Coffee, as any good Seattleite knows, is a basic requirement. It’s right up there with food, water, air, technology. Coffee jumpstarts our mornings, carries our afternoons, and mellows out our evenings (decaf, of course). The shops which sell it give us a chance to catch up on work, on reading, with old friends, or simply sit, sip, and stare. Who knew that something so fundamental is not as easy as the pie with which it’s often served?
As a morale-building event, the Messenger & Mail Desktop Program Managers and I spent a day at the Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company. I knew within the first minute that the day would be a success. A Zoka employee greeted me at the door and directed me to the bright open room where my co-workers sat around a fancy spread of scones, croissants, muffins, and of course, steaming hot coffee.
We spent the morning with Trish, a woman who travels the world selecting the coffee suppliers which meet Zoka’s high quality standards. She takes into account every detail from the sustainability of the farm to the treatment of the workers; the taste of the coffee and the farmer’s passion for it. She made it clear that there is no room for error during the thirty-some steps of transforming coffee from a bean to a beverage. After presenting coffee’s history, geography, and entire production process, Trish took us through a coffee taste-testing, or “cupping,”. Cupping is a strange ritual which can best be described by a list of verbs: look, smell, don’t-touch!, scoop, slurp (loudest gets a prize), spit, rake, smell again, and of course, comment. “I smell toast.” “I taste zoo.” “Chocolate!
It’s just like chocolate!”
We took a break from coffee to feast on a gourmet café lunch, and learn about coffee’s oft-forgotten stepsister: Tea. Then Reid, a nationally accomplished barista, walked us through the four M’s of espresso: the coffee, the grinder, the machine, and the barista. (Confused? Don’t be. They all start with ‘M’ in Italian.) He finished his talk by making a custom espresso drink for each of us; every drink topped with a carefully-crafted milky design.
Finally, Chris, the master roaster, brought us down to the roasting room. The process only half as interesting as the passion with which Chris described it. “Success in this business means it’s a hobby as much as a job.” He said his fellow roasters love it so much, they often go out for beers and talk about coffee. Think beer brewers talk beer over steaming cups of coffee?
The day ended there, with tasty little gift bags and an exchange of thank-yous—but the story doesn’t stop. I was personally so impressed, that only two days later I packed up my laptop, hopped in the car, and headed over to Greenlake. Being the good Seattleite that I am, I needed my morning cup of coffee, and I wanted the best. Thank you, Zoka. You can roast my coffee beans any day.