Wherever you live, you're likely used to the stereotypical questions that come from others upon hearing where you live. Live in Atlanta? "How about that heat?" Maine? "How's the lobstah?" Denver? "Do you ski?"
Seattle, comes with more than a few stereotypes. The first question after "So, you don't mind the rain?" is usually, "Gee, but you guys have some great coffee, huh?"
Stereotypes are rooted in truth. It cannot be disputed that it rains here with some frequency. But stereotypes are also oversimplifications, so it won't surprise you to hear that while it rains, you rarely need an umbrella.
Similarly, the coffee stereotype is something that amuses me to no end. I find it hard to believe Seattle is any more caffeine-addled than other U.S. cities. And while there may be a coffee shop on every corner, it's not so dissimilar to New York, Chicago or any other major city when it's usually a Starbucks on every block.
We do have our coffee fanatics. I have a coworker that can expound for hours on the virtues of vacuum coffee presses. While that isn't my cup of Joe, it illustrates that coffee is treated by many as something more like wine. People who enjoy subtle differences in flavors and so forth.
I don't think that's only a Seattle thing, though I think we have Seattle-based Starbucks to blame (and, if you like coffee, thank) for taking to the masses. It's nearly impossible to imagine a nation where the only choice is to grab a can of Folgers and brew it up.
I am surprised, though, as more and more people have started to prefer "artisan" coffee that the bulk of the country seems to start and end with Starbucks as the go-to coffee of choice. I realize it may be a convenience since you cannot throw a rock without hitting at least one Starbucks.
I have noticed here in Seattle that many people have taken to the Third Wave for choosing their coffees. Essentially, this is an effort to appeal to sustainably farmed and traded high quality coffee that comes in smaller batches.
I realize that not everyone wants a "gourmet" cup of coffee and, to be honest, I'll be the first one to grab a cup of gas station coffee on a road trip. So please don't read this as snobbery as much as this: if you're willing to pay Starbucks prices, why not try some others that might surprise you. Some suggestions:
Stumptown Coffee Roasters - They do not, from what I can tell, have Internet retailing, but if you live in Seattle, Portland or (for real) New York City, you can get your hands on it. Honestly, if you're a Starbucks fan, this is the one to take the Pepsi Challenge with. The grocery store across the street from me carries most of their wares and I have yet to try any of their stuff and not enjoy it.
Middle Fork Roasters - While Stumptown is based in Portland, OR, Middle Fork is right here in Seattle. A smaller operation, but they do have online retail. I've been drinking the Middle Fork Blend pretty frequently. This is coffee for coffee's sake. They don't have a coffeehouse that I know of in town. No one selling you CDs or travel mugs. Just coffee to drink.
Blue Bottle Coffee - Based in Oakland, CA, this might be the best of all of these. If you're not in The San Francisco Bay Area or New York, you will not find a retail location, though they do have online ordering. I recommend the Chiapas blend, which doesn't seem to be on the site at the moment (the Oaxaca sounds like it's reasonably similar). My wife and I had a friend in from Dallas who is a coffee fan and she not only burned through our bag of Chiapas, she went home and ordered a bunch more.
Holualoa Kona Coffee Company - OK, this one is more expensive. The official growing area for Kona coffee is about 40 square miles. Most often you will see Kona blends which will be a small amount of coffee from Kona with mostly stuff from Latin America. But if you want a cup of American grown and roasted coffee, you need 100% Kona beans. Maui makes some coffee, too, but from what I can gather, Kona is the more sought-after stuff. It is incredibly smooth, but because of the small growing area, it is virtually impossible to produce in quantities large enough for major coffee roasters (e.g. Starbucks). That also makes it expensive. But hey... if you like coffee, you almost owe it to yourself to try. I toured this plantation and sampled their coffees. All were great and, the small operations of the plantation let you get close to the action. I'm sure other Kona roasters offer similar experiences, so check them out. And, like I said... you're supporting the good ol' USA when you buy.
Any suggestions you have? I love try new ones...