On the counter of the Phinney Ridge cafe, Fresh Flours, there is a sign stating a detailed apology for a recent hike in coffee prices. Brightly colored cookies, neatly packaged pastries, and a festive baking atmosphere surround it, but there, by the espresso machine, it stands as a reminder that coffee is subject to the same economic and environmental instability as every other commodity.
An article appearing in the online Coffee Club publication last week relates the increase in demand for coffee "stretchers" such as chicory. And while I can't think of a single place in Seattle where such a phenomenon can be experienced, it is still common practice within the southern U.S. and several cultures internationally. At least one chicory-growing company in India, for example, reports a 25% increase in sales in the past year, largely attributed to coffee.
Meanwhile I, Seattlelite that I am, had to look up what chicory even was.
Chicory, it turns out, is a beautiful family of weedy plants which produce blue, daisy-esque flowers when in flowering form, and useful things like endive when in leaf form. Livestock snack on it for benefits such as its anti-parasitic properties, and people long ago discovered that its roots could be roasted, ground, and mixed into powdered coffee as a way of doubling the number of cups one bag of coffee beans could brew.
At Fresh Flours, however, you won't find chicory coffee; you'll find Stumptown, and a sign explaining why your coffee suddenly costs $0.10 more than it did last month. A situation I personally found amusing since I'd actually spent $0.18 even more, earlier in the same day, for exactly the same drink elsewhere. It made me realize how often I fail to observe what coffee costs at store levels, even though I go out of my way to pay attention to the rise and fall of green coffee prices.
Stumptown Coffee at Fresh Flours cafe is fine, but not fantastic. The Americano served to me lacked nuance, possessing a distinctly restaurant-style "black coffee" flavor, without the usual spectrum of subtle, accompanying notes. As coffee production is stumbling to keep up with coffee demand, focus on quality becomes increasingly relevant every step of the coffee-making process. Asking people to spend more for a better product is far easier to do than asking people to spend more for either the same product or a slightly less satisfactory one.
I never tried the coffee at Fresh Flours when it was $0.10 cheaper than it is now, and perhaps quality has (or perhaps hasn't) markedly improved. Certainly, the coffee remains competitively priced, and the rising price of green coffee both explains and justifies the rising price of my end-product Americano. So I'm not complaining about that. But as long I have to pay more for my coffee, I would actually rather pay more for better coffee, if at all possible. Fresh Flours, while absolutely adorable and friendly as an establishment, is simply not brewing the best Stumptown in Seattle.
I hear their pastry selection is delightful, however. So if you're looking for a local bakery, uniquely influenced by Japanese heritage, Fresh Flours in either Phinney Ridge or Ballard is the place to be! Look here for the address and hours of each location.