SEATTLE — “Hanging out, or getting something to go?”
After a trip up the Space Needle, I dragged my family out to the edge of Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle that, for tourists, is a little off the beaten path.
From the outside, Slate Coffee Roasters looks like nothing special. It’s in a squat, dark-gray building, a couple of benches outside. This place is all the buzz in the Seattle coffee scene but at first glance, I wondered whether the cab ride out here was worth it.
As soon as we walked inside and met the barista, Brandon Paul Weaver (aka BP Dubs), I knew we’d be in good hands.
My sister and I each ordered the $16 coffee flight, which amounts to four courses of coffee or espresso. Weaver was a bit cagey about what exactly was included in the flight, which changes based on the barista’s mood, but he didn’t undersell it.
“It’s life-changing,” he told us, adding that we’d taste nearly everything on the daily drink menu.
I had done a coffee flight before — the same concept as a flight of wine, where you get to sample several different kinds all at once — but it wasn’t this intricate.
This was like going to a gourmet restaurant. Only where your waiter has long curly hair and wears a fedora. It was like sitting down to a 10-course meal. Only each course was a special drink concoction that mostly relied on two basic ingredients: coffee beans and milk.
The utmost care was put into every detail. The presentation was immaculate at every step. And Weaver spent as much time preparing our drinks as he did educating us, with gusto, about them.
The place also managed to feel like a hidden gem serving coffee of the highest caliber, but somehow without the snobbery and pretentiousness that some cafes can have.
First, Weaver prepared three kinds of coffee, each representing one of the different ways of processing the beans. Basically, after it’s been picked, the farmers will either wash the beans or let them dry in the sun (sometimes it’s by choice, other times — if running water is unavailable — it’s by necessity). There’s also a third way that’s somewhat of a mini-wash.
So before us was a Kilenso Ethiopia (sun-dried natural), a Sidamo Ethiopia (washed), and a Dukunde Kawa, Rwanda (washing stations). The differences were immediate and interesting. Our favorite was the Kilenso Ethiopia, which tasted fruity, like a strawberry. Weaver told us that coffee from beans processed naturally tended to be sweeter, with fruitier overtones than those that had been washed, and the Kilenso Ethiopia bore that out.
The second course was the most eye-popping. This one is what Slate calls a “deconstructed espresso + milk.” Three glass vessels that look like they would normally hold wine are lined up on a white porcelain plate (Weaver told us that once, when someone dropped the deconstructed espresso + milk on the floor and glass shattered, they called it a deconstructed deconstructed espresso + milk)
In the first glass is a basic shot of espresso. In the second is steamed milk from a nearby dairy. In the third is milk and espresso added together (basically, a cappuccino). This drink is based on one served by San Francisco-based Ritual Coffee, which serves a one plus one (a shot of espresso alongside a macchiato), but it adds the local milk. Which has a sweet taste and was enjoyable for a guy who hasn’t had a single glass of milk since grade school.
The barista was a bit cagey about what exactly was included in the flight, which changes based on the barista’s mood, but he didn’t undersell it.
The third course was a cold-brew coffee. Since we liked the Kilenso Ethiopia best, that’s what Weaver brewed for us, and it was equally delicious cold.
The last course was, essentially, dessert. This was a cup of hot chocolate, made with the same local milk served in the “deconstructed espresso + milk,” a small spoonful of special melted chocolate, and the cafe’s chocolate-covered candied oranges.
I sample coffee everywhere I travel. This was possibly the most indulgent experience I’ve ever had.
Or, one might say, life-changing.Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.