Three Reviews of Seattle Cafes

I have visited an handful of cafes in Seattle so far, and I think it might be worth my time to give you the lowdown of some of the ones I like and dislike.

Ghost Note Coffee (Bellevue Ave)

[A good spot to work despite its confusing twists on traditional coffee.]

This is a relatively new spot that has only been open for a couple months. The cafe is a triumph in interior design and serves mediocre coffee in such a stylish way I don’t even care if it tastes horrible. And some of the coffee does indeed taste horrible. The cafe brews iced coffee to order (something I’ve never experienced before) which results in a grainy, bitter, barely palatable beverage. The espresso experience is fine (probably because they aren’t taking artistic liberties with the process), so I usually get a shot and work in the corner near the restrooms. The cafe is excellent for work and study. This, I am convinced, is the primary focus of the cafe. Outlets are aplenty, seating is everywhere. The walls are lined with long tables and I have spent a good two hours working on projects here. The color scheme of the cafe is a pleasant aquamarine paired with white, and it even makes you feel more productive just by stepping in. Tidy, clean, and all around a great experience as long as you avoid their iced coffee experiment.

Elm Street Coffee Roasters (2nd Ave)

[An impersonal, high-end cafe that offers a quality espresso experience.]

With an interior design scheme straight out of a Kinfolk Magazine, it’s hard to feel terribly comfortable at Elm Street. Unlike Ghost Note, they definitely take pride in their coffee products, and I have had pleasant espresso experiences here almost every time. I find the espresso light, complex, and smooth. It’s hard to say too much about a cafe that is consistent and has provided what you expect from a third-wave cafe: good coffee. The atmosphere is professional, delicate, and stark, so it’s a good place to sit for a professional chat and less ideal for working. My favorite spot to sit is along the bar, though that’s probably because I’m either typing, reading, or standing for a moment while having a quick drink. The tables are low and there are nooks and booths to recline in, and I find that the angular design invites semi-formal interactions.

Porchlight Coffee & Records (14th Ave)

[A delightful cafe/record store with a calm and creative atmosphere.] 

IMG_0310

Porchlight is the most charming cafe I have visited in Seattle yet. First, the customer service was noticeably excellent. My barista was friendly, personable, and made me feel welcome the entire time I was at the cafe. I got an espresso and a muffin, served on a yellow food tray like the kind you would find in a school cafeteria. While I read and worked on my muffin, several people came in and announced to the barista that they were look for some records. In the back of the store is a small vinyl collection, which adds to the atmosphere and fondly reminds me of my favorite cafe in the world, Courier Coffee in Portland, Oregon. This cafe was clean, cozy, and cultivated a unique feeling that I will definitely want to return to. When I look for a cafe, I look for spots that take pride in their product, and Porchlight’s product is its coffee experience. 

Advertisements

My First Taste of the Coding Interview

Over dinner, I spoke with my close friends Zac and Elliott about what my next steps should be if I want to break into a software development job. “First, buy Cracking The Code Interview,” said Zac, “and just read the whole thing.” I immediately took his advice, and the next morning I walked to the closest bookstore and bought the Cracking The Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. While at the store, I picked up an Arduino Starter Kit as a fun way to apply some of the stuff I’ve been learning.

FullSizeRender (1)

“When I first started on the problems in Cracking The Code Interview, I spent a lot of time banging my head against a wall,” Elliott told me. Zac chimed in “But it’s just practice.” My friends explained that if I spent a little bit of time working on code problems in the book, I would become familiar with more complex problems than the ones I am currently solving. “It’s all about putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Part of being a software developer is dealing with problems that you have no idea how to solve,” said Elliott.

After dinner, we drove back home and I flipped through Cracking The Code Interview. Suddenly, Elliott slapped down a stack of papers and a red Sharpie in front of me. “We’re going to solve some problems,” he said. We picked two questions (ranked “easy” on leetcode.com) and Elliott had me talk through the problems and tell him how I would solve them. A couple times I offered solutions using JavaScript methods and he laughed. “I want you to solve this with math,” he told me. I got a crash course in modulus operators and common pitfalls from dealing with loops and arrays. I lost track of time, but we probably worked on the problems for more than an hour.

“I threw a lot of stuff at you but you handled it well,” said Elliott, swirling a glass of wine. “When I was preparing for my interview, the first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was answer code questions. I had to be ready to solve complex challenges under any circumstances, so my mom would ask me stuff from Cracking The Code Interview at random times.”

FullSizeRender

This kind of training and diligence thrills me. I remember watching the movie Somm and hearing something like this: There are some people who hear about difficult tasks and think “wow that’s really incredible” and others who hear the same thing and think “I want to do that.” I definitely fall into the latter category. Zac told me he felt similarly, that always when someone tells him about something that was really difficult, he immediately wants to try it to see if he can go about it in a smarter way.

