Empire (Espresso Bar) State of Mind

World Cup is no small matter here.
Columbia City is one of those rare neighborhoods which visiting always makes me want to purchase a fantastic, historic house and renovate it. While this would be an incredibly impractical and, let's face it, bad decision on my part, considering that I have zero skills in anything related to renovating houses, the urge still surfaces. Most likely because it would be awfully fun to outfit a home with acquisitions from Columbia City's abundance of unique import, specialty, consignment, and discount shops.

On this particular rainy afternoon, however, I am not shopping for furniture, but for coffee. And naturally that means looking for a space to sit at Empire Espresso. Fortunately, there was exactly one seat open when I arrived, and the barista who could see both it and me took time out from what he was doing in order to introduce us. I was particularly grateful for the gesture today, since the shop itself had proved an irritating adventure to find with my smartphone (using the expression loosely), filling in "state of mind" every single time I typed "empire" into the search bar.

As one of the few independent coffee shops in this area of town, Empire has gained a loyal following in its two years of business, and the narrow room is packed to overflowing with students and friends. On a sunny day, the room could be extended via garage-door with some patio seating, but not today. Regardless, the atmosphere is both hospitable and industrious; all-around pleasant for somebody who is beginning (to consider beginning) to feel nostalgic about the good ol' college days.

Aside from coffee, Empire also does waffles. In fact, it's debatable which they're better known for. The A-frame outside their store actually has more information about waffles than about coffee. Inside the store, the "Waffles" chalkboard is both extensive and creative, with sweet and savory options that you'd expect to find on a really good crêpe menu. Consequently, the element most distracting to an otherwise studious atmosphere comes in the form of a hunger-inducing waffle scent wafting through the room.

Here the baristas are unpretentious, ready to explain what their menu offers and what they do to anyone who asks, realizing that--even in this coffee-centric city--they operate in a community yet to be inundated with cafes. Overall, this affects the atmosphere positively, if perhaps still having a slightly negative effect on the consistency of the coffee; my Americano seemed subtly roasty to start, but also overextracted, giving it a tannic quality that overrode the sweeter, underlying promise of blackberries. On the other hand, the shot of single-origin espresso that I tried (currently a peaberry from Brazil, according to its label) was beautiful: mellow and well-executed, characterized by a light citrus sweetness and hints of crystallized ginger. For the coffee drinker who doesn't drink straight espresso, this sort of single-origin would be an ideal introduction.

Other than espresso, Empire also offers several options like French press or pour-over, all from Seattle Coffee Works. The single-origin changes often, but they stick to the Seattle Space blend for all their standard espresso drinks. And of course, since dinner waffles are inherently better with beer, they have a rotating menu of beer and wine in the shop as well.

Need more information, or pictures of latte and food art to convince you to visit? You can find it all on their blog at empirespressobar.blogspot.com.

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