Imagine a land where you simply cannot order a nonfat vanilla latte--where there's no skim milk, no vanilla syrup, and hell, not really even a latte. Where there's no sugar to dump in your morning coffee. Where the focus is more on the ritual of coffee and the community surrounding it rather than how quickly you can get that much-needed rush of caffeine.
Dystopian cafe run by coffee snobs and terrorists or Euro-style coffeehouse honoring the truest expression of coffee roasting?
Slate Coffee Roasters promises to be the latter, though the restrictions will surely alienate fans of more, shall we say, accommodating cafes. The fledgling business debuted Friday at La Marzocco's Ballard facility--which distributes top-notch espresso machines to the entire U.S. from right here in Seattle--and offered a preview of the sort of beans they'll be roasting soon out of a Central District warehouse and serving at their new cafe set to open in the next couple of months at Sixth and Market in Ballard. While they recognize that some people may be put off by their limited, three-item beverage menu, they're ready to point out that there are plenty of serious coffee connoisseurs who will line up behind them. And they're probably right.Siblings Keenan and Chelsey Walker, along with their mother Lisanne, own the place--Keenan, a disciple of prodigious California-based roaster Willem Boot, is the man behind the machine, and Chelsey is director of retail. She explained that Slate's concept was born out of their family's shared lifelong passion with coffee's daily ritual. They researched, they traveled, they met with farmers. The result is four principles they plan to share through Slate: direct relationships with the people growing the beans; exposure roasting to honor the seasonality and specific differences in beans; honest, innovative brewing; and community established through hospitality and sincere dialogue with customers. "We're not presenting a valedictorian today," Chelsey said. "We're presenting a newborn baby."
Slate's coming out party allowed guests the chance to cup samples of the various coffees that will be offered and try the trio of drinks on their so-called Modern Menu. Worth noting: these are complex coffees roasted, as promised, to keep the integrity of the beans' tropical fruit essence intact. My personal favorite was the Finca La Mula Geisha (translation: a rare coffee varietal from Finca La Mula in Panama), which smelled so like blueberries that the resulting sweetness and acidity was perfectly expected. Slate will be brewing using slow bar techniques like Chemex, AeroPress, and V60, weighing the grounds and water rather than measuring them for maximum consistency. This is one cup of joe for serious coffee geeks.
The cool kids at Slate will order their espresso like they order their whiskey: neat. If you simply must have milk--they apparently weren't going to even offer it, but realized it's a good bridge for seven-pump-mocha junkies being introduced to more refined drinks--you can have two, three, or four ounces added to your espresso . You'll find only whole, non-homogenized, sweet, jersey cow milk, and only from an Othello, WA, dairy called Pure Éire. (They're currently looking for a comparable soy milk, but haven't chosen a brand yet.) To keep with the cocktail theme, all three beverages--the coffee, the espresso, and the espresso with milk--will be served in glass stemware.
Slate will be roasting as soon as their facility is finished. While the cafe is still in the early stages of renovation, they've got a fully equipped Airstream trailer that will be hitting the streets soon and bringing fancy coffee to the masses (follow Slate's Twitter account for location info). Just don't you dare order a venti.