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21 September 2005

thank goodness coffee is gluten-free!

Caffe Fiore, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I live in Seattle, the fair city of evergreen trees, looming mountains, and tremendous food. But when I tell people from other places that I live in Seattle, they always ask me two things: “Doesn’t it rain a lot there?” and “So, do you drink a lot of coffee?”

No, not so much. New York City actually has more inches of rain per year than Seattle. And when was the last time you actually listened to the gentle pattering of rain on the roof? And when was the last time you actually splashed in puddles with utter abandon, like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain? There’s nothing like it. If I lived in a place where the rain was merely sporadic, I’d feel bereft. So it rains, but not as much as the bad press likes to claim.

And coffee? Why yes. Yes I do.

Early in the morning, when I stumble into the kitchen at 6:02 am, the blat of the alarm clock still ringing in my ears, I’m only thinking of one action: flipping the switch of the coffeepot, which I have already filled with water and put in the filter mounded with rich, dark coffee grounds the night before. And when I hear the burbling, the gasp of air, the hiss and sigh, and then I smell that dark, biting euphony—it’s only then that I know I’m going to be able to make it out the door on time. Because before that, I’m in doubt.

Thank goodness for coffee.

I still haven’t become a wine snob--too complicated, too snooty, and too expensive for my taste. But a coffee snob? Definitely. I insist on clean, dark tastes, not a hint of bitterness. Full-bodied, with a resonance that lasts all morning. I don’t like coffee to unnerve me. I don’t want to slurp up an acrid syrup at the bottom of the cup. And I want it to be so strong that I could stand a spoon in it, but so gentle that I could drink more and more of it. No milk--just black. That’s when you know that a coffee really works, when you can drink it black. And on top of that, I want it to be organic and sold under fair trade agreements. I drink enough of it that I want it to be right.

Fortunately, in Seattle, I have my choice. Last year, I was walking to school in the morning, and for some reason, I started counting all the places I passed where I could buy a cup of coffee. It’s a three-mile walk, from the top of Queen Anne hill to the bottom, through downtown and up to Capitol Hill. These are some of the most vital parts of Seattle, where people think of when they talk about Seattle. Can you guess how many of them there were? 62. In three miles, I passed 62 places where I could have bought a cup of coffee. And that didn’t count restaurants. Eight of them were within six blocks of me. I never lack for coffee.

Starbucks isn’t my choice, even though that’s what most people picture when they think of Seattle coffee. But it’s not for me. And it’s not because they’re a giant corporation, taking over the world. When I lived in New York, where coffee was certifiably putrid, I was almost happy to see a Starbucks on nearly every corner. And my dear friend Dorothy, who works at the corporate headquarters, has been teaching me about how much Starbucks gives back to the community. And I appreciate that. No, for me, it comes down to taste. (Doesn’t it always?) To my palate, Starbucks coffee tastes burnt on the tongue. Drip coffee there is acrid and bitter. No thanks.

I buy local, instead.

With all these choices, how do I choose? Well, I have my favorites. Arosa, on Madison, wins my money when I’m teaching, because the friendly Swiss man named Hans who owns the place flashes you a genuine smile when you come in th etiny shop. And he makes his mochas with real Swiss chocolate. I buy organic coffee from PCC and Trader Joe’s. And I love El Diablo coffee shop, on Queen Anne, a Cuban-style shop with cafe con leches, fruity batidos, and caricatures of elongated red devils on the walls. You can find me there often.

But now, if you’re looking for me in a coffee shop, there’s only one place you’ll find me.

organic coffee house

Oh joy! (
she says as she claps her hands There’s an organic coffee house in my neighborhood now. And it happens to be my favorite micro-roast coffee in Seattle: Caffe Fiore.

I stumbled by it on Saturday, stopping by Trader Joe’s on Galer. Wide-open windows, reflecting the blue sky, with blond-wood Adirondack chairs out front, just beckoning me inside. I was intrigued by the organic name. What did that mean?

Inside, burnt sienna walls, with enormous black and white photographs. Dark wooden tables, with comfortable chairs. Beautiful hardwood floors, burnished to the color of a peach pit. Tall, hardwood countertops. An enormous menu behind the bar, lit from within, book-ended by amber stained-glass panels. Clean and wide. Inviting. Spacious. I had to walk in.

Now, I know coffee shops well, and I can size them up just by looking. And this one was going to be good. I stood at the counter, waiting to give my order, just taking it in, slyly grinning a little as I watched the employees smile giant enthusiasms. It was only their second day of business—everyone was excited.

Of course, the display case full of baked goods made me feel a little depressed. My body has come to the point of equanimity: I look at traditional scones and cookies and breads with not a hint of desire. On a visceral level, I’m so aware of how horribly ill gluten makes me that I’m not even interested in it. But what I do often feel, in situations like these, is left out of the choice. Since I was on my way to Trader Joe’s (essentially next door to this shop), I knew I wouldn’t suffer hunger pangs for long. But still, it will be a blessed day when every coffee shop offers gluten-free treats to dunk into my latte.