A lot of getting good at anything is just training, so today I’m putting in the time to get through Cracking The Code Interview while getting my feet wet with Java. It really helps, though, to have such a supportive friend group. I told Elliott that helping me solve problems on paper felt really useful. “Anytime. Not literally,” he said,  before shutting the door.

My First Year of JavaScript

I’ve spent about a year taking online courses with Treehouse (teamtreehouse.com) in order to break into computer programming. It’s been a ride, and I’ve met a ton of interesting people along the way. I suspect that there might be a lot of people in my position, people who have realized that their retail jobs will soon become obsolete and that a functional understanding of computers and code is necessary in order to be a human in the coming years. So, I would like to share what I’ve learned (and what I’m learning) in my forays into tech in order to inspire my peers, or at least make them feel less alone.

I chose JavaScript because it seemed to have a large fan-base. In Portland, Oregon, I had friends who connected me with JavaScript meetups and opportunities to learn the potential of what was possible with the language. On Treehouse, the JavaScript teachers also seemed SUPER excited about JavaScript (Dave McFarland almost leaps over his desk to tell you how excited he is to teach you JavaScript). With such an enthusiastic community, how could I not get started?

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 3.44.05 PM

Serious face and Treehouse stats.

JavaScript is a programming language mainly used to make stuff that you see in your web browser. It allows you to make animate, direct traffic, create tools, and much more. The terrain for what is possible with JavaScript is vast and growing, and a lot of what I have been looking into recently has included using JavaScript to write programs for internet-connected devices like the Amazon Echo, or even for Arduinos. Most of my coursework has been focused on making “dynamic web pages”, which basically means websites that you can actually use to do things as opposed to just reading them. For example, you could use JavaScript to make a website that keeps your shopping list, or turns music into animations, or generates random movie-plots.

The movie-plot idea was one of my first projects in JavaScript. It is based on a book that I encountered at Powell’s, which kind of resembled those books where you can change the head, torso, and legs of a monster by turning the pages. I wanted to make a program that created random, silly treatments for movies. And lo! I did.

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 3.30.29 PM

This is the kind of stuff my computer spits out when I run the program.

This is pretty rudimentary, but I’m still proud of it and it was one of the first projects that I followed from inception to completion. I’ve created a lot more since this first one, but we’ll save those for future blog posts. What I’ve noticed is that when you’re starting out with programming, you will often put in a heroic amount of effort to produce something that seems, on the surface, unimpressive. However, take your victories and roll with them, because the more you do the unimpressive things the more you will learn to make stuff that is useful.

Should Your Life Be a Sitcom?

“This should be a sitcom,” is something I hear often among my friends. Usually we are sitting in the living room of someone’s apartment, having beers and discussing hijinks that we experienced during the day. “Why isn’t this a TV show?” and “We could totally be a TV series” are other iterations of the same idea, that our lives are so unique and entertaining that we could be the next “Friends” or “Girls” or “Seinfeld”.

If this is a thought that is going through your mind, as exciting as it is, your life probably doesn’t have be a sitcom and you don’t really need to shop around the details for a deal with Netflix. For the majority of us, once our lives have hit sitcom-hilarity levels, this means your life is interesting enough that you are generally pleased with the amount of mayhem going on. It is so interesting and funny that it resembles shows that attempt to capture that exact feeling of life-absurdity.

IMG_0270

Assorted goofin’ from my life in 2017. 

My general feeling about mainstream art is that it exists to fulfill a spiritual deficit. We watch sitcoms for comfort and also to be distracted from our own lives which can often be very, very boring. “The Office” managed to heighten the deadening 9 to 5 tedium of cubicle work into a hilarious and emotional roller-coaster, in a way that was relatable but also completely absurd. “30 Rock” gave me a peek into the world of being a writer in New York. “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” satisfied my desire to occasionally be pieces of shit, when my day-to-day lifestyle demanded composure and manners.

Television brings color to otherwise dead moments. We all have our own little prisons that prevent us from feeling alive. It can be responsibility, fear, financial limitations, etc., but through the lens of art we dream for a moment that the stakes and circumstances have changed. But, what happens when we have reached the point where we don’t even need television to reach the baseline comfort and hilarity of a sitcom? For me, it is a form of accomplishment. When I have the thought “This could be a sitcom,” I feel blessed to be living a life that is so entertaining that I would watch it in my free time.

Right now I am sleeping on a friend’s couch, struggling to pull my life together. One of my housemates is juggling workplace romances and another is preparing for doomsday. We spend our afternoons drinking La Croix and watching cars fuck each other up with poor parking maneuvers. A steady rotation of friends filter through with cookies and beer and stories. Our lives are filled with a number of events, tragedies, celebrations, heartbreaks, and hopes. It feels so riveting to be a part of it. So when someone, gasping with laughter, asks “Why aren’t we a sitcom?” the answer is that we don’t even have to be.

