web without having to pay for coffee or eats. Now the problem I had with this place was that they do restrict the types of files you can download. This includes executables… and that makes sense since you don’t want folks downloading shady binaries via your network. The problem though was that they were garbling my anti-virus definitions files so I couldn’t do any windows system or security updates at all.

Enigma is a great little coffee and lounge on Courtney Place. This is the only one that seems to have no real restrictions as far as I can tell. Part of the reason I really can’t tell however is because it also the slowest and the least stable of the three. To actually be able to get connected, I was told that I had to sit at this particular spot right by the pinball machine… at first I thought she was joking and then one of the other baristas I asked also told me the exact same thing. Regardless, though I was able to connect, the connection and the speed were actually pretty bad.

Of late I have been going to Esquires Coffee for two reasons. First, they actually make good coffee considering they are a chain of not very ‘barista’ looking folks. Second, if you ask, they will give you a voucher for an hour or 60 MB of Internet access, whichever comes first. The Internet provider is a company called TimeZone. In my opinion this is still a good deal I think because you are getting your favorite espresso drink, and they will throw in some ‘free’ Wi-Fi to boot. Now of course there is a bit of a problem in the you get one hour or 60 MB which means that if you were downloading some of your favorite iTunes podcasts or doing your system updates, you might only be there for a couple of minutes. The other problem I was having the last couple of times I used them is that the there were a couple of times when I lost connects to the Internet or the Internet was extremely slow. I would click on a link then wait and wait. But for the most part they are ok.

TimeZone also provide Internet access for Starbucks. We actually went into one of the Starbucks and asked about their Internet access. They told us that Internet access cost $3.00 and no mention of buy coffee and get it free so rather than hang around and ask clarifying questions, we went to Esquires instead.

There is another service called CaféNET that is similar to TimeZone where the company provides Internet access to various eating establishments around the city. This includes Clark’s Café at the Wellington Library. They offer a number of access options but as far as I can see they don’t have vouchers meaning that you have to use your credit card to purchase time.

There are two other options available at the library. Supposedly there is Woosh but I couldn’t get a signal, then there is Telecom who offer access at $9.95 per hour compared to caféNET’s $10 for 24 consecutive hours. I’m sorry but this is exactly the problem I have with these dinosaurs. Why would I opt to pay $10 for an hour of access when I can pay the same for 24 hours of access? This to me is a classic example why no country needs these government monopolies (or former monopolies)!

In general, I think the difference between Seattle and Wellington however is that fundamentally; Internet access is on the whole much cheaper and more pervasive in Seattle than it is here in Wellington. It feels like Seattle was maybe six to eight years ago when Internet access was a little harder to some by and more expensive. But what helped Seattle and this something that I don’t really see here yet is that Seattle had/has a ton of people with laptops so there is much more demand for Wi-Fi be it at home or at coffee shops. Here I really don’t get the sense that a lot of the locals here lug their laptops with them everywhere they go. So as a result what you find that there is less demand for Wi-Fi from locals. At the same time it almost feels like many of those you see with laptops are tourists and travelers. Oh by the way, MacBooks and Accer netbooks seem to be really popular.

And I have to admit, being that I am new to this city, I have barely just began touching the surface with regards to coffee and coffee culture in Wellington… and so this is a topic I will be coming back to again and again as I continue to explore coffee culture here in New Zealand.

There is one item you will find on every espresso menu here in New Zealand that you will not find anywhere else except Australia (at least as far as I know). This is the espresso drink known as a Flat White… which is the drink that I have been ordering since I came to the country. So then you ask, what the heck is a flat white

This is the question that I have been asking and it seems that almost everyone has a slightly different take on exactly what a flat white actually is. When I first came to this country, I order my flat white at Auckland International Airport. The reason I ordered a flat white and not a latte is because a friend of mine who visits this country on a regular basis told me that is what they call lattes here. Of course I was surprised to see lattes on the menu too so naturally I had to ask the barista what a flat white was?

According to this particular barista, a flat white was espresso shots with steamed frothy milk. OK I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her what a latte was? Oh she said, its lots of steamed frothy milk and espresso. OK then I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her, what was the difference between a flat white and a latte? Well she said, a latte has less coffee and a lot more froth, less milk..OK then I thought, now that sounds like a cappuccino… which was also a menu item. So I then asked her, what is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? Oh she said, a cappuccino has cocoa powder sprinkled on it. At this point I decided to stop asking questions, get my flat white and get out of there … oh and by the way, the flat white she made was pretty good actually…

Still not quite sure of the difference I decided to give it another try and talked to one of the baristas at one of the Fuel Espresso stands. He seemed knowledgeable. What he told me was that a latte was more frothier than a flat white and a flat white usually had more espresso. Maybe this is what the other barista was trying to say in a slightly less elegant way… but I still wasn’t clear on the differen

The barista who actually helped me understand the full story was Mui of Clarks Cafe at the Wellington City Library. The do really great espresso at Clark’s and the baristas there are pretty cool, so I decided to ask them. Rather than just telling me the difference Mui pulled me over and actually showed me the difference. He explained before he started that lattes were creamier while flat whites were, ‘flat’. Oh , I guess that means that lattes use whole milk while flat whites use skim (trim) or low fat milk? Not quite he explained as he placed two small espresso cups on the counter. You use the same milk for both, but the difference is in the part of the milk you use after steaming the milk.

“Imagine these cups have espresso shots in them.” he said I will start with a latte. After steaming and frothing the milk he simply poured the frothed milk into the cup. He then took the second cup and this time using a metal spoon he scooped back the froth from the milk, then holding back the rest of the forth with the spoon, he proceeded to pour the milk underneath into the cup. He finished up by pouring a little of the froth on the top. That was the flat white.

Finally with the two cups next to each other he then continued to explain that if you were to try scoop or skim back the frothy milk from the top of the latte you would not really see the milk underneath since the whole milk would be more frothy or airy. He then demonstrated the exact same maneuver on the flat white and you could clearly see the milk underneath the froth. As he explained, the flat white was more ‘flat’ than the latte. That right there was the difference between the flat white and the latte.

If you were to compare what Mui did with the typical coffee shop in Seattle (or in the US) you will see that in the US, what we call lattes are what the Kiwis call flat whites. Often many baristas in the indie coffee shops in the US will after frothing the milk, bang the metal pitcher on the counter three to five times to remove some of the air. Many will also use the spoon to hold back the froth as they pure the milk then add the froth to the top. In other words, they tend to make flat whites.

Well there you have it…