Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Coffee in Seattle

April 14, 2004, 7:15 PM

Coffee is an intensely personal beverage. Everyone has a distinctive story about how they were introduced to the pleasures (or displeasure) of coffee.

I didn't really enjoy coffee until I started to experience good quality coffee. In college I experimented occasionally with aromatized coffees (which I won't touch now), organic Kona, Starbucks, and so on; I used to brew coffee in a cafetiere in my dorm room, and usually beat the quality of what I could find at shops in the rural town where I studied. I've become demanding, but for me, the essentials are: freshly roasted beans, an appropriate roast for the drink in question, and quality of control over the brewing/espressing process. Producers of coffee always emphasize how important the beans are, which is true, but overstated in the present market; in the specialty coffee market, the beans are almost always decent quality in the green state; it's mostly a question of the roast and the actual production. I'm even happy with better-quality robusta beans in blends, which U.S. producers turn their nose up at, but which Italians rely on for extra crema; Vietnamese coffee, too, generally uses some robusta beans.


Vivace's Roasteria (Broadway & Denny Way) and the red-awning covered sidewalk bar down the street are the understated stars of the Seattle espresso scene. When it comes to pouring espresso, David Schomer has the greatest obsession for detail of anyone in Seattle and probably nearly anywhere else. Here, you will find no 24-ounce gut-busting monstrosities of milk with incidental discoloration from charred beans. You'll find short and tall options for milky drinks made with their Seattle-style Vita blend, and you'll get a different, more mellow northern-Italian style "Dolce" blend for straight or sugared espresso. Both are made to exacting specifications with beans that were roasted probably no more than 3 days ago, with hyper-modified espresso machines that, while still operated manually, have modified boilers and thermostats that precisely regulate the temperature to +/- 0.2°F (0.1°C). Vivace's roasts are more complex than what you would find at Starbucks or other chain stores, mostly because of the freshness  and particularly because the roasts are not overwhelmingly carbon-like. The freshness of the beans, which are ground to order, and the temperature control, manifest themselves as a flawless cup of espresso with beautiful crema; should you be inclined to order a milky drink, the presentation features a trademark milk-foam rosetta which may appear as a leaf pattern, a spade, a heart, or other shape depending on the whim of the barista, and is created solely through careful pouring of the milk foam. Schomer's mission is to make espresso taste as good as it smells, and by putting his disciples through a vigorous training regimen, maintaining careful technical controls, and constantly working on new methods of refining the minutiae of the lifecycle of coffee, Schomer has made Vivace's the gold standard for espresso.

Victrola. 411 15th Avenue East, Seattle. I don't live anywhere near this part of Capitol Hill, but the atmosphere in Victrola, combined with the quite respectable coffee, draw me in when I'm in the neighborhood. One of my customers in Phinney Ridge, Fresh Flours, uses their beans with great aplomb, so I no longer need to trek too far from my Fremont home to get it. And they blog!

Icon Coffee. 43rd & Fremont, Seattle. My preferred standby, mostly because it's very professionally made and it's in my 'hood. All organic coffee from Fiori (Vita), made smartly and with above average service.

Caffe Ladro (various locations in Seattle). Nearly every time I find myself in Caffe Ladro, I am lured by the Medici, a mocha enhanced with some freshly-cut zest of orange. It's certainly not their invention, but they do it well, and they are one of the few places to find the drink in Seattle. Ladro serves shade-grown, organic coffee, and the quality is above average and the attention to detail (milk foam patterns, ground-to-order beans) is nearly on par with Vivace's, without as much visible affectation of the obsession for engineering precision.

Uptown Espresso now has various locations, but I've been to the one in Queen Anne, and of late, nearly weekly at their Belltown shop. I have limited experience with the coffee here, but the latte is nice. Their signature feature is a particularly velvety foam. The roast is a little dark, so straight espresso is a bit more bitter than at other places.

Dilettante on Broadway (only this location) is a chocolatier. The espresso quality itself doesn't stand out in any particular way, but is quite respectable and provides the perfect foil for Dilettante's signature Ephemere truffle sauce, and accordingly, some of the nicest mochas in town. For the over-21 crowd, you may also go for the hot "schmocha", a mocha with the  Ephemere truffle sauce and a respectable dose of peppermint schnapps. The schmocha is too sweet for me, but they also have a milkshake version if you'd like to have coffee in your dessert.

