Some days, I confess that I feel very Northwestern. Most days, I suppose. But some days, more so than others. Take yesterday, for example. It snowed. While everyone else was panicking about it, I was hopping in my Subaru and heading off to find any coffee shop situated on a decent hill. Snow is great. Snow is fun. And driving down snowy hills in an all-wheel-drive vehicle produces an obnoxious feeling of superiority.
Of course, when looking for hills in Seattle, one doesn't necessarily need to look far. But for hills and coffee at the same time, the Phinney Ridge neighborhood is an excellent bet. I ended up at Cafe Bambino, most of the way down 65th, ordering an Americano and trying to determine whose coffee they were serving.
Perhaps it is also linked to a particularly Northwestern mindset, but I fail to understand importing coffee as a selling point. Sure, it may have been roasted in an important country, but... why? My shoes may have been manufactured in Italy, but that won't make them more functional.
Cafe Bambino serves Berardo Caffe, a comparatively heavy-handed, Italy-roasted coffee which they receive in shipments arriving every couple of weeks. The bags are for the Suprema Blend, a mix "mainly" of Arabica beans from Brazil and Central America. What exactly "mainly" means is not explained on the bag, or the website information provided by Berardo. In fact, while I've grown accustomed to images of coffee farms and farming families on many websites, Berardo Caffe provides an image of a scantily clad model, showcasing a bag of beans.
It is a notable reminder that the coffee culture which grew out of societal craving for the rich and exotic stuff of legends - the scintillating, stimulating, sexy draw of something with invisible origin, where realities of all the work, grime, hardship and abuse that produced it can simply be forgotten - is a culture that is still alive and well. And rampant (both with regard to coffee and beyond), when you pause to look for it.
Cafe Bambino is nothing particularly sexy or exotic, in and of itself. It is perched just between Phinney Ridge and Ballard, on a few blocks of street populated by small restaurants and shops. Locals frequent it, and even in the snow, there are people drifting in and out of the tiny location. It isn't a place to stay, so much as a place to drop by. But the coffee is all that really catches my attention.
Not to put too fine a point on the matter, I dislike the roast intensely. It is bitter and strident and tarry, woody and heavy and dark. The sensation of flavor is so intense it crisscrosses with texture in my brain, and even though the texture is normal to a cup of coffee, makes me wish I had a spoon to eat it with. I add more cream and sugar than usual. And I wonder, where are the beans from? What is their story? How were they grown? How were they processed? How were they roasted? How old are they? Are they a blend of Arabica and Robusta? Were they grown and acquired fairly? Has the barista done them justice, or not?
I ask about the coffee, and the barista informs me that the coffee is special. It is imported from Italy. I want to ask why. I want to know why it isn't imported from down the street; we live in a city full of small roasters trying to make successes out of small businesses. I'm Italian, and I get that Italy is awesome. But why import a product that has a shorter optimal use window than it takes to get through customs, when you have good coffee being roasted right next door?
Hm. Small business, Fair Trade, Local Roasters, and a Subaru... Yes, today is definitely a Northwest kind of day.
Cafe Bambino is locaed at 405 NW 65th St in Ballard, and open daily until 6:00 pm.