Late in the winter of 1901, a single character made the long, historic journey from Poldhu, England to the shores of St. John's, Newfoundland. It traveled curiously, in the form of three dots, without the aid of any visible transportation: "..." or in Morse code, the letter S -- the first successful transatlantic radio-wave surfer.
Broadcast Coffee logo.
Whether or not there was originally more to the missive (or whether "S" was really all Marconi had to say) is a piece of history that escapes me. Regardless, the long-distance, wireless transmission of anything across empty space (proving the space is anything but empty) is something I find utterly fascinating. I was thinking about the history and development of radio this morning over a mug of El Salvadoran steam at a shop in the Central District called Broadcast Coffee. As someone who majored in music, virtually everything I know about this topic comes from the fact that Gershwin mentioned Marconi in a song once.
Which basically leaves me with nothing but the coffee to talk about.
Broadcast Coffee, on the corner of 20th and East Yesler, is both something new and something old. After months of talking about Broadcast's opening via Twitter, the owners of Soho Coffee closed its doors and, two days later, reopened under a new name. Having never visited Soho as such, I am unable to speak to the transformation, but it appears that both the pastry providers (Macrina and Flying Apron) and the coffee (Stumptown) have remained the same, while the furniture and decor have significantly changed.
Small tables line the sides of the room, and one long community table sits in the center. It is busy, but not loud, and traffic flows to and from the bar at a comfortable rate that never quite seems to generate a waiting line. The baristas are mild-mannered and accommodating; they seem proud of their coffee offerings, without being immediately determined to impart all the reasons why to their customer base. The offerings are unassuming, and the cafe's atmosphere is extremely casual and comfortable.
I order espresso out of habit, and a pour-over cup of El Salvador Los Caleros on recommendation.
The espresso, for Stumptown, seems as if it may have been pulled at too high a temperature: very faintly singed, but not fully developed in flavor. The burnt notes are more subtle than unpleasant, but highlighted by thin texture. Espresso like this makes me feel intensely picky for criticizing its imperfections... like the proverbial mother-in-law of coffee shops everywhere. There is nothing wrong with the coffee. It just isn't perfect for you.
Meanwhile, in a similar vein and combined with the Broadcast theme, the El Salvador is the coffee responsible for musing over Marconi's early precursor to international text messaging. This coffee wants to mean something. It has things to say, about its homeland and history, its limestone-rich growing region, the families who own the farms where it is grown, and the Salvadoran tradition of spreading the washed coffee, still in its parchment, across adobe patios to dry carefully in the sun. But somewhere, today, the bulk of that message was lost in the infant stages of broadcasting, and the result is one admirable, clear, victorious, but ultimately lonely sibilant.
And yet there is promise. Even as that first transatlantic letter was but the first of many successful sentences, this coffee Broadcast hints at greater things to come for the developing coffee culture of Seattle's Central District.
Keep an eye on Broadcast Coffee, and don't be (as Gershwin warned) one of those doubters who "all laughed at" ideas of potential and progress.