This is the first part of my interview with Brendan ODonnell, the coffee roaster and new manager for Bucers Coffeehouse Pub. We sat down and talked about quite a few things. Ill be postings parts of the interview over the next couple weeks arranged by topic. Today, its about the state of coffee shops at home and abroad and how we in the northwest really are blessed with some of the best stuff around.
Matt: I discovered that upon traveling across the country that there is an incredible amount coffee in Moscow. You go to the midwest and theres no espresso shops. I was in a bigger city of about 100,000. It was in a suberb of Chicago. I stayed the night there and looked around to find a drink. I could not, in a 10 mile radius find even a java shack or a Starbucks even.
Brendan: Yeah, thats interesting. There are street corners in Seattle, there is one in particular where if you stand in the right place and get the right line of site, you can see six Starbucks locations from this one street corner.
M: I was just surprised to find out that its really a west coast phenomenon, to have so much coffee around.
B: Its more of a northwest phenomenon even.
M: Yeah, I thought, we have lots of coffee in our college town so if I go to another college town Ill find lots of coffee but it didnt.
B: Its interesting that you couldnt find a coffee shop in suburban Chicago because one of the top coffee shops in the country, Inteligentsia, is in Chicago. They have several store fronts.
M: Im sure if you knew the right place to look there were some but just in the area I was in I couldnt find a single one. Also, as far as quality driving across the country, it was sub-par everywhere. I guess I kept comparing it Bucers and Bucers turned out to be pretty dang good.
B: Im a pretty self-crital person. Very introspective. I dont give myself the benefit of the doubt, ever. So I went back east with my wife to Virginia where shes from, I went to every coffee shop I could find, including one where they were roasting with a Diedrich, which is the finest American roaster there is. They build them in sandpoint and Id love to have one in here. Its right there in front, the guy has been roast coffee for 15, 20 years. Its a shop in Christiansburg. I went and got an americano there. The coffee roaster himself pulled the shot, gave me the americano, we talked shop for a while. I thanked him for his time, took a sip of the americano, went out, spit the americano out and threw the rest in the garbage. And this is the cream of the crop out there.
I have had good coffee out there, but it was quite by accident. There are some artisan shops in New England but its so hit and miss outside of the pacific northwest.
M: I was in downtown Boston last month and I looked everywhere for a shop. Theres a trendy bar that will make you some fancy cocktail, about every 2 feet but not a single espresso shop anywhere except Starbucks. When I drove across the country with my wife I probably visited 20 shops and I only found one shop that I thought was comparable to here. It was in Hoboken New Jersy and the guy had the roaster in the shop and he really took care of it. It was good. I cant remember the name of the place, but it was the only shop that was good I ran into.
B: Hoboken is ringing bells. I think I know the shop that youre talking about. I havent been to it, but Ive heard of one over there.
I presume youve been to Portland and Stumptown?
M: I havent made it there. (Note: Since then I have now made it to Stumptown. I found their espresso to be remarkably smooth.)
B: Stumptown embarrasses Bucers. Stumptown is incredible. Stumptown is what I want to grow up and be.
M: Is it the just the coffee? Or is it the atmosphere and the place too?
B: The atmosphere is going to be different wherever you go. They have one location in a hotel lobby. Its one of these restored hotels. They have one in Powells books. It has reasonably nice atmosphere. Its going to be a Portland hipster kind of hang out. Nothing like this. Not as much wood as weve got. But Im talking about the coffee and the enthusiasm. And they have career baristas, people who have really gotten into it and do championships. Baristas come from Norway and Denmark and all around the world to work at Stumptown. And they have this really vibrant coffee culture going on down there and their doing gangbuster business. You can go to Hood River and find coffee shops that are supplied by Stumptown.
M: Do you ever use manual coffee grinder by your self?
B: Sure. I like to make a cup of coffee under my style.
M: Their stuffs really good eh? I was in the wrong part of town I guess last time.
B: Then theres Zoka over in Seattle. Theyre pretty good. Espresso Vivace, I havent managed to get there, but David Schomer is the guy there. He wrote the book Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques that most coffee shops need to use as a foundation.
M: I dont know if you know about it, but theres a shop over near Eastside Marketplace, Cafe Silos, and they use Zoka coffee.
B: Really? Ill have to talk to them. Zoka roasts really good coffee. They have a location in Greenlake that has a similar woody atmosphere to Bucers. Theres a lot there thats worth emulating.