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Back Buzz - May 15, 1999

Caffé Vita, 2621 Fifth Avenue, Denny Regrade

As I've mentioned several times before, Seattle is definitely the coffee -- er, latte capital of the US. But is it the coffee capital? What about San Francisco or New Orleans, for instance? And how about the rest of the world? I should hope Seattle wouldn't be considered the global capital, seeing as how a decent cup of coffee governs daily life in France, Italy, Turkey, and various parts of Africa and South America, not to mention a wide variety of caffeine-needy locales such as Sweden, Hawaii, Australia -- well, probably any spot on the globe where tea doesn't reign. And this is a good thing, because coffee is a good thing and we're a global community and so coffee should be available everywhere. Good coffee, that is.

And so it is with a bit of sadness that I review my last Seattle coffeehouse for now. Yes, I am moving away from the walking latte zombie megalopolis of coffeehouses and espresso carts, where every other person between the ages of 16 and 35 is now or has at one time been a barista, where terms like "triple grande roy" and "doppio breve" are thrown around almost as much as "MSIE" and "billionaire". As a caffeine-addicted naturalized Seattleite I will return to Seattle at some point, at least for a visit if not to live. But for now, starting with my next column I'll be on a challenging search for decent Seattalian-pleasing coffee experiences in Europe. But I promise the same quality columns will continue -- and, of course, my Seattle archives will always be available online.

On that note I planned to do my last Seattle review on an appropriately-named place I spotted a few weeks ago called Crucible Coffee. But alas, the place is no more, its existence incinerated in the blazing flames of yet another new condo project. So I strolled down the street to Caffé Vita's second coffeehouse, on Fifth Avenue just south of Denny Way in the Regrade, where all those lovely Vita beans are roasted beneath the shadow of the Monorail tracks. Located a mere handful of blocks from Lower Queen Anne's Caffé Vita -- separated largely by the massive and wonderfully bizarre Experience Music Project still under construction -- this is the heart of Vita's roasting operation, and the smells are exquisite. Large burlap bags of raw beans lend a certain tropical spice to the high-tech dark-wooded Vita decor, which features a team of workers busily tending to the olfactorily delicious art of bean-roasting.

The nice thing about this Vita (for us photophobes, anyway) is the fact that the front of the coffeehouse faces east so the sidewalk tables are usually in the shade. On this brisk afternoon, however, I elected to sit inside at a window table where I could happily hyperventilate on that luscious aroma while sipping my macchiato. (Yes, I broke tradition this time and ordered a double macchiato; but if you'd like to read about Caffé Vita's excellent double short cappuccinos you can see my review of Caffe Vita #1.) Vita has recently changed their cups from that most perfect white to a dark brown, which is a bit disappointing to me. At least the insides are white; I do hate drinking coffee out of a completely dark cup. After all, to paraphrase British TV chef Keith Floyd, the coffee should be the star and not the cup. That's why all great entrees should be served on white plates and all great coffee drinks should be prepared in white cups. This is simply my opinion, of course, but I believe it's an undisputable fact.

Regardless of the brown cup my macchiato was, as expected, perfect. The shots were strong, aromatic, and swoon-inspiring, the amount and quality of the milk foam was perfect, and everything else was right with the world at that moment. I know Caffé Vita seems to be taking over Seattle, having swallowed up Cafe Paradiso in Capitol Hill and supplying coffee to more and more espresso palaces and restaurants every day. But this is a good thing, and even though the owners are undoubtedly getting richer and richer and turning into true capitalists, I love to think Caffé Vita will conquer Starbucks' hold on the Seattle coffee scene. Hopefully it won't roll out of control, though; that's when quality begins to suffer. (Case in point: Starbucks Coffee and Redhook ESB.)

Speaking of what kind of place Ballard is, following is an e-mail exchange from a few months ago with my Bay Area friend about the concept of place:


...anyway, by 7:30 last night, when they were really making some noise, I felt like I could probably easily CHEW SOMEBODY'S HEAD OFF BITE BY BITE CHEWITUP-SPITITOUT REGARDLESS OF MY AVERSION TO MEAT ****

-- so do you know the URL for PEACEANDQUIET.COM? ¡Chinga!

Because my roommate had complained about the odors that my cat and I leave behind in the bathroom, Tuesday while we were at the vet I purchased a bottle of some expensive, high-tech odor neutralizer chemically engineered by SmithKlineBeecham.

More than just a cover-up, I imagine that the hand-pump spray bottle contains a suspension of anti-aroma particles spanning the most offensive bands of the olfactory spectrum. Because this formulation was sold among pet supplies, there are surely anti-poop and anti-urine molecules matched to most common household pets. Probably also anti-fart. I haven't tested yet to see if it contains food odor combatants as well, such as anti-cabbage and anti-pork.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if they could also package silence in an aerosol can? It would be worth it, even if it meant keeping a good supply of "Anti-Car-Alarm Mist" on hand or making an extra trip to Home Depot on an occasion such as this and shelling out fifteen or twenty dollars for a gallon of "Construction Noise Neutralizer" (you might have to attach that to a garden hose for best results). And so what if you also had to stock your shelves with "Anti-Spanish-Profanity Paste" (which must be simmered with oil in a cast iron skillet), and an "Anti-Domestic-Squabble Bag" (which emits a puff of silence when thrown against the wall or ceiling). If you hear neighbors making love (and depending on your mood and current romantic situation), you might occasionally have need for "WD-69 Squeak-and-Squeal Sealant" (to be sprayed directly on the walls and around doorways) or "Sigh-and-Moan Masking Cream" (to be applied, soothingly around the ears or -- well, around whatever sensory organ you see fit).

