Friday, April 24, 2009

Vivace's former location dozed today

It's true... you can't go home again. The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper TM is reporting that the former location of Vivace's first non-cart store is being dozed at this hour to make room for light rail.

That's not to say that Vivace is even flinching. With their Alley 24 location blazing and the new N Broadway store's successful opening, Vivace seems to be doing dandy.

I'm still wistful for the former Broadway/Denny location with it's views of the park, but I'll just have to make do with the new Molly Moon ice cream opening at the S end of the park tomorrow.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Proper Spro- Thanks Herkimer!

When's the last time you've received proper espresso service? A saucer is nice, and a spoon is twice, but I'm talking about full service that includes a rocks glass with soda water while your shot is being prepared so that you can cleanse your palate. This is the very service that I've received each time I've ordered an espresso at Herkimer on the Ave. I received similar service at Vivace's Alley 24 when they first opened (they have a soda fountain for goodness sake), but when the line started to stretch to the door, soda service seems to have evaporated. Not so at Herkimer-- I've received the same full service from at least a couple of their baristas, regardless of the (short) line.

When I first saw Herkimer joining the U District's bevy of coffee shops and other businesses that serve espresso (the latter typically poorly), I wasn't sure how they were going to fit in or if there was enough biz north of 45th St to sustain them. The Herk on the ave is small, but packed tight with goods- synesso on the bar, a couple roburs, brewed service, and a pastry case that always has a couple locally produced pastries to tempt me. I tried the Herk a few times last year and enjoyed what they had, but when the weather turned, I couldn't part with Miss Silvia or Mr. Major at home. With the recent break in the clouds (most likely to be short lived), I've rediscovered the tight game at Herkimer. I don't expect to see siphons on the bar anytime soon, but they have all the moves I like to see and they're on the way from my house to the Cowen park playground, so even daddy's a winner when it's park time.

Thank you Herkimer, I hope to be toasting you with a glass of soda in-person soon!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What's Zoka up to?

My recent visits to the two in-city Zoka locations have me scratching my head. Rumors are afoot about changes at cobra kai west and things definitely look different from this side of the counter.

First of all, the clovers are gone. I can see going manual pour-over if you're just starting a shop and want to save the clover cost, but if you have already made the quality (and financial) committment to buy them and made public statements about how you plan to keep them, why ditch them now? I understand the case for selling them (even used models are fetching full price), but that seems like a short-sighted exclusively-fiscal move for a company that I usually associate with being singularly focused on coffee quality. 

Secondly, the coffees featured in the by-the-cup brewing area? All blends. What's the point of that? I can see wanting to sell cheaper (er, less expensive), higher-margin coffees during this economic patch, but why not feature them as the brewed coffee of the day so that price-minded customers buy a cup, realize they taste good, and then decide to take a bag home? I have no interest in paying a premium for a pour-over blend coffee and I don't think I'm alone. The stations don't seem to be set up to serve their purpose either. In my mind, the purpose of the by-the-cup station is to (A) serve a just-for-you cup of coffee at a premium price to justify the additional labor, (B) give the barista a chance to interact with the customer so they feel like they're receiving individual service worthy of the additional price, and (C) give the barista a chance to talk with the customer about this coffee so the customer wants to take a bag home. 

Third, Zoka dumped their drip program to focus on clover, so even though pour-over service has replaced the by-the-cup slot, Zoka has had to add press pot/air pot to the lineup so serve brewed coffee. It seems like killing one bird with two stones to this casual observer.

Finally, everything behind the bar looks very stripped down, but not in a streamlined way. The back bar especially reminds me of the time right after your roommate just moves out of the apartment. There are fewer menuboards, but the shelves and space behind their previous locations looks empty and under-utilized. The effect keeps me wondering- what was this space previously used for? Was there a grinder there before? The menuboards themselves are a mixture of the previous style (with detailed chalk work) right next a hand-scrawled board that looks like what you'd expect to see at ninth street. Maybe that's on purpose- I'd swear I saw a frosted cookie whose face was the grumpy logo.

Having said all this, there is some part of me that wonders if all these inconsistencies with the philosophy of other current-generation-of-quality-minded-coffee retailers (insert your favorite term here) are intentional. Blends instead of single origins? Behind-the-scenes roasting vs. daily cuppings? Is Zoka changing itself to become the Seattle's Best Coffee to Stumptown's Starbucks? That's definitely a way to differentiate one's coffee business in this town, but I didn't see it coming.