There isn't much better than a good cup of coffee and a comfortable couch to rally contentment on a rainy Seattle day. Especially when the


Tougo Coffee: Naked Portafilters, Togas, and Diversity in the Central District

There isn't much better than a good cup of coffee and a comfortable couch to rally contentment on a rainy Seattle day. Especially when the couch is a homey, retro shade of burnt-orange, but still miraculously in possession of all its stuffing and springs. This past week, in a continuing (if unhurried) effort to check all of the coffee shops off The Disloyalty Card, I paid a visit to Tougo Coffee. And candidly speaking, I believe it may deserve the title for "best coffee shop furniture in Seattle."

Tougo Coffee is located in the intersection of the Central District, Capitol Hill, and Madrona, on an unassuming block of 18th Avenue. Away from the busyness most coffee shops seek out, it automatically takes on a slower, welcoming pace. The counter is set back a ways from the entrance, drawing patrons into the store for their coffee instead of rushing them in and out the door. A children's room at the back invites parents to bring their kids in and feel free to stay. A sitting room by the front windows offers seating for friends to gather. Tougo seems to have tapped into one of the driving forces behind Seattle's ultra-social coffee market: coffee shops are places to meet.

On the coffee front, Tougo serves Stumptown coffee, pulling shots using what is known as a "naked" or "bottomless" portafilter. Naked portafilters, your coffee term of the day, are a trend that seem to be becoming increasingly popular in the barista world as of late. To someone accustomed to seeing traditional ("spouted") portafilters, the naked portafilters look... well... being aptly named, naked. And odd. This week at Tougo, my curiosity was finally piqued and I decided to find out what the trend is all about.

The answer turned out to be surprisingly simple. Naked portafilters are designed to serve two fundamental purposes. One is to reduce the amount of metal the espresso has to travel over (contact with which inevitably impacts espresso temperature). The other, to allow the barista better diagnostic control over the espresso shots being pulled.

If you recall a couple of weeks ago, I posted about the 2010 Grinder Smackdown and a few of the elements that go into creating top-notch espresso. Each of the elements discussed was one that had to be considered before the barista began pulling a shot. But sometimes, when something goes wrong with one of those delicately balanced elements, it's difficult to discern what. Because a traditional portafilter automatically channels espresso together down a preset path, the ability of the barista to tell what is going on with a shot can be limited. The idea behind the naked portafilter is that it allows a barista to more easily diagnose problems with the extraction and, hopefully correct them. For a great article explaining this with beautiful pictures (like the one at right), visit the article about naked portafilters at

Long story short here, however, I was served an excellent Americano at Tougo. And I enjoyed it while sitting on a very orange, very comfortable couch, pondering very intriguing artwork from local artist, Cyra Jane.

My three great complaints? The wireless is slooow, the ceiling looks like a floor (which is disorienting), and the name is not spelled phonetically. If you, like I, were wondering how to say "Tougo," it's Toe-go. Not Too-go. Not Tau-go. Not To-uh-go. Simply Tougo. Much like Toga, but with an o at the end. It means, "Diversity"... appropriate for a cafe that seeks to serve three very different districts all at once.
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