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The Seattle skyline from the ferry between Bainbridge Island and Seattle.

The Idiot’s Guide to Drinking Coffee in Seattle

I am not a coffee drinker. I usually prefer the leaf over the bean.

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Passengers enjoying the Seattle skyline from the ferry.

But when I crossed from Bainbridge Island to Seattle via the ferry (a great way to enter the city, by the way — especially at dusk when the city welcomes you with twinkling lights), I was very damp and very cold.

Seattle was damp and cold too, which meant there was only one thing to do. When in Rome, right?

The next morning I set out of the Sorrento Hotel where I’d stayed and meandered around the Capitol Hill area in search of java aficionados who could point me towards some good coffee houses.

My first friendly tip was Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Co., where the friendly baristas informed me that their specialty is traditional Italian drinks like macchiatos.

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Caffe Vita Coffee Roasters' signature macchiato.

Perfect. I took each sip with a little grimace. It was strong, I knew that much. It was also served in a pretty red cup with one of those cute little froth designs.

I finished it up and moved on, not feeling like I had unlocked the magic appeal of the bean yet.

A friendly patron inside pointed me to the Fremont Coffee Company in the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe.” I wanted to see the Fremont Troll anyway, so boom, off I went.

I visited the Troll who was getting “cleaned” by a group of gals from Green Cleaning Seattle Eco Maid Services. (He was really just being used as a prop for their photo shoot, but he didn’t seem to mind.)

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The Green Cleaning Seattle crew "cleaning" the Fremont Troll.

At the Fremont Coffee Co., I had a latte and splurged on a chocolate biscotti (now we’re talking!).

For me, this was cheating, and made the coffee, well, an aside to the melting chocolatey goodness in my mouth.

I wandered some more, and ran into a kind soul who said I had to check out Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

This suggestion trumped the one by another friendly passerby to see the original Starbucks, so I completed my loop back around to the Capitol Hill area and wandered in to Stumptown buzzing on caffeine.

Brynn and Will greeted me there.

“We specialize in single-cup Chemexes,” Brynn said when I asked about their signature drink.

I had no clue what that meant.

“Do you have cappuccinos?” I asked.

“Yep, we make ‘em with our Hair Bender blend. The first Stumptown was in a converted hair salon in Portland, hence the name,” Brynn said.

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The set up for the cupping at Stumptown in Capitol Hill.

“We actually have a cupping at 3:00 if you want to check that out,” Will offered as I enjoyed my drink, my hand shaking with each lift of the cup.

A cupping? I felt like such a neophyte.

Marcy would be our fearless leader for what I learned was a time-honored tradition.

“We do cuppings here to develop our palates as baristas, so we can recognize flavor profiles and insure consistency,” she began. “That’s why there are three cups of each of the five coffees we will be sampling.”

Then Marcy explained the steps:

  1. Smell each coffee in its dry state
  2. Add boiling water and smell in wet state
  3. Get spoon and break “crust,” scoop escaping aroma towards you*
  4. Take a spoonful from each cup and sip to compare flavors*
  5. Spit out if so desired

(* Do not cross-contaminate spoons. Use new spoons for each cup.)

I followed her directions with the fervor of a religious devotee as we compared the five roasts against themselves and with each other.

When we finished I felt one step closer to unlocking the magic of the bean, but was convinced that the mystical process would take longer than a day.

I also felt light-headed. I’d had my coffee fix for the year.

Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer

Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.