Cafe Solstice: Inspiring People to Learn Stuff

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Somehow or another, I seem to have made it through four years of school at the University of Washington without ever studying at Cafe Solstice. I am currently sitting at the University District cafe, observing the dozen-plus sets of studying students, wondering why that is. This would be a great place to study. In fact, I may have to come up with something to study, just so that I can make proper use of the excessive outlets, free wi-fi, numerous seating options, non-wobbling tables, heavy bass (highly ignorable) music, and twice-daily happy hour. Really, how did I not know about this before??

As far as I can tell, the one and only flaw in the Solstice plan is the coffee. As something of an opinionated coffee drinker, it isn't uncommon for me to get into coffee-related arguments. Usually these are amicable. Frequently, they arise from somebody older and wiser than I in the coffee industry poking at my opinions to see if I can support them (and/or said expert simply being bored). Also frequently, they may arise from people trying to convince me that I should like a roast I've never managed to make friends with, because it is one of the most popular roasts in the city. Unfortunately, I maintain that for a roastery to have an impressive following (even a following of impressive names) proves nothing.

Case in point: I don't like Lighthouse Coffee Roasters, and have recently had several lengthy discussions about this apparently deviant behavior on the part of my palate. The last debate ended with me saying that I would try Lighthouse coffee again, since it had been quite some time since I'd had any. So I whereas I've typically avoided places that serve it, I was quite pleased to see that Solstice offers Lighthouse, as it gave me opportunity to follow through on that promise.

I ordered a shot of espresso, for unmarred sampling. And let it here be said that I had no complaints with the shot itself. The barista did a fine job with the coffee, and presented it both looking and smelling lovely. This has consistently been one of my major frustrations with Lighthouse Coffee: It always promises to be so good, and then . . . isn't.

Note: In sampling coffee, there are different aspects of taste to keep in mind. Assuming you are a more or less average human, you have approximately 10,000 tastebuds. Most of these are on your tongue, but a good number are also under your tongue, on the roof of your mouth, and on the inside of your cheek. Additionally, your sense of smell and the way you experience the actual feel of a coffee will impact the overall flavor experience. Obviously, with so many things happening at once, it is impossible for all of them to literally happen at once. Rather, your brain registers the experience in sequence (with overlap, but still in sequence).

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The first impression is the smell, or aroma, of a coffee. Almost always, Lighthouse checks off here. I like the way it smells. And the next initial flavor is fantasti . . . right about there, just as I'm preparing to think to myself "Oh! This is pretty good!" something bizarre happens on my palate. Flavor suddenly disappears. There is a split second of weird, inexplicable wateriness, an empty place right where the heart of the flavor should be, followed immediately by a bitter and short-lived aftertaste. I don't understand what causes this, but my consistent complain with Lighthouse is still that it is frustratingly unsatisfying. If somebody would like to explain why this is to me, I'd appreciate it, so please do. (Meanwhile, across the virtual hall here at Voracious, Mr. Mike Seely holds a wholly different opinion on Lighthouse Coffee, and nominated it for one of the "Best of Seattle" categories late last year.)

Coffee aside, though . . . wait. Yeah, I just said that. Coffee aside, Solstice is pretty great. I like the vibe, the stolid nature of all its furniture (no wobbly tables here!), and above all the coordination of rich red and brown with substantive green walls and the juxtaposition of wood with brick. Perhaps I'll pick up a copy of Mark Pendergrast's Uncommon Grounds and set about memorizing the history of coffee, so that I have a reason to hang out here and act studious.

 
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