How about aerosol sprays to mask all unpleasant sensory stimuli? How about "Skinn-i-Mist" which would create a funhouse-mirror-type fog through which all overly obese individuals would look thin and willowy? And, of course, there would be a similar spray called "Beaut-i-Mist", which would make ugly and unpleasant-looking individuals look gorgeous and captivating. It could be handy on some blind dates.

How about Urban Beautification Turbo-Powered Spray Paints in various useful colors and formulas? "New House" could be sprayed on the exterior of your badly-peeling and pockmarked hovel; one easily-applied thin coat gives the appearance of a brand new paint job, complete with patching, sanding, retiling, and repaneling. "Clean Streets" could be sprayed in ugly urine-stained alleys; enhanced with special odor-fighting compounds, its opacity would instantly neutralize and cover graffiti, cat urine sprays, smeared dogshit, cigarette butts, broken glass shards, vomit, sleeping winos, etc. And "Urban Character" could be sprayed around boring neighborhoods; thanks to tiny refractive metal particles in the paint which create interesting optic effects, your ugly suburban hood-on-a-grid will miraculously look like the 3rd Arrondisement of Paris!

And what about breath sprays that make food taste better? When you're forced by your road companion to eat at McDonald's for lunch, simply squirt some "Fruits de Mer" on your tongue, and your Big Mac and fries will taste like coquilles St. Jacques limousene or bouillabaise; a quick squirt of "Festival Italia" will make those overcooked frozen vegetables taste like a good caponata or perhaps polenta marinara. Mmm, imagine making a vanilla pudding cup taste like creme brulée with one squirt of "Patisseries de Paris". And with a couple discreet squirts of "Cask Conditioned IPA", maybe you'll be able to get down that glass of Budweiser your client just bought for you at the steakhouse in Omaha.

...and since this is the last column until July -- and since I'm moving close to France -- I'll leave you with this multilingual e-mail exchange from last summer with a Seattle friend:

I know this is a long way off, but time flies, as we all know, and bananas are pretty tasty unless they have stitches in them, and, oh shit, isn't there something about some cooks or waste products or, hmmm...anyway, I think a good day for this year's Bastille Day picnic is Sunday July 12. So let me know in the next couple weeks if this is a good day for both of you. And if it is, nous aurons un pique-nique et nous mangerons des fromages et des pains et des fruits et des fourmis, et nous boirons trop de bière et de vin, et nous roulerons sur la pelouse et quel que soit ce fou français fait.

Sounds good, non?

Esa dia suena buena per la petit picque-nicque. Que schuuld wir bring a comer or a imbibe? Perche vino oer birra? Mi lengua e conphundio.

Oye, yo soy ochen heureux que vous guys'll mozhni venir al piquenique! So, um, nosotros vamos a parler aux details mas tarde, non? Da? Zehr gut!

Aloha, konichiwa, et arrivederci!

Has gelesen il libro Nombre del Rose? Lo contene viele terminos como notres. Hay quelque chose molto uncannisch about este linea del pensée...

Nyet. Pero j'ai perdu -- qu'est que c'est que nous skazali?

Finallich, yo soy so confundido che sono perdido!

...ou est-ce que je suis? ?Como me llamo? Kto Bbl? Vas ist dis corpse doink hier? Qu'est que j'ai fait? ¡Mio Dios! Vado loco...

Fa ma ko lo heebi jeebi
ku kha loc moc phren
Et ic phra sing is drei
Ving mich crae zie

Plee stho pthi smad

So far je n'ais pas any specific idées on ou to have nous Bastille Day piquenique next Dimanche, and I was wondering if vous avez any bon idées. In past years we've had it at Magnuson Park, Seward Park, Sunset Park, Kinnear Park, this petit lookout park dans le Capitol Hill on 15th across from the cimetière (the best choice if it happens to be hideously chaud), and on le rooftop d'une amie overlooking Lake Union. So I figure any park or scenic spot somewhere in la cité limits would be bon.

Since je suis non expérience con français, tu will be sorry that je found una dictionnaire. Je like the idée regardez la parque overluque d'un côte a l'autre de la cemetoire, porque there's a cool trail down to Interlaquen. Seward sounds a bit loin para mi, but there are boe-coo looquouts en Reine l'anne (looks a bit like "Rheinland" eh?) and la mer is always joli.

At que temps commencer this soirée? We are observer le Coupe Monde until about deux, but of course our ami la femme ombre will no sortir en la chaleur de la jour. (pretty good for a dago, non?) ...and as (they) say in Louisiana, laissez les bon temps roullez!

Le parque avec l'overluque près de la cimetière (ou reste Bruce Lee) is a bon place, especialment parceque there's a nice shady strip of overlook -- if it's assez grand pour all of us. But since it was assez grand pour moi, Max, nous grand ami Dogandi, and his 186-pound chien, it's probably grand enough for un armée. But we don't want any armées coming to our piquenique, n'est pas? Perhaps les fourmis, mais pas le militaire, non, non, non! (That's more fun to say than to type.)

In Reine l'Anne, I'm trying to pense...(remember, there must be at least some shade pour moi)...Kinnear Park est un distinct possibilité. We once had an Anti-Easter piquenique there, but Kinnear is still a Bastille virgin. (Is that anything like a vestal virgin? What the hell is a vestal virgin, anyway?)

You mean vous have to be glued to un television jusque 2:00 de l'après-midi? Quel domage! We shall all avoir such faim by then! (And I mean hunger, not fame -- although anything's possible.) Perhaps le reste of us could start gathering a la 1:00, and then you deux could come join nous? Especialment if we do this right chez nous in das Rheinland. Or if we do it aux environs de Bruce Lee...hmmm, can you catch le final heure dans le radio? Certainement, non?