While passing a few hours before the American Association of Geography conference in Seattle begins I decided to take the ‘Coffee Crawl’ tour. This tour is run by Seattle by foot. The tour involved walking around downtown Seattle trying out different varieties of coffee, while learning a little about coffee production and consumption.
First we were introduced to the major global producers and consumers of coffee with a map quite similar to this one below:
The top 5 coffee consumers in the world :
- Finland: 11.01 kg per capita
- Denmark: 9.79 kg per capita
- Norway: Sweden 8.55 kg per capita
- Sweden: 8.55 kg per capita
- Austria: 7.08 kg per capita
These were closely followed by Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.
National Geographic have a great short article on the top coffee producers:
They highlight that the Top 5 coffee producers (based on production on the number of 60kg bags annually) are:
- Brazil: 22.5 million bags
- Colombia: 10.5 million bags
- Indonesia: 6.7 million bags
- Vietnam: 5.8 million bags
- Mexico: 5 million bags
We were introduced to the different species of coffee:
- There are two important species of coffee Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) ,which accounts for over 60 percent of world production, and Coffea canephora (Robusta coffee). The higher quality blends will be made of Arabica beans, while the cheaper blends have are made up to include a proportion of Robusta beans.
Arabica beans produce a superior taste, considered more flavorful than their Robusta counterparts. Robusta beans tend to produce a more bitter brew, with a musty flavour.
- The average Arabica plant is a large bush with dark-green oval leaves. The fruits are oval and mature in 7 to 9 months; they usually contain two flat seeds (the coffee beans) – when only one bean develops it is called a peaberry. Arabica coffee is grown throughout Latin America, in Central and East Africa, in India and to some extent in Indonesia.
- The Robusta plant is a robust shrub or small tree growing up to 10 metres in height, but with a shallow root system. The fruits are rounded and take up to 11 months to mature; the seeds are oval in shape and smaller than those of C. arabica. Robusta coffee is grown in West and Central Africa, throughout South-East Asia and to some extent in Brazil.
- There are two other species which are grown on a much smaller scale are Coffea liberica (Liberica coffee) and Coffea dewevrei (Excelsa coffee).
This was our introduction to coffee! The tour included a visit to six Seattle coffee houses which are detailed below.
Seattle’s Best Coffee
This coffee chain originates from Seattle’s Pier 70 and was originally called the Wet Whisker where owners were using a 12-pund roaster bought from a beachside peanut vendor in California. Wet Whisker was eventually renamed Stewart Brothers Coffee. These was to be renamed again after the company won a local competition and since then has been know as Seattle’s Best Coffee. Starbucks Corpation acquired Seattle’s Best Seattle Coffee Company in 2008.
Seattle’s Best is the second largest roaster, retailer and wholesaler of speciality coffee in the USA. They have 5 colour coded levels of coffee:
• Level 1: Mild, light, crisp
• Level 2: Bright lively, easy drinking
• Level 3: Balanced, smooth, full-flavored
• Level 4: Rich, elegant, complex
• Level 5: Bold, dark, intense
Here I sampled the Cinnamon Vanilla Twist latte seen below:
Has to be one of the nicest lattes I have ever had. However, it is extremely sweet.
2nd Avenue Seattle
Caffé D’arte considers itself to be a key player in spreading the traditions of Italian coffee world wide, it even established the “Academy of Coffee and Espresso” in America, aiming to spread the art of Italian artisan coffee to thousands of entrepreneurs around the world. The baristas here are trained in latte art which was impressive. We were shown a leaf, heart and dragon pattern made with the milk used in the latte, see picture below. We also tried a blend called ‘the meaning of life’. An incredible blend.
Dilettante Mocha Café
Dillettante are a chain of luxury chocolate shops, however they also have a series of mocha cafes. They specialize in chocolate based coffee drinks but their espresso is sublime too. I tried the mocha with the 52 chocolate (they number their chocolate so that the higher the number the higher the percentage of cocoa – so 52 was just above milk chocolate).
Considering I’m not really a chocolate fan this was pleasantly surprising. Not too sweet and you could definately still taste the coffee!
520 Pike Street
Monorail espresso started out as a coffee cart, the way most coffee was sold in Seattle until the introduction of Starbucks. Monorail espresso cart was located outside a theatre which later became the shop Banana Republic. The shop didn’t like having the coffee cart outside the store so as a compromise allowed the owner to use the old theatre ticket booth as an espresso bar. Many people consider this the best espresso bar in Seattle. It’s definately in my top 5 espresso’s ever.
Trabant Coffee & Chai
Trabant Coffee and Chai is a locally owned business with two Seattle coffee shops, located in Pioneer Square and the University District. This was a much quieter coffee house,quite near to the Soccer Stadium .
The coffee was excellent. Probably because it was made with a clover machine (see picture bellows). Where the coffee grounds are filtered upwards and can just be wiped off the metal disc at the top of the machine. These machines are around $5,000 dollars though so unfortunately I won’t be getting one any time soon. The machine was developed in 2005 by the Coffee Equipment Company who are based in Seattle. The machine brews one cup of coffee at a time and can be customized according to taste by altering the time for brewing etc. The results is an incredibly smooth coffee.
In 2006, the first year Clover was on the market, about 100 machines were sold to independent coffee shops, and sales tripled the following year according to the economist. In 2008, Starbucks acquired the Coffee Equipment Company an announced all future Clovers will appear exclusively in Starbucks.
You can find out exactly how the Clover machine works: here
Our final stop on the tour. This coffee house aims to be a bit different from the average coffee shop (although I’m not sure there is an average coffee shop in Seattle, they all seem very different). Alongside the coffee drinking, Zeitgeist try to promote art and community events, making it one of the more locally embedded coffee shops on this tour. The coffee here was strong and nutty but this was only one flavour. There are lots to choose from and it definitely has a nice atmosphere.
So that concludes the coffee crawl tour. This was quite a lot of coffee! I’ll be posting some more information on the globalisation of the coffee industry and the involvement of Starbucks in the near future.