Still, I adore Caffe Fiore, so I knew the coffee would be good. Roasted in Seattle, in small batches, this coffee plays on the tongue and dances down the gullet. I’ve been drinking it for years, stumbling on it when I first returned to Seattle from New York. Drinking my first cup of it was like hearing small voices singing in my ear: “Welcome back!” And it turns out that the parent of one of my students years ago started the comapny, so sometimes I’d walk into my office, suddenly especially awake, to find a pound of coffee sitting on my desk. Also, Hans the Swiss man uses Fiore in his lovely coffee shop, Arosa. So having a Fiore spot near my home was reason enough to feel happy.

Just as I was ordering my coffee, this man with blond hair like Samson and a direct gaze asked me, “And would you like anything to eat?”

“Ah, thanks, but I can’t,” I said, prepared to go into my little dance. “You see, I can’t eat gluten....”

He rushed around to the back of the display case and grabbed a bar I had overlooked. “This is from Flying Apron. Can you eat this one?”

I nearly fell to the floor. Flying Apron is one of my favorite places in the world, here in Seattle. Started by a father and daughter team several years ago, they began baking vegan treats, almost all of them gluten-free. I’ve shown some of their cupcakes here, in photographs and words. And I need to write about them more fully, a separate time. Suffice it to say that any time I find one of their treats outside of their little corner spot on 50th and University, I’m thrilled to bits.

It turns out that the bar the owner offered me had oats in it, so I couldn’t eat it. But their stock was depleted, since they had been serving grateful customers, surprised to find a new coffee shop in their neighborhood, for two full days. What’s better, however, is that Deming (I quickly learned his name) leaned down over the counter and asked me to explain why I couldn’t eat oats. He already knew about gluten-free treats, but he needed to know which ones I could eat. I told him about celiac disease, the vagaries of eating oats, and the apricot thumbprint cookies. And he knows coffee and customers well, since he was the manager of Uptown Espresso, and then the Caffe Lladro stores before striking out on his own. Rarely has anyone in food service listened so attentively to me before.I left with a foamy latte and a big smile.

I went back tonight, exhilarated after a bike ride, just before they closed. (They’re open from 6 am to 7 pm every night.) Deming recognized me right away, came over to shake my hand, and immediately said, “The apricot thumbprint cookies are on order. They should be here on Friday.” Yeah! But I looked over to see that my second-favorite treat, berry tea cakes, were already in place. Of course I had to have one.

berry cookie

Everything in the shop is organic: the coffee; the whipping cream; the chocolate. Numi teas have a delicate taste, not the pounding-down too much of most American teas. Dagoba chocolates are some of my favorites, especially the lime and cherry, and they’re stamped gluten-free on the back. Even the syrups used to flavor the coffee are gluten-free. Apparently, Monin experimented with making batches of organic syrups, but they didn’t sell because of the extra cost. Deming told me that he found out the stash of organic syrups were sittting in a warehouse in Florida, and he bought up the lot. The milk for the coffee drinks is hormone free, but customers have to ask for the organic because it is quite a bit more expensive. But it’s there, in the refrigerator.

This place excites me. Not only because the coffee tastes damned good and they have gluten-free treats. But also because I believe so deeply in organic foods, in authentic tastes, and in people who start small businesses with the idea that they’d like to do something right in the world.

And it’s ten blocks away from me. The first Fiore coffee shop is in Ballard, and Deming told me that people would drive from Queen Anne just to buy the coffee. Luckily now, I don’t have to make that trek. “This neighborhood feels like it knows good food,” Deming told me. Yes we do. And we’re happy to have this place be our neighbor.

coffee and laptop

So I sat down with a happy sigh, watching the west light arcing down Galer. A gluten-free treat, an intricate leaf arced out in thick foam, and the chance to write. What more does a gluten-free girl need?


At 12:29 AM, Blogger Sculpin said...

So beautiful!

I must put in a plug for my friends at Espresso Ulysses in Belltown. The Ambrosia drink they make there is another thing of beauty. They won't make it to go; it's a drink for sitting down with and sipping mindfully.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger chubbiegirl said...

wow. that picture and description is almost enough to make me wish i liked coffee :). and the fact that you could buy a gluten free treat at a coffee house brings tears to my eyes, literally. a resounding yehaww to the people at cafe fiore.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Beth - The Zen Foodist said...

Your top-down photo of the coffee is stunning. What a beautiful little creamy design!

And I love your ode to coffee. Even though, as you probably know, I've never had a cup of coffee, I can appreciate your passion for it. I feel the same way about Coca-Cola and Red Bull! :)

At 4:59 PM, Blogger michelle said...

