February 21, 2011

Going Back to Pike's Place

Memory is a funny thing, and not terribly accurate. Taste, being such an in-the-moment sensation, is perhaps especially difficult to recall. You might remember a feeling of a sensation, or perhaps the broader context, but specific flavor notes vanish.

I remember not caring much for Pike's Place Roast, the default house coffee served and Starbucks cafes everywhere. Certainly, I had my share, working as I did with the stuff for somewhere close to a year. So when I ventured in to a Starbucks recently (certainly not looking for a job...), desiring a coffee, it was with no great enthusiasm that I ordered.

"Medium or bold?" was the question. I looked, peering around the barista to the name tags hanging from the coffee pots. Pikes read one, Italian the other. I had hoped that Casi Cielo might still be around, and might still be brewed, or perhaps one of the African coffees, all of which I recall fondly. I even harbored fantasies that the Blue Java might be around, and I might get a lucky taste. But no such luck.

"Pikes," I said. "No room." Though I didn't have happy memories of Pikes Place, I've never had a "Italian roast" that I enjoyed. And so I figured, as I tend to, to err on the side of lighter roast.

I took my first sip, paused, and sipped again. It was -- good. I sipped more, drinking it too fast, trying to slurp down the lie. But the taste didn't change. It was smooth, just a little lively, with a balance of roast and acidity. It was a medium everything coffee, the sort of thing that makes a perfect house blend. But more than that, it was good. Seriously.

I went back the next day, purchased a wrap and another coffee. The wrap was decent, the sort of thing that would make ideal lunch break fare (not that I'm looking for a job... again). I attacked the Pike's, daring it to taste as bland and insipid as I recalled, to reveal the previous day's cup a fluke. It answered the challenge, however, delivering yet another perfectly palatable, drinkable, enjoyable cup of coffee.

I was a little perplexed, and surprised. I knew my palate had shifted since my last Pike's sip, moving from dark and roasty to light and lively. But could that be it? Perhaps this cafe brewed a better cup than mine had. Or perhaps the blend had been altered a bit (though I doubt it). I didn't -- and don't -- know the answer. Moreover, it's not something to be concerned about. If something is going to be as ubiquitous as Pike's Place is -- and it probably is the most brewed coffee in cafes across America, considering -- I may as well like it. There goes my hipster cred.

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