Victor's Coffee (downtown Redmond) also roasts its own beans, and has as its signature style a deeply roasted blend which, while not quite charred like most of the chain brews, is more aggressive than the Vivace's style roast. The mostly-wood interior features old church pews and sturdy wood chairs and tables. The crowd is young suburban kids, high-tech workers, and the occasional grandmother; accordingly, the signature drinks tend to be sugary syrup-based flavored lattes. The Irish Nudge, Mandarin Mocha, and the Roca Mocha are worth trying, but I recommend ordering any of the above "light on the sweet stuff." It's open later than most independent coffee shops on the east side (until about 10pm on weekends).

Lighthouse Cafe in Fremont (43rd & Phinney). Somehow, the coffee tastes a little different every time I come here. sometimes the roast brings out a lovely caramel aroma, other times it's a little more bitter. It is, however, nearly always good; I've only had one bad coffee here. I live nearly next door, so if you're in the neighborhood, buzz me and I might join you for your buzz.


Caffe Coccinella in downtown Bellevue, on 10th Ave. between 102nd and Bellevue Way, uses Vivace's Caffe Vita blend. The atmosphere is surprisingly pleasant, considering the location is in a neighborhood otherwise full of bland corporate concepts. Free wireless internet makes this an essential downtown Bellevue stop when I'm doing some work on the Eastside.

Zoka near Greenlake has good enough espresso drinks, and a pleasant atmosphere. If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth stopping by.

Triple J Cafe (Kirkland) has the art of inoffensiveness down; I remember having a decent latte or two here. It's also a cute little place to sit down and relax.

Should you find yourself in the mood for corporate coffee, Torrefazione is one of the better chain-style coffee shops. It's now a wholly owned subsidiary of Starbucks, purchased from the franchising conglomerate AEC Enterprises in 2003. Alas, it's on the chopping block, as it was only moderately profitable, not spectacularly profitable, as

Not Recommended

I've encountered a series of places with metallic tasting espresso, most likely due to inadequately cleaned equipment. Still Life in Fremont. If it was just a question of atmosphere, I would wholeheartedly endorse the comfy environs of Still Life. (Still Life has recently closed and opened under another name, apparently under the ownership of the person who bought the place about 2 years ago; noted 19 May 2004). I would definitely go there for food or maybe pastries. But the espresso drinks in my experience were metallic tasting or unpleasantly bitter, suggesting that they don't take care of their equipment very well. I had the same problem at Uncle Elizabeth's (First Hill). I sampled a passable drip coffee here once, but Uncle Elizabeth's needs to aggressively clean their espresso machines.

Tully's. The "Charbucks" moniker serves Tully's even better than it does the ubiquitous company it was meant to slam. I can't figure out the appeal of Tully's, but the shops are usually strategically located next to other Starbucks locations, so one can tell their real estate and facilities planning team is reasonably good at following someone else's lead.

Wind and rain blow me away

April 13, 2004, 12:00 AM

My work is almost finished at Microsoft, so I'm starting to feel some sense of accomplishment.

After work I decided to go jogging at Greenlake for a little bit. I wanted to run a single lap and walk another lap. Unfortunately, the weather turned after I started my walking lap... it became progressively windier and some rain came pouring down... I wasn't anticipating that, so my shorts and t-shirt were not the most comfortable attire for the job. I decided to jog as much of the second lap as I could handle, and I don't think I've done that kind of speed in a long time. The squall did die down after about ten minutes or so, so I was able to slow down again and not ruin my knee.

I guess I should get some gear suited for wet jogging... I won't have a gym membership for a while after I leave Microsoft...

Business partner?

April 11, 2004, 12:00 AM

I spent a few hours today talking to someone I met at the party last week who has a great marketing and business development background in Japan. I think she could be very useful doing sales, marketing, and some logistics stuff. Although there are some complications that I'll have to figure out, I think we will find a way of working together in my import/export company.