How do they make the foam do that? It's awesome. Coffee makes my world go 'round; so I'm glad to hear there are other coffee snobs out there! If you haven't had a chance, check out my entry from sept. 16 - it's just for you.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Kalyn said...

I'm also mad about coffee. Not only is it gluten free, it's also low carb :)

Enjoyed looking around your blog. CookieCrumb told me you're also a teacher. I teach 4th grade by day and blog by night myself.

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Sasha said...

I was never a regular coffee drinker until my trip to Boston in July. Then, I sat at a table with my mom and grandmother for 4 days drinking pot after pot of coffee and talking and listening for the first time in my adult life. I live in Denver, mom in Alaska, grandma in Boston. We don't see each other much. Since I've been back a day hasn't gone by without a cup of coffee. Everytime I smell it wafting up from the cup right before it passes my lips I'm taken back to that table. I wish I could say that I know anything about coffee, or that the quality of it affected my memory recall, but it doesn't. Just the warm cup in my hand and steamy scent in my face is enough.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I've never really been much of a coffee drinker (although not too long ago I tried a frappuccino at starbucks and now end up getting one once a week)

I love the pictures you take!

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Laurel said...

i just discovered Dagoba chocolates this week! i got the milk chocolate and was surprised by its complexity. it's really, really nice.
love the picture of the coffee. i am trying to learn more about coffee, but i do love to drink it.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Stunning rosettes and fruity treats you can actually eat, how sweet for you to find such a place close enough for a walk. Is there a bookstore nearby? That would complete my holy trinity. grin

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Ruth said...

What a beautiful cup of coffee. It brings back memories of visits to Vancouver and Seattle.

I got my first taste of "real" coffee on a visit to Vancouver more than 10 years ago. At that time the only coffee you could get in Toronto was at Tim Hortons (better known for their doughnuts than coffee IMHO)and the small cafes in Little Italy - too far to go for a daily fix.

So when Starbucks arrived here it was a huge improvement. We still haven't reached the "umpteen coffee houses on every street" or people in rapturous discussions about bouquet, out west so I guess it's time for another trip.

Thanks for sharing.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Paul B. said...

Shawna, Your writing alwaysa makes me smile. Amy I just saw Cafe Fiori the other day and now that I know they carry Dagoba chocolates, I must stop in. Thank you Ms. Shawna!

At 9:33 AM, Blogger mrs d said...

Ah, only in Seattle! :-P

We have friends in Capitol Hill and we usually end up at a coffee shop that's (I think) on Pike and Bellevue or thereabouts. Good place to sit and write, though I don't know anything about the treats they serve. Up the street a bit is that great bookstore that's full of cats (and overhead walkways for cats) -- I can't remember the name but it's really cool!

At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Sam! Johnston said...

oh yummmm... coffee...

Hey Shauna! Did you get my e-mail I sent you a few days ago? I hope I didn't type the address wrong...

At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

The bookstore with the cats is Twice Told Tails (I believe that is the correct spelling... it might be Tales though).
Just a note about Deming (the owner of Caffe Fiore)--he's wonderful. And has he told you that he studied acupuncture? He is one of the most truely gifted people I've ever met in terms of making a person feel worthy of being alive. It's so nice to hear that he's opened a second shop. Next time you run into him, jibe him about the acupuncture a bit--maybe ask him if he's got plans to practice, or if he is already :)

At 5:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donna said...
I totally love your blog, I have Celiac and I just found out that the coffee you buy from Dunkin or Gevalia has a hint of gluten - what a scary thing. I have been drinking this coffee and couldn't figure out what was making me feel so foggy and was so bloated. Now I know!! Thanks for your info..

At 1:17 AM, Blogger Ashley Halseth said...

I love the Cafe Fiore on Queen Anne! I worked in a building a block down for almost 2 years and visited almost every day. Such friendly staff and great coffee. I definitely recommend people to visit this cafe.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Rosiecat said...

I know that by blog standards, this post is practically ancient, but I really enjoyed it. There's just something special about coffee shops, those home-away-from-homes, that makes me happy. I feel like this piece really captured that feeling and the joy of having a coffee shop to call your own. I raise my latte in your direction, Shauna! You inspire me.

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How blessed you are a wonderful coffee shop and gluten free treats as well. But even more someone who listens and cares and does what they can to make your world a better place.
Vicki DeVito

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Amaretto said...

Well, I was researching gluten-free foods, because recently I have been diagnosed with an intolerance. Coffee was my first pick, it has always been a love of mine. I knew there was no way I could ever give it up. Starting out black, now to atleast one cappuccino a day (i might drink two), depending on the size. I was sucked right into your blog, it made me crave a hot cup of my favoritee. If only there were an organic coffee place close to me with gluten free treats. I would be in heaven. :]


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