The history of the "coffeehouse" is one long and glorious history of controversy in the public sphere. Many of us, I think, have some vague idea that if we want to talk politics during the evening, we should go to a pub. But, if we want to talk politics during daylight hours, it is to be done in a coffeehouse. At various times, by various empires along coffee's chronicled journey, public coffeehouses have been banned out of concern that their provision of breeding grounds for political unrest would naturally lead to active citizen dissent. They were strongly associated with "Beat" culture, have provided the backdrop for progressive artistic developments, and are generally accepted as places where college students gather to study and discuss (never a very safe or orthodox occurrence).
Art at Bedlam
According to the dictionary, the word Bedlam denotes a hospital for the mentally ill. However, according to the thesaurus (so often more useful than a dictionary), Bedlam is a word meaning, "uproar, pandemonium, commotion, mayhem, confusion, disorder, chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, furor, upheaval, hubbub, hoopla, turmoil, riot, ruckus, rumpus, tumult, or hullabaloo." Drawing on the aforementioned controversial history of coffeehouses, this latter definition (not the former) appears to be what Belltown's Bedlam Coffee had in mind when it chose its name. Their facebook events page is replete with community gatherings, artistic events, and open mic opportunities. The obvious intent to gather and collaborate is admirable.
"Alright!" you say. "So how's the coffee?"
Aware that another Seattle Weekly article involving Bedlam Coffee was recently written, I decided to check this shop off of my coffee list anyhow, since Julien Perry was primarily concerned with ghost chili peppers, and I was primarily concerned with espresso.
In addition to a few other quirky features (such as having a toast menu), Bedlam Coffee takes great pride in the fact that its coffee comes from a secret source. As someone concerned with coffee origin, raising awareness for small farms, working conditions in various growing regions, the surprising political clout of and controversy surrounding the global coffee market, and the far-reaching impact of things like weather and war on crops, I find this severely annoying. And somewhat irrational for a place that wants to promote conversation, since there is no quicker way to get into a heated discussion than with a little information about the drink you're holding in your very own hands.
Bedlam Coffee & Toast
Nevertheless, curious to see what the big deal might be, and in hopes of sleuthing out whatever I might be able to sleuth out by means of my own palate, I ordered a latte (to sit and talk over) and a shot of espresso (to taste). And as much as I would love to disagree with a fellow Voracious writer, I really can't say much about the coffee. Perhaps the barista (who, don't get me wrong, was a wonderfully friendly barista) was having an "off" day. Who knows. But whatever may be going on with the actual mystery roast was frustratingly masked by a painfully burnt shot of espresso. And not just the straight-up espresso, but also the espresso in my latte... and the espresso in my friend's latte. All three were sharp, bitter, and lacking flavor complexity.
The art was cool, the environment was edgy, the baristas were friendly, the furniture was all aesthetically pleasing, and the music was just right for allowing a long and lovely conversation. But the beverages went largely untouched. And when I go out for coffee with someone, I want to enjoy my coffee and our conversation.
Dear Bedlam, you've got a lot going for you...
... maybe next time, I'll try the tea.