There's a particular type of burnt-sugar flavor I'm convinced is best described by "solidified goo stuck to the bottom of a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls." It's the one that begins with a promise of sweet, caramelized sugar, but almost instantly turns on you with a sharp and aggressively bitter aftertaste. It's a frustrating flavor, which keeps you trapped in the cycle of sampling disappointment, with hopes of finally getting to the promise of something amazing.
Americano, with a curry rice bowl on the side.
This weekend, a visit to the recently opened Cafe Kopi on Lake City Way presented a similar sensation--from the cafe overall, but most particularly from the coffee. It is so close to being something good. I really want to say nice things about it; it's just not quite there yet. (Or, in the coffee's case, "there" has come and gone again in over-extraction of the shots.) But there are places where this little cafe genuinely excels, and shows hopeful promise of an upward trend.
One of those is the customer service. The staff and ownership are delightfully outgoing and enthusiastic, whether making coffee, serving lunch, or going out of their way to meet special dietary concerns. They stock Sweetbird syrups, which are certified vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and without artificial color or flavoring. Rice, almond, hemp, and coconut milk options are available to both their coffee and smoothie menus, in addition to "real" milk. The cafe occupies the space that previously belonged to the Sugar Shack Baking Company, and has taken pains to keep Sugar Shack devotees happy, offering some of the classic pastries from the same baker.
Unfortunately, the coffee wasn't up to par. Although, since this is one of the few coffee shops in its immediate vicinity--or on Lake City Way at all--"par" is sort of a loosely used term.
True North Coffee Roasters, about which there is little published online, provides the cafe with its kopi (the Indonesian word for "coffee"). It's a roast not commonly served around town, and I don't have a good feel for what to expect from it. My impression from this encounter is that the roastery is aiming for a fairly rich profile in their espresso, forgoing current trends of fruit and brightness for an older, "classic Seattle" profile of cacao and vanilla. The shots for my Americano carried strong hints of both--but more strongly, carried signs of over-extraction that obscured further nuance in flavor.
Interestingly, when I mentioned this to the barista, she in turn mentioned that she'd noticed that shot times seemed to vary in relation to the weather, and that a slightly coarser grind might be necessary on colder, rainier days. Whether or not this was the correct explanation for the espresso at Kopi, it is an interesting idea, and the first time I've heard it in relation to coffee. In baking, altitude affects things like temperatures and times. In music, barometric pressure seems to influence intonation. In coffee, I'm not sure what the correlation would be. (If you have the answer, do share.)
Cafe Kopi is filling a great niche in its neighborhood, and I hope to see it do well. There aren't nearly enough places along Lake City Way to get decent coffee, and with a bit of nudging, I think Cafe Kopi might turn out to be one of them. It's simply not there yet.