Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Black Drop: If the shot's not perfect, we throw it out.

Double Latte from The Black Drop

Ever since I first visited Bellingham - about 4 years ago - I've been going to The Black Drop Coffeehouse. I think the first time I went was only by happenstance - in that it was just down the street from one the the great book pilgrimage sites in North America: Henderson's Books.

We take the coffee so damn seriously that we routinely dedicate a great deal of time and effort towards Barista Competitions, locally and internationally. Owner Alexarc Mastema is a certified NWRBC, USBC, and CBC barista judge who specializes in the technical nuances of perfect espresso extraction. It is to these standards that he trains our staff. Alexarc's partner, Teri Bryant is the Northwest Regional Representative for the Barista Guild of America, a revolutionary trade guild organizing to promote the interests of the erroneously considered "entry level" position of barista.
- From The Black Drop Website

The Black Drop has created ("made" seems too pedestrian a verb for what they do) some of the finest cups of coffee that I have ever had the pleasure to drink. These days the barristas don't seem quite as hardcore as they once were - and this is a good thing. You used to feel that with all the intensity that went into the creation of your cup of coffee that it was a crime to even drink it.

It is more relaxed now, at least to my reckoning, more confident in the simple fact that they have the best coffee in town. And like any good coffeehouse, they cultivate an atmosphere of community with stacks of local newsletters, papers, magazines, flyers, cards and other sub-cultural ephemera.

I have read and heard a few complaints about the slow service at the Black Drop. This is not Starbucks or McDonalds. This is not a fast food, high volume, turn the tables every 15 minutes kind of place. If you are looking for a fast double latte made by a corporate robot who apathetically pushes buttons on a machine to give a demographically mediocre luke warm non-offensive caffeine based drink, do not go to the Black Drop. However, if you want someone to recognize you after you have only been there a few times, ask how you are, take time to prepare by hand and heart a one-of-a-kind cup of coffee just for you, then by all means go to the Black Drop and indulge yourself.

An old newsletter sums it all up:

1. Every drink is ground to order and the coarseness is adjusted accordingly.
2. If the shot's not perfect, we throw it out.
3. You won't find "sea foam" bubbles in your latte, just velvety steamed milk.
4. We never, EVER "park" the steaming pitcher on the drip tray. (WE PAY ATTENTION!)
5. Our equipment is spotlessly clean - that means there's never any rancid coffee oil residue in your drink.
6. If the beans ain't fresh enough, we toss 'em out!
7. We never "shock" the espresso (unless you ask us to!) by pouring shots directly over ice. We minimize the bitterness by cooling your iced drinks gradually.
8.Whenever possible, we pull shots directly into the serving cup so that all that yummy crema goes into your drink, not coating the inside of a shot glass!
9. Our beans are roasted fresh to order every week.
10. We are committed to continuing education and involvement in organizations such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the Barista Guild of America, and Coffee Kids.

Double Latte from The Black Drop

This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.
- Honore de Balzac, "The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee"

The Black Drop
Google: directions, reviews, related links
Yelp: reviews

Update: As further testimony to the integrity, the care, and simple beauty of the Black Drop, here is an excerpt from the recent press release about the sale of the cafe to three longtime employees:

December 27, 2009, Bellingham, WA – The owners of the Black Drop Coffeehouse in downtown Bellingham got an amazing gift on Christmas Eve at midnight when they sold their beloved coffeehouse to three of their long term employees, making the shop effectively an employee owned co-operative. Teri Bryant and Alexarc Mastema, founders of the Black Drop, wanted to pursue other interests, while assuring the spirit of the place they so painstakingly built would retain the quality and essence they worked so hard to create. The creative answer to the problem was to offer the shop to three of their long time employees, who would purchase the shop as a co-operative effort.
The new owners, Jonathan Lawson, Stephanie Oppelaar, and Katy Blizzard have all been the consistent faces behind the counter for years, and support the same vision of artisan coffee, lovingly crafted and prepared. Jonathan has been an employee for over seven years, Stephanie for over five, and Katy for over three, giving the new ownership team over 15 years combined experience specifically at the Black Drop. The diverse talents of each of the new owner/partners bring a fresh breath of life with a new attitude and a new twist to the same great coffee people have come to expect from the Black Drop.

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