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Legit Coffee

The quest for enlightenment through coffee.

Tag Archives: vita

NathanSome years ago Starbucks had become such a behemoth that competing locations opened across the street from each other in lower Manhattan, and so it was that an older couple from a foreign country that escapes memory started “Mud Street Coffee” with the aim of taking back coffee from the Behemoth from the Upper Left. (By which I mean Starbucks, which is from the Northwest.)

Too bad street coffee sucks.

Last week found me in New York for work — and lots of “more please I’m jet lagged” espresso. I took the opportunity to investigate what appears to be a successful Northwest reinvasion, albeit a more understated, high quality type kind of reinvasion, featuring Seattle’s Caffe Vita and Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Day one had me headed to the Stumptown at the Ace Hotel (another new Portland institution) at 29th and Broadway, partly as a practical matter. My hotel was in midtown, and not having been in the city in ten years, I didn’t feel like dealing with the subways just yet.

The three-year old shop was a bit of a mixed bag for me, though possibly because the the vibe of the place — a strange blend of midtown suits and Portland hip, all in a bit of a physically awkward space that forced patrons to go into the hotel to sit down — wasn’t for me. On my first endeavor, I had a cappuccino with solid espresso but a thick layer of dense, overly sweet frothiness on top that took me by surprise. Subsequent macchiatos were smooth with a touch of chocolate, as they should be. Readers may be aware that I’m not a huge fan of Stumptown, but for those that are, I think you’ll be reasonably satisfied.

A slightly-out-of-focus Stumptown cappuccino in the lobby of the Ace Hotel.

By day two, I had a jones for some serious Seattle espresso — so much so that I took a cab to the brand-new Caffe Vita in SoHo, effectively paying thirty dollars for a cappuccino. My enthusiasm paid off. Low and behold, I walked in and there were Kelsey and John from Vita’s original Capitol Hill store, along with a roaster in the back of their tiny little shop on Ludlow Street. Kelsey pulled a great shot that to me was classic Vita: sharp, a touch sweet, and pleasantly strong. They’ve got a little bit to work out between the roasting, the new machine, and a spiffy new foaming tip, but they’re off to a good start. (Full disclosure: I got a couple free shots, apparently because Kelsey recognized me from Seattle. Also another barista hugged me. So I may be biased.)

Kelsey preparing espresso at the new SoHo Caffe Vita. Note roaster in the background.

The shop is pretty great, too. It’s tucked away on a side street a few blocks south of Houston Street — New Yorkers can take the M line to Delancey Street — and tiny, but with a cool little bar and a few seats in the window.

The view from Ludlow Street. Who is that strange man slouching in a three-piece suit?

Now, in fairness to Mud, I got it at some shop in the East Village where it had been sitting in a too-hot carafe for a while, and I had just come from Vita, so I was probably pretty predisposed against anything other than my one of my top-three favorite espressos in the world.

So, the Northwest may be taking over again, but before I close, I want to give a shout out to Birch Cafe in midtown, where I had a great latte with lunch Friday, and to the few other new shops that look like they’re giving serious coffee a go in The Big Apple. Keep it up!

P.S. Kelsey reports that the Echo Park, Los Angeles, Caffe Vita is due to open in six months or so! Hurray!

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mojenAccording to Caffe Vita and Rudy’s there will soon be an LA location of one of Seattle’s Three Vs. Opening up in Silverlake on 4459 Sunset Blvd, this is something all NW transplants can get excited about.

Vita and Rudy’s are planning on doing interesting things like hosting art and music events, but I’m just excited to get northwest coffee down to sunny Southern California.

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mojenback in seattle for the day, i did my best to visit as many of the coffee shops as i could in a short time. i did fairly well– hit victrola, vita, vivace, stopped by ladro. not a bad coffee day, all in all, (though the vita espresso was a bit more acidic than normal).

but i realized when i got back to olympia, wonderfully caffeinated, that as much as i adored the coffee i had consumed, that i hadn’t really had the seattle café experience i’ve been missing so. (i think i’ll blame nathan for making me think about this) despite the fact that i’d had the opportunity to savor the best in the northwest in coffee, there was something missing from my experience– the ability to spend a good few hours in a wonderfully cosy coffee shop and simply absorb the atmosphere.

because the atmosphere is almost as important as the quality of the espresso for cafe enjoyment. i doubt i’d adore the caffe vita  on pike nearly as much if the upstairs didn’t contain game nights. the reason the victrola on 15th is so much more enjoyable to visit than the one on pike is that 15th’s has cosy seating arrangements, and beautiful art, and about forty people reading, writing, gossiping, facebooking, interviewing.

while you’re thinking about coffee shops in the abstract, rather than which one is closest, breathe in the air– you can smell the coffee, yes, but what else? there’s the aromas of spilt simple syrup, steaming chai, the quiche from the next table over. someone reading across the room laughs, short and explosive, unable to contain her merriment. there’s someone skyping next to you connecting with another who’s across the country or world, but who is also sharing your cafe. while you’re in line for a drip refill, the music changes, and you notice that the two people in front of you have unconsciously started tapping their toes, shifting their hips in time; you think about it, and realize that you have too, nodding your head to the beat. in a corner, a young man is reading one of your favorite books. you think about going to talk to him about it, but it looks like he’s reading the best part, and you can’t bring yourself to tear him away from the climax, so you smile to yourself, and think about rereading. you make eye contact with another regular patron, and smile, acknowledging your mutual love of the espresso, the location, that super cute barista (you know the one). oh, look– your barista, the one who totally doesn’t know of your epic crush, has made a heart in your latte art; calm down, calm down, it (probably) doesn’t mean anything.

so, while i’ve got your attention, think about this too– when you get your coffee to go, and run out the door to your busy life, you’re not only missing out on the amazing atmosphere of the cafe you’re leaving behind, but also making the coffeeshop experience for whomever queued behind you a little bit less amazing.

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NathanEarlier at Espresso Profeta (near UCLA), I thought about what I was doing there. Well, trying to get some work done. I managed a bit, and perhaps even some. But why there? I ask because as one of the co-founders of this…whatever this is…I envisioned that we would talk about the espesso with the overtones of blackberry, though not the sweetness, chocolate, and a hint of dustiness. Indeed, I had that particular espresso yesterday at Intelligentsia. (It’s their Oaxaca offering, and I do recommend it.) But I was not working at Profeta because I was going to go all connoisseur on the place. Their espresso is reliable, high quality, and perhaps most important for this purpose, familiar. It’s Vivace’s Vita blend; the owners missed Seattle’s best beverage when they moved back to LA, so they imported it. As people who have reasonable claims to being from the Northwest, and especially Matt and I who don’t live there any more, I have to think that caring about coffee is due at least a little bit to our subconsciouses saying, “this is home.” I do love those chocolate notes, though. Apart from the cupping aspects (horrible term, no?), what does coffee mean to you?

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