“Rick & Morty” & When to Give a Shit

I drove up to Seattle to hang out with my friend Elliott who is also a huge “Rick & Morty” fan. We’re having a little viewing party at his apartment, at which we will watch the already-released Season 3 Episode 1 “Rickshank Redemption” along with the newly released SE3EP2 “Rickmancing The Stone.”

I’ve hit the point where my fandom of “Rick & Morty” has hit peak obsessional levels. This isn’t strange for me, because I have a historically obsessive personality type. In the past couple years, I have gone off the deep end in my obsession with animated TV in general (“Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” rank in the same tier as “Rick & Morty” for me of exceptional animated content). I also am a lifelong Asher Roth fanboy (no one else shares this obsession) and an insufferable coffee nerd. I usually fall into hobbies that eventually become all-consuming, and this is exactly how I like existing. Everything becomes dizzyingly interesting the more you stare at it.

The #1 draw of “Rick & Morty” is Rick Sanchez, the titular main character of the show. He is a burping, alcoholic genius with absolutely no tact and only some fleeting moments of empathy. I love Rick because he doesn’t give a shit and he doesn’t really have to because of how intelligent he is. “Listen, I’m not the nicest guy in the universe, because I’m the smartest. And being nice is something stupid people would do to hedge their bets,” he says in SE3EP1. This is the appeal of Rick and characters like him (e.g. Tony Stark), who have the power to say whatever they want simply because they know best.

rickwedding

SE3EP1 The Rickshank Redemption

I don’t believe that being intelligent means that you have to be cynical and mean. Becoming truly smart means being able to inspire your friends to live instead of pounding them into the ground and best-ing them with your own knowledge. However, in my life, there is always someone who is smarter than me within rock-throwing distance, so I know that I am definitely nice to “hedge my bets.” Watching Rick heavy-handedly shut people down is thrilling because he wields an ultimate intelligence that I definitely crave.

I work a retail job where I have to embrace a “customer is always right” mindset. There is a way to artfully and tastefully embrace this kind of thinking, but recently I find it difficult to indulge customers who are rude, pretentious, or wrong.  I need money, though, so I indulge them. I am told that this is to be expected across the board as far as jobs go. It’s all ass-kissing, whether you’re a professor, a barista, or a web developer. We all need something, so we’re going to kiss some ass to get what we need. Rick breaks free from this human-centipede of ass-kissing, and it makes watching him and his antics extremely addicting.

There are people that I meet in my life that I just happen to like without having to try too hard (like, for instance, Elliott). I would say that I like 20% of the amount of people I interact with daily, including friends, strangers, and family,  Sure, I have a general love and appreciation for humanity blah blah blah, but only 20% of my social sphere include people I would happily do favors for simply because I like that they exist.

“Rick & Morty” makes me contemplate the things like this, the things I should actually give a shit about. It allows me to zoom out and think about my relative insignificance, and in turn the relative insignificance of my problems. Rick acknowledges the triviality of our mundane, human, and planetary woes. In the end it allows me to enjoy the people and things I like much more fully, because how rare is that? To find something worth loving in this shit-storm of matter and energy?

I am super stoked about the premiere of SE3EP2 tonight. It’s 22 minutes of animated television, but it satisfies an almost spiritual need to see someone bring some much-needed perspective to the human race, myself included.

Kid Cudi Was 2009’s Elliott Smith

If you were a boy in high school around the time Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon: The End of Day” studio album was released, odds are you had at least heard of it. Through conversations with my friends and strangers, “Man On The Moon” can be considered one of the best and most revered albums of my generation, for the same reason so many people liked Elliott Smith.

For those of you who don’t know, Kid Cudi is a rapper from Cleveland, Ohio who specialized in the budding genre of alt-hip-hop and trip-hop, music characterized by minor-key melodies with a psychedelic lilt. In 2008 Kanye West signed Cudi onto the GOOD Music record label, through which Kid Cudi created the album “Man On The Moon.”

man-on-the-moon

Man On The Moon: The End of Day album cover.

The album is thick with synth, guitar, and electronic sounds underneath Cudi’s deep and resonant singing voice. Unlike other rappers, Cudi opts to sing-rap many of his verses, similar to the style that artists like Future and Young Thug have adapted. One of the most prominent singles from the album, “Day & Night”, is sung and rapped over sci-fi-like beeps and boops, immediately announcing Cudi’s style and normalizing the genre.

“Day & Night” is a song about being a “lonely stoner”. The speaker is a loser. He stresses out about nothing, he isn’t very popular, and he opts to be “Mr. Solo Dolo,” a character who wanders through life a little bit stoned, in both daytime and nighttime. This somber tone permeates a lot of Cudi’s music. Some speculate that the sadness comes from the death of his father when Cudi was eleven years old, but it’s hard to say for sure. Through the rest of the album, we hear slow, introspective songs that explore the speaker’s pain and loneliness through the powerful and adrenaline-inducing lens of hip-hop.

