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Back Buzz - January 3, 1997

pumping heart Torrefazione Italia, 622 Olive Way, Downtown

Since I have a double cappuccino every afternoon -- and since I tend to hatch some of my best ideas under the influence of that initial rush of caffeine -- I've decided to start this column, giving me an excuse to hang out in some of Seattle's more interesting espresso cafes while I analyze the fine points of their atmosphere and drinks -- filtered, naturally, through my caustically nitpicky vision of what makes a decent espresso experience.

But enough introduction; I'll start with a visually appealing cappuccino. I wish I liked Torrefazione espresso more. It's a perfectly fine espresso; it's just a little too mild and unmemorable for my taste. But their cappuccino is one of the most artfully beautiful espresso drinks in town, simply because they serve it in a very pretty painted Italian-design china cup on a matching Italian-design tiled table. The cup is wide and flat, too, allowing the rich soft blanket of milk foam to grace the expanse of espresso surface. It's a perfectly lovely, creamy experience. Unfortunately there's not much view from the Torrefazione on Olive Way, since it's situated across the street from parking lots and a major parking construction project -- although I suppose there's something to be said for watching construction projects. The only reason I ever have to stop by this Torrefazione is when I'm at Westlake Center and need to walk up to Seattle Art or else go to my bank, which is just down the street.

Speaking of banks, I've been seeing a lot of articles lately about computerized banking. The articles claim that full on-line banking is now possible with software such as Quicken. It's true that we can now have our paychecks deposited electronically and make credit card purchases on-line or over the telephone. It's also true that banks have already set up such a system so that we can pay most of our bills, make account transfers, balance our checkbooks, apply for loans, and do almost all of our banking on-line if we're so inclined. But there's one thing a modem and a home computer simply cannot do, and that's to spew out cash. Even if we use our credit and debit cards -- as well as the new cash cards -- as much as possible, we still need a certain amount of actual cash on hand.

I think I've come up with the answer: pneumatic-tube banking! I'm sure everyone's driven through one of those remote banking stations where you put your deposit in a canister and send it through the tube to the teller half a block away who sends you back your cash and receipt. Why not rip out all these fiber-optic lines that are being installed everywhere and replace them with pneumatic tube systems? That way, if you want to deposit your paycheck from the comfort of your own home, you simply log onto your computer, place your paycheck into a canister, shove the canister into your home tube, select the SEND menu on your screen, and POOF! It's sucked, via a computerized routing system, directly to your bank! Select WITHDRAW FROM CHECKING, type in the amount, select RECEIVE, and FWWWTT! There's your cash!

This system could be used for all kinds of things: ordering items through the mail, supermarket deliveries, pizza delivery! It could lead to new forms of tubular fast food, such as hot pizza rolls, tube-shaped hero sandwiches, cylindrical blintzes, you name it! Drinks would be a natural; imagine having that chilled bottle of Mumm's arriving at your home just in time for your New Year's toast. For larger items -- such as refrigerators, couches, and rolls of carpeting -- you could have one large-diameter tube that would be connected to your garage or basement. This, of course, would cost extra for home delivery, as the refrigerator would have to be routed from its source through a special national network of large-diameter tubes.

But the possibilities are endless: how about pneumatic-tube rapid transit? Climb aboard your personal Travel Capsule, strap yourself in, and whooooosssshhh! You've just traveled from your home in Seattle to your high-paying job in Redmond, avoiding all freeway traffic! No muss, no fuss. To hell with all this digital twaddle; the future is the Pneumatic Superhighway!

There's at least one other person who believes in pneumatic tube systems as much as I do. Check out the Pneumatic Post blog.