I am a mug snob. There, I said it.

Photo by Alex Tosti

Coffee snob, no... I mean, I like to think not, but then


Victrola Coffee Customer Demands Better Mugshot

I am a mug snob. There, I said it.

Photo by Alex Tosti

Coffee snob, no... I mean, I like to think not, but then somebody serves me an americano that tastes like compost slushy and I rethink my self-assessment. But as to whether or not I am a snob with regard to the vessel in which my coffee is delivered there can be no debate. I am. And that's that. Oh well.

This afternoon finds me taking up as much space as is physically possible at Victrola Roastery on Capitol Hill. I have strategically managed to spread all of the resources my writing requires (as well as one or two it does not) in such a way as to barricade 2.7 places at the giant center table into definite "Rose Space." And thus, relieved of any concern that someone might sit next to or near (or on) me (it's happened), I sit and watch people migrate between tables and bar.

For example, at the moment, I'm watching the man on the other side of the room walking his coffee back to his seat -- arms outstretched like Frankenstein, neck locked back, eyes glued to the cup in his hands as he takes baby-steps toward his chair. When will he spill? It's out of the question that he won't.

Make no mistake about it. I love Victrola Coffee. I've visited here and written about it before, so I've already whined about the propensity of their coffee cups to "share" their contents. I openly admit that a trip to Victrola comes with many biases and expectations. I already know, walking in here, that I'm going to get good coffee. I already know the music is going to be perfect, the tables ideal, and the atmosphere just the right combination of buzz and busy for studying.

What I didn't know, today, was that I would be given a different kind of coffee cup than last time. And that it would definitely be the sort of mug one reserves for that 15th cup of herbal tea on those days when it's impossible to decide if one is actually sick, or merely sick of studying. Dear Victrola, what is it with this trend?

If you've ever been to a good Bierstube, you've probably heard that different beers ought to be served in different glasses, because the shape of the glass impacts the way in which you experience the flavor and aroma of the beer. It's why red wine and white wine glasses look different, and it's why you don't serve a cocktail out of a mug. They aren't just random, artsy shapes. The shapes serve a purpose. What I'd like to know is, why is coffee culture lagging so far behind on this?

Maybe it's because so many of us are only grabbing our "to go" cups on the way out the door, and forget to remember that there is more to coffee than caffeine. But for those customers who sit with their coffee, and request that it be served "for here," I feel that, if nothing else, there are at least a few basic principles which ought to be observed in a coffee shop's Mug Selection Process. (Victrola, you're guilty on counts 1 and 3, so take note.)


Principle #1: If the cup has been meticulously designed by some physicist in a way that combines depth and bowl diameter to produce maximum centrifugal force from any minimal motion, it's poor form to choose that design for your guests' beverages. I prefer to drink my $4 coffee, not trail it behind me on the floor, thanks.

Principle #2: When opting for the oversized coffee mug, keep in mind that when the mug is oversized, the handle by which to hold it should be as well. Period. Nobody wants to hold 20 ounces of coffee by a single finger.

Principle #3: If it is difficult to drink out of, for any reason: No. If it is shaped in such a way as discourages sipping and encourages swigging: No. Also, if it bears any characteristics similar to or reminiscent of a mason jar: NO. All these things say to the consumer, "This is caffeine," and none say, "This is coffee."

Pretty simple, if you ask me. And awfully picky, I'm sure, if I ask you.

Rant aside, Victrola's coffee, when you can get it satisfactorily from mug to mouth, is outstanding. And so worth taking the time to sit down and enjoy, instead of dashing out the door as soon as they hand it to you.

Today's brewed selection is the El Salvador (Finca Alaska), and it is delightful. Complex, but approachable. Well-rounded, not heavy. Fruity, but almost more on the spectrum of dried fruits, where flavor has sweetened and softened. There is even a light burst of lemon at the end, keeping it awake and interesting. You can actually taste the care and pride that goes into this coffee, I'm convinced. One of the things that sets Victrola apart to The Few, The Proud of coffee is the degree to which they enjoy talking about coffee. They love their single origins, and actually make the effort on their website to introduce you, not only to the coffee's tasting notes, but also to the growing region and farming conditions from whence it comes. I know that the cup of coffee in my hand hails from four generations of family business, that it was shade grown beneath specially planted cypress trees, that it began its little life on the hillside of a volcano, and that it was harvested by workers actually paid good wages. All of this impacts the taste, and let me tell you, there is nothing better than a sudden coffee-flavor vacation to a place that looks like this when you've become tired of places that look like this.

I actually came in here today to try the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe espresso, which I've been hearing so much about lately. It was exciting. I think I reacted very much like a baby tasting lime for the first time: fascinated, startled, and curious. Honestly, not really my thing. So I recommend the El Salvador instead.

Victrola offers free tastings (cuppings) at 11:00 am every Wednesday morning. Drop in if you're in the area and see what they're serving. Have some coffee. Sit down for a minute. Critique a mug. Truly, it's not a bad break in the day.

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