The album received three Grammy-Award nominations, and was considered by critics to be the best and most innovative album of the year. When I bring up the album in conversation today, people (many of them men) around my age will have their eyes glaze over as they remember how great it was to listen to that album in their adolescence. There are many reasons why I love the album, but I think a huge part of why the album succeeded and still is remembered with almost religious reverence is because it made sadness an acceptable and low-key “cool” emotion for young men to feel.

While Elliott Smith had previously been the favorite “sad-boy” pied-piper*, Kid Cudi filled the spot for a new generation of kids raised on hip hop and rock. Not only did Kid Cudi merge the two genres, but he also catered to both audiences of boys and their cusping manhood who suddenly saw for the first time that rappers can wear sadness in an acceptable way. I clutched to Kid Cudi for this. “Man On The Moon” was the soundtrack to my own high-school loneliness. It made me feel like I was in cool company even if I felt like shit.

 

Unlike like “Creep” by Radiohead, which feels masturbatory in its self-pity, Kid Cudi made it feel possible to still have a good time while being a misfit. Songs like “Make Her Say” and “Pursuit Of Happiness” are cool to listen to. The music creates power in sadness rather than digging deeper into the hole of misery.

It is my opinion that “Man On The Moon” was the peak of Kid Cudi’s career. His albums afterward failed to produce anything innovative or listenable, and so I fell out of touch with the artist. But last night I was chatting with friends and I decided that if I could go back in time and see any musician perform any tour, I would see Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon” Tour, because of how much that album opened up my emotional life, and for how it influenced my hip hop taste from then onward.


* I only learned about Elliott Smith after encountering a reference in “Rick & Morty” SE2 EP7 “Big Trouble In Little Sanchez”, in which Tiny Rick is brought to his senses by an Elliott Smith song. My girlfriend laughed and told me “Yeah, I remember every high-school sad-boy loved Elliott Smith”, a statement which got me thinking about sad-boys in general.

Starbucks vs. Third Wave Coffee

This is how it was explained to me at my first higher-end coffee job: First-wave coffee was Maxwell House and Folgers. Second-wave coffee includes Starbucks and Peet’s. Third-wave ushers in craft roasters who focus on farm-to-mug fair-trade practices.

As I get more involved in the coffee scene, the information gets a little dizzying. There is so much to pay attention to when drinking a cup of coffee that people have started likening the experience to drinking wine. And it’s not too different, considering the time, care, and thought that goes into making both of these beverages. As a coffee-hobbyist, I often encounter the problem of redefining coffee in terms that do not align with Starbucks’ mission. Executive Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, made clear that his goal was to bring the Italian coffee experience to the United States. This also meant tweaking coffee recipes to match the American palate, which (in general) leans towards extremes in all directions.

I’ve seen a shift in public perception of coffee, where more people express that they believe third-wave coffee is “better than Starbucks”. In my previous cafe jobs, customers often will utter the name Starbucks in hushed voices, as to not offend the baristas. Honestly, no one really cares whether you talk about Starbucks in a third-wave cafe, and it’s hard not to anyway. Starbucks revolutionized the cafe experience and laid the groundwork for third-wave coffee to exist. It also created some odd trends in how Americans expect coffee to be served.

I don’t care too much about how you like your coffee. People have different palates, and I respect that some people can find as much joy in a frappe as I find in an Americano. While doing a coffee tour in Seattle, my travel partner remarked that coffee-drinkers are “willingly consuming a product that tastes like ass”. I’m fine with that. The problem is when people enter a third wave cafe expecting a Starbucks experience. Many third-wave cafes do not serve any kind of blended drink at all. They do not measure sweetness with “pumps” and drinks do not come in “venti” sizes.

jesse-orrico-74651

Baristas still face these misconceptions, just because Starbucks is considered the United States coffee standard. It’s the middle ground between garbage coffee and great coffee, and it’s a metric that everyone can use to gauge their coffee experience. I believe that this needs to change. I think there is a huge audience of people who want to learn more about coffee (myself included), which would ease the third-wave cafe experience and, in my opinion, heighten our capacity to enjoy coffee.

Stumptown Coffee and Blue Bottle Roasters offer public coffee cuppings, or tastings, to explain their product, process, and practices. In Portland, you can take walking tours of different cafes in order to get a feel for what coffee culture is like in the city. Roasters and baristas want to share information about why coffee is so interesting and how it is changing, and these resources are a great start. But it shouldn’t stop here. More tools and resources, whether it be classes, websites, or books, are needed to bridge the gap to bring the third-wave coffee movement to a wider audience.