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Back Buzz - August 15, 1997

pumping heart Caffé Appassionato, 1417 Queen Anne Avenue North, Upper Queen Anne

A couple of weeks ago I visited a good friend in California who recently married an Englishman. They'd just returned from a tour of Great Britain where they visited various relatives. They brought back with them a pleasant new habit: having tea. By this I don't mean just brewing and making tea -- I mean having a proper snack, biscuits and fruit and jams and such, accompanied by tea brewed to perfection in an appropriate china teapot and served in appropriate china cups. (I believe the cups were decorated with designs inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Glaswegian forerunner of Frank Lloyd Wright.)

When I stopped in for a cappuccino at the newly-opened Caffé Appassionato -- situated on the crown of the Counterbalance at the junction of Queen Anne Avenue and Galer -- I was bowled over by my first impression: the cup! My drink was served in a beautiful china cup which a tea drinker of the English persuasion would be mighty proud of. The exquisitely-shaped white cup and saucer were painted with a pretty fruit design marked by a delicate black lattice around the edges. I would place this cup right up there with Torrefazione's cups as far as general cup beauty goes, and with Caffé Ladro's as far as overall cup appeal goes.

All right; I guess I've said enough about the cup. It's time to delve past the surface and into the soul. Appassionato's coffee seems to be ultra-smooth, without even a trace of bitterness. It's a little too smooth for what I hoped for, although the shots may have been a bit too weak -- but with none of that usual mouth-wringing nasty acridness one gets from weak shots. I will definitely come back and try Appassionato's coffee again; at its best it could be in the ballpark of Espresso Vivace's smooth roast. And the perfect blanket of foam topped it off just right. A spoon would have been a nice addition, however.

Now that I've compared teas and coffees and apples and oranges -- and pears and cherries and grapes, according to the paintings on my cup and saucer -- I'll say Caffé Appassionato's new location is a pleasant enough place. There are two or three cozy window tables inside. I chose a table outside, however, nestled into an alcove by a planter of Impatiens and violets and overlooking the three-way intersection. It's a good vantage point from which to watch the city -- or Upper Queen Anne, at any rate -- with cars throbbing through the triad of stop signs and the web of trolley wires crisscrossing the sky, not to mention the green-washed stairway up to First Avenue North. (And I suppose the fact that my table was in the shade on a coolish, lovely day between horrendeous heat spells helped matters quite a bit.) It wasn't a bad spot at all to sip a cappuccino -- even with the broadcasting antenna dominating the skyline mere yards away. This could scare some folks away from the idyllic scene I've described. But I'm quite positive that spending fifteen or twenty minutes now and then in the shadow of a broadcast antenna isn't going to automatically give you cancer or deform your unborn fetus. Call me wrong or careless, but just don't call me late for tea.

Speaking of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, if anybody reading this column is in the Los Angeles area, you should really check out the current exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It's quite extensive and fascinating. Mackintosh was not only an architect but a furniture and accessory designer as well, creating some very striking buildings, rooms, and environments with great attention to detail. Perhaps such attention to detail is a British trait, hence the detail involved in the traditional English tea. My mother once told me about Buntingthorpe, a small town in England which has around 200 human and 30 canine residents. Since they apparently had quite a stepping-in-dog-poop problem, they started to do DNA testing on all thirty dogs so that they'd be able to determine which turd belonged to which dog, therefore determining which citizen would be responsible for cleaning up the mess. Quite ingenious, even though I don't believe I've ever seen much in the way of dog poop in England. Plenty of dogs, but no poop. Now, France is a different story...

And I don't mean to imply that the English are anything like the Scottish, or vice versa. That would be a terrible mistake. People seem to be constantly confusing the Scots and the Irish, however. Just this past St. Patrick's Day we saw St. Bushmill's Choir, a local band which does Shane MacGowan and Pogues covers, at the now-defunct Moe here in Seattle. The band had rented a fog machine for this performance. In the middle of their set they cranked the fogger up while a Scottish bagpiper performed in the mist. Scottish? Why are people always mixing up Irish and Scottish things around St. Patrick's Day, anyway? Don't they realize that the Scots hate the Irish and the Irish hate the Scots? Is that why so many fights break out in Irish bars on this holiday? It just seems wrong somehow. Although I must admit that the particular Mitchell clan I'm descended from escaped Scotland to live in Ireland for a few generations before they moved on to the States. So the Mitchells are what's called Scotch-Irish, which is enough to confuse any poor Celt.

Earlier this year a news story about Cheddar Man caught my eye. Oxford University scientists discovered how Cheddar Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton, and Adrian Targett, a middle-aged history teacher in the town of Cheddar, both shared a common ancestor. (They determined this using DNA from a tooth.) Since I'm part English I've wondered if I could also be related to Cheddar Man. Let's see...seeing as how I'm also part French, perhaps I'm also related to Camembert Woman. This suggests all kinds of possibilities. I wonder what Feta Man would have looked like? Or Pecorino Woman? Did Swiss Man have pockmarked skin? Did Cotswald Woman have freckles? Did Limburger Man have a body-odor problem? And I would hate to imagine Ricotta Man...