I had a chance to attend one of the events at 15th Ave Coffee and Tea on Thursday and the short story is... I'm impressed.
There will be inevitable comparisons with other shops in Seatown and across the nation where the authors will point to 15th Ave missing a component that intelliVenice has or using a classic Marzocco instead of Slayer/Synesso Hydra/GB5/etc -- I would argue those discussions are entertaining, but miss the point entirely. I would also argue that allegations of copying are either legitimate cases of amnesia (did cafes and espresso really spring from one person's head in 2003? or did these same cafes borrow ideas from their predecessors?) or these claims are clever me-too marketing attempts masquerading as righteous indignation.
What is notable? A store conceived and constructed by Starbucks can now be uttered in the same breath as the nation's other premier coffee purveyors.
And the store isn't noteworthy becuase the de-branding was so hyped, but instead because time and energy were used to create a store that can truly compete in 2009. Sure, there's the Pikes Market store that's similar-ish, but that's just an old whole bean/merch store that's had successive programs (espresso, blended, etc) shoe-horned into it, not the bottom-up new approach that 15th Ave represents.
15th Ave Coffee and Tea is a truly fresh look at the coffee, tea, and cafe scene that exists today and an attempt to deliver what today's boutique coffee drinker wants. Does the coffee program look more like a Stumptown than a Lighthouse? Of course it does- as a consumer in this century (and this coffee town), that's what I want. If I wanted a no-origin-listed so-so-blend, I could go most anywhere, but if I want higher quality coffee and more transparency, the field gets noticably smaller- Stumptown, some parts of Zoka's inventory, Vita if they're feeling like it. 15th Ave, whatever your notions of it are, give me the consumer, what I want, albeit not at the end of my block.
In additon to the coffee itself, brewing methods are also revised and front-and-center. Gone are a couple paltry choices of coffees available via a big brewer, instead replaced by a goodly number of pourover drip stations that look to be repurposed wooden toolboxes and presspots. Espresso and SOE are available via a tasty 4-group Linea which has its own story, but while the Linea is significant, it is greatly outnumbered by other brewing methods-- a more subtle shift from last decade's singular focus on espresso.
The expressions of food and tea are also noteworthy, but I'll leave those for another post or for someone who's more into them. I need to get a bit of shut-eye before the opening...