We both ordered quiche and coffee at Cafe Besalu for brunch, and later continued the conversation at Hiroki. Besalu makes excellent brioche and pastry, and I like going there on weekends to get brunch... It's just a bustling, tiny, intimate space with a good set of basics. They serve Lighthouse Coffee, Tall Grass Bakery bread, and their own homemade pastries and quiches. Hiroki, on Greenlake, is a bakery run by Hiroki Inoue, a Japanese guy whose signature cake is a "green tea tiramisu." He does a lot of other interesting sweets also, sometimes with a Japanese touch and sometimes with a more French style, though all with slightly American proportions. He seems to avoid overdoing the sugar, which I truly appreciate. This time I had an "Earl Grey" cheesecake and the woman I was meeting with ordered a Grand Marnier mousse cake. Good stuff.

The weather was pretty hot but I went jogging a couple of laps around Greenlake anyway. My endurance seems to be getting better these days... I'm trying to avoid re-injuring my left knee, though, so I'll mellow out on the distance for a few days.

Goodbye, Lenin

April 9, 2004, 12:00 AM

I watched Goodbye, Lenin tonight, which is a clever German movie that creates a virtuous Rip van Winkle and uses the fall of the Berlin Wall as the revolution the heroine, Katrin Saß, sleeps through. Of course, the twist is that she falls into a coma after a heart attack and the doctor doesn't want to risk shocking her with the news; it could be a sitcom plot if it was written for a laugh track. Unlike the Rip van Winkle story, it's no parable about drinking too much... It is a German movie.

I really haven't gone out to the cinema to see many movies in the last six months or so, so this was a pleasant diversion. My memories of East German architecture circa 1992 and 1994 all came back to me. I thought it was a clever idea, and it was pleasant to see a "lost time" plot this advanced that didn't have to resort to gimmicks like time machines or cryogenics. OK, I guess a coma is a bit of a gimmick, too.

Another thing I haven't done anytime recently is visit the Seven Gables cinema in the University District. It's a pleasantly old-school cinema with interior details you just don't find in corporate megaplexes. I feel rewarded... This place has been so close to closing permanently several times over the last few years or so, but it really deserves an audience.

Korean class is hard

April 7, 2004, 12:00 AM

Since March last year, I've been taking Korean classes. I started taking pottery class as work got more frustrating, and then I remembered an ambition I once had in college of being capable of communicating in a certain number of languages by the time I am 35 or so. So far, I speak English reasonably well for someone who spent seven years at a software company, my German is still passable, and my Japanese only embarrasses me every other time I speak it. I've forgotten most of the little bit of French I've taken and I never really succeeded at learning Hungarian, though I did briefly attend a Hungarian class when I was a student in Germany.

Oh, yes, Korean. I remembered the time that I went to Korea on a business trip and how much I enjoyed being there, but how helpless (or hapless?) I was wandering on my own even in Seoul. So I finally decided that I could get more out of future travel to Korea if I was at least able to ask for things.

I had a little bit of a break from January to March, because no fourth-quarter Korean class was offered in Bellevue Community College's continuing education program. So at that time, I took a beginning Chinese course (Mandarin) so that I had something to occupy my mind outside of the office. But fortunately, the fourth quarter class was offered starting in April.

I attended last week and realized how much I've forgotten. This week was a little bit harder. I hope I can finally catch up and remember all of the things which I have neglected to spend much time studying over the last few months... I need to work harder.

Pottery class week 2, sort of

April 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

Today I actually attended my pottery class on time... last Monday, the day of my return to Seattle, I was so jetlagged that I slept through the hour of class and showed up in time only to make an appearance and look at some things that recently came out of the kiln, all of which I had been working on last quarter.

I still haven't decided what I should do this quarter... on Sunday I came in and glazed some of the pieces that I had done last quarter, but today I was just playing around with different shapes and deforming them. I should probably come up with some kind of objective.

The value of a good party

April 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

A friend of mine is having a housewarming party today, although she actually moved in to her place about 4 months ago. Earlier this week I had planned to bring some little dish to the party, so this morning I went over to Whole Foods in the Roosevelt area and picked up some maroumi sheep’s milk cheese from Greece, as well as some spinach, onions, and shallots, and a few other things. I made a thick béchamel sauce mixed with eggs, nutmeg, allspice, and the maroumi cheese, sort of like the topping you’d expect on moussaka. I lightly caramelized the onions and shallots, then briefly sautéed the spinach. I also made a simple yeast dough, fairly moist but with relatively low yeast content.

