North American West Coast part 3: Chocolate & Coffee

San Francisco
Blue Bottle

One, or rather two, elements have been consistently present in each destination covered in our two weeks West Coast trip. Coffee and chocolate. So I felt they deserved a separate post, especially considering that we visited what is considered the top coffee location in the area, Seattle of course.

Our trip started in San Francisco. Here, amongst the many coffee chains (some better than others such as the local Peet’s coffee) there are plenty of local roasters and, of course, hipsters’ haunts. During my five working days, each morning I would walk in the bright sunshine with a colleague to pick up a flat white or a skinny (actually, low fat) cappuccino from Blue Bottle Coffee, a locally roasted coffee which is as expensive as it is good, albeit with a down-under roast very similar to Taylor Street here in London. 
I did not manage to visit Four Barrel Coffee unfortunately but I did enjoy an Italian coffee at il Fornaio. In Italy this is a long standing chain of bakeries, in the US is a posh bakery and restaurant, with plenty of Italian staff. We visited the San Fran branch on the day the Americans had won the America’s cup and the area was  buzzing. The chef saluted me in Neapolitan slang and I ordered a typically British afternoon cappuccino, which was good and done the Italian way. In the few days we were here we also picked up a few chocolates, as you do. 

Chocolate bounty
Our trips’ chocolate bounty

@bmcboy trekked to the famous Ghirardelli, maybe one of the oldest in town, which he remembered from when he visited years ago. A big brand, its chocolate is still very good and we loved the Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate bar. He also bought a pricy and smart looking box of Tcho (‘new American chocolate’) from their Pier 17 shop and tasting room. The box looks like a box of jewellery, the graphics are attractive and funky and so are the names of the chocolates, the company ethical. Yet the taste was fantastic, with deep, intense hues of the various beans used and the region of provenance. Very nice. 
My colleagues were also helpful in recommending yet another local producer, which has a sales point in the Ferry Building. Recchiuti produces ganaches and pralines and various degrees of dark chocolate. I bought a bar of Dark Milk which was just amazing. A dark, yet sweet and deep chocolate, it went in a heartbeat. This was possibly my favourite choc from California.

 
Seattle & Orcas
Bedlam

We made our way to Seattle and Orcas for the weekend, where we had some interesting experiences. While I obviously had no intention of drinking any of the locally born Starbucks, I still had to – the only choice on a a very rainy and cold morning while waiting to find out if we were going to get to the wedding we had travelled all the way to attend! 

Then, we had a quirky experience in totally grunge coffee shop Bedlam. Funky, recycled and mismatched interior, grunge radio station playing music, media types with laptops and grungy clothes and pink hair, the slowest service ever, made for an interesting break from the pouring rain. My cinnamon swirl toast (which got burned so I waited even longer for the second round) was very good, the coffee was frankly forgettable but definitely the highlight of my Seattle coffee drinking. 
I also did a bit of research and asked for recs from my friend and coffee lover Mulia. I had a macchiato in Seattle Coffee Worksright in the centre of town.
Seattle & Orcas
Seattle Coffee Works

While the place still looks too ‘chainy’ for me, the coffee was actually good, the wifi free and fast and the service very friendly. They have a tasting bar where, if you have time, they’ll do a tasting session explaining all about their roasts, their techniques etc. 

 
On Orcas island I had the weirdest experience of the trip. We went into cosy looking bakery in Eastsound, Brown Bear Bear. Sunday afternoon, it was cold and windy outside so I asked for a giant chocolate muffin (which turned out to be our dinner in the evening) and a white americano. The young lad at the till wasn’t sure what I meant. I said, a white coffee? The woman making the coffee then served me a ‘white chocolate coffee’. I explained I meant a coffee with milk, she got crossed at me but made me a normal coffee with milk. Still no idea what I was supposed to ask for – it might be different ‘name’ in the US but surely it’s not rocket science. A white coffee isn’t a mystery! Or is it?

At our friend’s wedding, the favours each guest received were a very welcome bar of chocolate. Locally produced in Seattle, no GM, ethical chocolate bars from Theo were laid on each guest’s table plate and it was quite fun to spot which bar you had and if you didn’t like the flavour, you’d swap with your neighbour before sitting down for the meal. @bmcboy even traded his (dark choc and almond) for a mint bar with our friend Richard. I was happy with my dark chocolate and orange bar. Both were very good, particularly the mint one which had tiny speckles of crispy mint inside. Incredibly, both bars made it all the way to London before being devoured! The nice story goes that the groom proposed to the bride using Theo’s chocolates, spelling ‘Will you marry me Allison’ with individual chocolates. She used three of them to answer Yes. Super romantic and… sweet, of course. 

Theo chocolates proposal – photo by Mike

The award for worst coffee of the trip surely goes to Amtrak. Their trains are ok but their speed is slower than a snail’s and their restaurant is embarrassing. We were traveling in business class only because it would have got us off the train first and through customs quickly (as they keep you locked in and open one carriage at the time!). With the business class ticket we got a $3 (Wow!) off voucher for breakfast. The coffee was simply disgusting, bland, dark coloured hot water. I took a sip and threw it away. Really embarrassing for a major train company in what is supposed to be a super power.

 
Coffee and chocolate
East Van Roasters

In Vancouver we enjoyed finally the best coffee and some more delicious chocolate. Wandering in Gastown on our first day we came across a series of nice looking coffee shops. Having just had a poor lunch, I was tempted to lift my spirits and went in the one that looked the most attractive. East Van Roasters is a coffee shop with chocolate lab: perfect combination! I then discovered that is also a community non profit project, which employs women from nearby Hotel Rainier, a hostel where women ‘with mental health diagnosis and substance abuse’ get re-homed and trained for employment. The venue is bright, with open view chocolate lab where beans are prepared and roasted. The coffee is very good, again roasted more like the Italian way so smooth and strongly tasting. They offer a ‘tasting flight’ of chocolates for the very reasonable cost of $2.95. I loved the 4 tasting items, particularly a 70% Dominican republic single origin bite. I came back to East Van Roasters on our last day and bought some bars too. Amazing place and a great cause, this was my favourite place of the entire holiday.

East Van Roasters

 

Nearby, I also visited Hipsters coffee place Revolver. Funky murals on the side street, expensive coffee, percolators in sight, aeropress, free wifi and queues for seats it seems the place to be and be seen and was recommended by my coffee fiend @terrone. The coffee was great here too – and again, none of that antipodean bitterness. Smooth taste, frothy top.


Revolver
Revolver
As for more chocolate, we picked up some mass produced items, but still quite unusual. A maple syrup nougat dark chocolate bar which was actually really pleasant and a never seen before, dark chocolate Aero. Not great quality for sure but not bad as a novelty bar!

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  1. Pingback: Mini bites product review - Doisy & Dam chocolates - Pastabites

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