So, the idea of a road trip from Edmonton to Seattle was right up my alley. Through the mountains. Across the border. Out to the coast. Coffee along the way. Coffee at the destination. Coffee as the purpose of the trip. You wouldn’t have to ask me twice.
Part 1, the trip.
It’s late February. Saturday. 4:00am comes early for most. Even earlier when your sleep is restless with excitement.
Steven picks me up in la Bestia. It’s too early for coffee shops, so we purchase our petrol, grab a couple of vanilla lattes from you know where and head west toward Jasper. Side note: Apart from a just-for-fun birthday lunch last year with two very dear friends, I hadn’t eaten or even been inside a McDonald’s since June of 1986. That’s thirty years. It still feels a bit strange to roll through the drive-thru, but I’m getting used to it. The lattes are okay because it’s five in the morning.
The road is a perfect place for conversation. It’s a type of sanctuary. No music for the first leg. By the time we reach Valemount, BC, we’re ready for a short stop. Steven once visited a gem of a little place, there. He wanted to introduce me to it. The Gathering Tree Eatery & Gift Shop is just off the beaten path, meaning mostly locals go there. My kind of place. A man brings in his daughter and 5 of her friends for some home-made hot chocolate. A couple of old men one table over make a joke about kids and sugar. Two women dressed like it’s Halloween, or like they play in a band – not sure which – sit near the front of the room, next to the windows. The light makes them look younger. Somebody puts on some music. Lively. Acoustic Folk. We order a couple of coffees. Steven has a breakfast burrito. I have a muffin. Everything smells wonderful. Then, over the course of our next 20 minutes, a whole cast of characters come and go. This is a treasure that’s all but gone now. I hold nothing against Tim Horton’s but the mass commercialization of our coffee and conversation – oh – never mind, let’s just say I get a little nostalgic for the luxury of the local.
Back to the road.
I have a digital recorder I take with me nearly everywhere I go. I have it running off to the side, and once everyone forgets about it, and gives up guarding their words, it captures every wonderful, candid line. Road conversations can be the best. Momentum frees the soul. You come up with the most amazing stuff, seemingly out of nowhere. Without distraction, these modern minds of ours can drift and tango, routine free.
I have the files to prove it.
Merritt, BC has petrol and a Mary Brown’s Chicken franchise I’d always wanted to try. I find chicken can make a pretty good road food if you’re in for a bit of protein. The restaurant is clean and completely empty apart from the two benign zombies who mustered enough enthusiasm to tap the POS to start our order. Dipping sauce was good. Chicken actually not bad. We learned Mary is not a real person.
More coffee and convo and before you know it – how does 8 hours solid pass so quickly – we cross the border into the United States. I’ve noticed my whole life, crossing that border, anywhere along it, once you’re in the States, everything just looks and feels different. Flags on every dormer and gable. A heightened sense of place on every porch. Roads are better. Speed signs are imperial. Same language and similar ethnicities, but it feels like a completely different country. We drive. The scenery is comforting. And before we know it, we’re in Sammamish, Washington, a couple hours after dark.
Of course, it’s raining.
Coffee shacks. We were all about coffee shacks this trip, and the first one we visited was a winner! Sammamish Point Espresso. As typical as it gets for a coffee shack. If you’ve never seen one of these little wooden wonders, they’re basically slightly over-sized garden sheds, like you’d see behind the chain-link at a Home Depot, outfitted with an espresso machine and all the toys. Straight up drip, pour-overs, or coffee beverages, and if you’re lucky, a great barista, like Parker. She told us about the history of the place (26 years), where they bought their beans (Cafe Vida), other good coffee shops we should check out, pulled some espresso, made us some lattes, and then, with a big smile, told us to see what was in the passenger seat of her Jeep out back (a Pomeranian, of course). The coffee was fine but the experience was superb. (As a side note, together we came up with an XYZ graph to rate coffee experiences, where X-axis is coffee, Y-axis is conversation. Then, Parker suggested adding a Z-axis which would be the hotness of the barista, gender aside. We laughed.)
River Trail Roasters is one of the active entities we follow on social and we had to visit.
As soon as we walk in the door, we’re greeted by a wall of glass, behind which stands a lovely Diedrich roaster and a playful, impossibly clean, 1950’s blue, coffee bar.
We are treated to some Ethiopian pour-overs and while we enjoy the blueberry notes Steven chats up the roast master and manager, Ryan. They use Atlas coffee.
“Customer service is performance art.”
Steven explains the roasting process.
Driving in to Seattle.
It’s windy. The air smells like the sea. Seattle is everything everyone told me it would be, and then some. We make our way downtown, toward the Public Market and as we get closer, Steven says, “take a picture of that sign.” I do. He tells me it’ll mean something later. I get the shot.
Then, it finally hits me – I don’t know why it took me so long – Pike Place = Starbucks. Of course! This is it. We’re here. The ground zero of third wave coffee. It’s no longer just the name on a bag of beans, I was about to see where it all began.
Now, say what you will about Starbucks – and believe me, I have – but, one day, do yourself a coffee-lovin’ favour and take a walk up Pike Place to Minor Avenue and find yourself in the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. As grand as it gets in smiles and scale, the place is huge and the smell inside, utterly intoxicating.
You could spend a day, a week, a month in here, just trying different drinks and talking to baristas and watching roasters and every single employee in the place knows their stuff. So much coffee. So much care.
All right! Think we were all coffee’d out? Nowhere close, mi amigos y amigas. Across the street we walk, to check out yet another swoony place. Victrola Roasters sits humbly to the east and offers a completely different vibe.
Kombucha on tap! Are you kidding? Two glasses, please!
Now, here’s where s**t gets strange, but strange in a good way. Steven and I are sitting at one of the community tables in the place, enjoying our kombucha and coffee when he shows me a photo on his phone. Then he nods in the direction behind me. I turn around and see a young woman who looks like the same person in the photo. Steven asks the young woman if he can show her the picture. She says, ‘yes’. Then smiles. The young woman is a relative of Steven’s. The young woman sitting across from us is named Lubo. A doppelganger for sure, but it turns out Lubo was just back from Costa Rica where she was doing some mission work and was staying in places familiar to Steven. I’m sure if they kept going, they would have won 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon. For those new to this site, Costa Rica is ground zero for Steven, Mauricio and most of the coffee we import. I love when the universe throws a hacky-sack of synchronicity into your circle.
One more coffee stop for the day, then back to our lovely hosts’ place for supper. Another well known entity: Slate Coffee Roasters.
Steven decides on a cafe de olla and I choose an iced coffee. Both are fantastic. The thing that strikes me in Seattle is how many of the places we visited have game. Serious game. The knowledge. The details. The coffee in the cup. So many different ways to do it right. How exciting?
Okay… stay tuned for Part 2 of this story… the roaster!
Battle Grounds Coffee Co & Roastery