After that I put the spinach filling and the cooked béchamel sauce in low containers to cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.

I wanted to go to the pottery lab to do a little bit of glazing of some work from last quarter. As usual with things pottery, I didn’t quite finish everything I had hoped by the time I needed to leave. I set a couple of things aside and went back home to finish cooking…

Basically I just rolled out a dozen or so small discs of dough and filled them with a little bit of the spinach-onion mixture mixed with some egg, topped with the béchamel sauce, and I closed them up sort of like Chinese buns. I baked them on a stone in my oven until they were brown and smelled nice, and packed them up for the party.

Attending a party as the owner of a small business is a different experience than attending a party as an “engineer” at a tremendously large software company. Meeting someone at a party has, up until now, been a pleasant diversion, a mild form of entertainment. But as a small business owner, every new face is an opportunity… people with job descriptions or educations or backgrounds that were merely interesting in my old life suddenly seem like potential partners, customers, people I can learn something from, or people who can introduce me to someone that might be useful for developing my business. It’s also kind of an opportunity to refine the story of my work. Hopefully I avoided sounding like too much of a salesperson… anyway, my spinach and béchamel buns disappeared, and I met some interesting people, and I don’t think I annoyed anyone too much.

Waking up is hard to do

April 1, 2004, 12:00 AM

My jetlag seemed to affect me in the opposite way today… I had fallen asleep well before 10pm last night and I first awoke at 3:30 am; I was able to get back to sleep but didn’t return to consciousness until almost 9am. I was a bit surprised when I looked at my clock the second time.

I spent the next hour or so trying to finalize a bank transfer that had complications. This is all money intended to pay for the ceramics I bought in Japan on this trip.

Unlike the other days so far, I didn't end up at work until 10:30 or so... Usually I had been arriving sometime around 9 or so, since I've been getting out of bed at what I would normally consider unpleasantly early.

Jetlagged but jogging

March 31, 2004, 12:00 AM

Somehow my body decided 5 am was the best time to get out of bed. I made some breakfast and then went jogging for a while at Greenlake around 6:30 in the morning. This is not a normal time of day for me to exercise… jogging I consider perfectly reasonable, but rarely is my body convinced to budge early enough to do any exercise that early in the morning. The big surprise was that I met a MSN colleague jogging in the opposite direction a couple of times.

I started the work to get a bank transfer out to my ceramics suppliers in Japan. It’s a little more frustrating than I was hoping, but I think I have everything in place for it to be completed by morning. Some of the bank information that makes transfers work more smoothly wasn’t provided by the suppliers, so I had to arrange some more complicated strategy to get it to them. Anyway, everything should be fine.

As for my other job, in the morning I filed my formal resignation notice. After that, I hurried through my performance document and I think I also did something useful, perhaps. I’m hoping I can maintain a little motivation.

Serving notice

March 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

Every time I’ve returned from a long vacation to my job at Microsoft, I’ve struggled with a ton of unpleasant feelings and internal conflicts. Most of the time, I just worked to quiet my impulses to run away and then I’d be able to hold on 6 months or 12 months or more.

Since I was fully prepared for my departure from Microsoft this time, it wasn’t quite as painful to come back, but I did catch myself wincing as I opened the door to my office this morning. I also noticed myself jittering with nervous tension at lunchtime, after I had been at the office a few hours. Some kind of negative energy builds up as the hours pass, but at least I have something to look forward to, so the overall frustration level is low.

My manager asked me to draft my performance review, a request to which I didn’t quite know how to respond… I said I wasn’t terribly concerned about it, but then I thought better of it and said I could take care of it. Toward the end of the day we had our regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting for the first time since I told him I’d be taking some time off.

Of course, I readily told him that I was leaving, and then we talked a little bit about what I had been doing the last few weeks and showed him my business card. I think he was happy that I was choosing something adventurous rather than just taking the first job that came along… He almost sounded a little jealous.

In any event, I agreed to serve out another couple of weeks to finish one of the deliverables in one of my projects, so I have to live with a little more distraction before I can tend to my new life.

Most of the day was rather pleasant, because I was able to talk about my plans with everyone who knows how much I’ve wanted to move on for the last year and a half, and even get a few useful contacts. I’ll try to make the best of the next couple of weeks.

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