Why do you latte when you could espresso? The coffee-based tasting flights at Slate Coffee Roasters in Ballard help you think more deeply about your drink. This is not the coffee shop for lingering all day on your laptop—there are few seats in the spare, modern space. Nor is it the place for quick-caffeination on the way to work—the individually poured coffees and pulled espressos are made slowly and carefully. First, though, there’s the equally lengthy process of ordering.
If you haven’t had your morning coffee yet, Slate’s offerings can be confusing. Asking for the hand brewed coffee opens a box of explanation worms, which, post-coffee, are fascinating: poetic waxings on beans from Brazil or aromas in the latest Ethiopian variety flow from the barista like water from a kettle. Choosing the tasting flight is no simple task—tasting espressos or coffees? Bean varieties or pour techniques? The options are overwhelming, but one thing is consistent throughout every brew served here: it’s all about the coffee.
Ask for milk or cream in your coffee and face the desperate pleas of the barista to taste his craft first, before reaching for the milk. He’s right; few people feel the need to alter the flavor of the articulate, nuanced drink, a product of both bean selection and brewing method. Those that don’t do without dairy aren’t out of luck—it’s welcomed in the espresso drinks on the menu, which are given equal attention. The wine glasses in which espresso drinks are served at Slate simultaneously offer a sign of respect for the drink and highlight the absurd, Portlandia-esque obsessiveness of the shop.
Not all obsession is genius, but the deconstructed espresso offered at Slate wouldn’t have an issue joining MENSA. The trio of wine glasses offers straight espresso, steamed milk, and a latte. The barista walks each customer through the sequence, encouraging him or her to explore the changes from one sip to the next. For anyone who ever wondered why the latte works so well as a drink, this is the answer, in liquid form. That’s what Slate does—makes drinkers use their brains, first to choose the coffee, then to drink it.
Slate asks a lot of its customer, though, to spend so much focus on a drink that for many is simply a coping mechanism to make it through the morning. Slate gives Seattleites the chance to choose the cutting-edge of coffee, but that cutting edge, as always hurts a bit—it’s no comfy chair and easy-listening music.