Spring in Seattle. The window is wide open at Citizen Coffee this evening, and the smell of crepes is wafting by in tempting waves as I eavesdrop on the patio's laughter and sip my decaf americano at the indoor seating bar. A research catalogue, The Choral Music of Latin America, sits open to my right. My laptop is open in front of me. I'm staring off into space, reminiscing. It's another day of grad school.
The first cup of coffee I ever bought was a tall single ristretto nonfat extra chocolate mocha from Starbucks, the night of May 18, 1999. At least, that's the date that IMDB tells me I bought it, as the reason it sticks in my memory is that it preceded standing in line for the midnight showing of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. I couldn't tell you now whether it was the sense of accomplishment in my tentative break into the adult world of Coffee Drinking, or the fact that the boy I was completely enamored with at the time finally said hello to me that night which makes this memory stick with me. But for either reason, it does, and I recall that, in my mind the half shot of espresso I ordered would provide me with enough caffeine to get through the night, and the extra chocolate would mean I didn't have to pay the price of tasting it.At that point, I never would have anticipated myself, a little over a decade later, being most of the things I am now. If you'd asked me I probably would have said that in ten years, I'd be a successful, sought-after, medical specialist of some sort, with a summerhouse in Italy. I would not have said I'd still be in school, buried under stacks of books in pursuit of a graduate degree in music. And I certainly would not have said I'd be earning my income as a barista, or spending most of my spare time in coffee shops, chatting it up at the bar over a single shot of espresso while contemplating the difference between this coffee and the last I tasted. Life takes funny turns. Little did I know at the time of that first, fateful mocha, I would one day be so obsessed I began blogging about coffee in the coffee city.
Yet here I am: a chronic destination-studier, unable to concentrate at home, unable to avoid working at my place of work, and bored to death of visiting the same few scenes over and over. Coffee, even in Seattle, can get pretty mundane. There are only so many roasters, after all. On the other hand, there are so many different coffee shops it boggles the mind. And I, coffee shop addict, after 3.5 years of living in this city, am studying today at yet another place I'd never even heard of two short hours ago.
Citizen Coffee and Crêperie, nestled into Lower Queen Anne between a 7-Eleven, The Hampton Inn, and a lot of confusing traffic, is not at all what I expected. It isn't in the sort of location I expected from the pictures on their website, and it isn't the sort of environment I expected after seeing its location. Smelling richly of flavor, busy with happy customers and the friendly help hovering around them, it provides a kind of oasis in this section of the city. The exposed brick, bare wood-and-fabric décor, stacked crates of wine, and chalkboard art are not at all like the concrete scene just past the side-walk.
I visited because it is called Citizen Coffee, but really, it's only part coffee bar. The bulk of it is fabulous restaurant at dinner time; I expect it's more coffee-centric in less food-centered hours.
Lighthouse Coffee, local favorite of so many, is the roaster of choice at Citizen's coffee bar. I may blacklist myself by saying this, but I actually dislike Lighthouse. Although the preparation can do a lot to better or worsen it, I find it bland and un-compelling on the whole. It's one of those things I want to like, because it is local, and because it is popular. But try as I might, I simply can't. So a setting I otherwise find lovely is marred a bit by this less-than-favorite coffee.
In mentioning this to the barista, Joseph, and asking if there was a cure for my aversion to Lighthouse, I was directed toward the decaf espresso. Odd in that for most coffee, decaf is its downfall. With Lighthouse, however, something interesting seems to happen. Whereas many decaf espressos seem bitter and aggressive compared to their regular espresso counterparts, the Lighthouse tendency toward being over-mellow is offset by a sharper flavor in their decaf, actually balancing the coffee and providing it with some depth and interest. I'm intrigued. Not converted, but genuinely intrigued. And sold that they know their coffee here at Citizen!
Citizen has free wifi, they provide table service, the crema on their decaf is just beautiful, and with ample seating they truly don't mind if you sit to study for a while. As far as studying goes, I do reiterate that time of day is worth considering in this choice of destination. The wireless will be running well and you will be welcomed regardless, but it risks feeling a little awkward sitting with books and computer at a seat next to two people deeply involved in their wine, crepes, and intimate dinner conversation.
Oh, did I mention they have parking? They have parking. I like it. A lot.