Tacoma Urbanist

Dec. 11, 2007 at 12:08am

Blackwater and Satellite Coffee Showdown in Tacoma

With Tacoma's emerging coffee scene, it was only a matter of time before greater comparisons were going to be made. This is a good sign of how far the quality of coffee has progressed during the last few years.

I ordered the same drink at each location: "Tall cappuccino, half foam half milk with whole milk for here."  I ordered several from each establishment.  I chose the drink as it is one of my favorites and is generally recognized as more difficult to make.  See below.  I let none of them know I was going to review their coffee.

The below list is not inclusive.  However, I deliberately left out a number of coffee houses as they simply could not make foam out of whole milk despite their best efforts.

I want to emphasize that I frequent all of these establishments, I will again, and consider them some of the best in Tacoma.


I only mentioned how the coffee looks before and not the taste.  However, I found the quantities pretty equivalent. 

Here's what I received at each establishment which was pretty typical of their product (in alphabetical order)

Blackwater Cafe
(747 Fawcett) :





Tasting Notes: (spillage my fault.)  Complete command of foam.  Here, a half inch of coffee laden foam crests vertical over the ridge of the cup.  One can see the light reflecting off the foam itself.  Foam bubbles are hardly discernable.  Blackwater is also known for its coffee art on lattes.  Rating : tied for first place in Tacoma with Satellite depending on the barista.

Commencement Bay (2354 Jefferson Avenue) :



Tasting Notes
: They were able to get the foam standing up over the edge but not much coffee on it.  Foam was pretty impressive though.  Rating : Commencement has improved three fold in the last several years.  Above average in Tacoma.

Cutters Point (1936 Pacific) :




Tasting Notes: A fun cup of coffee.  However, more work on the foam needed.  Here, it would spill over before it could be raised up.  The bubbles here are too big.  Nice coffee look though.  Rating : Above average.

Mandolin Cafe (3923 S 12th St) :



Tasting Notes: Interesting coffee art effort on a cappuccino.  Moderate quality foam.  Rating: Mandolin is probably No.1 in coffee in Tacoma for an place that sells a wide variety of food.  For coffee alone, they are above average.

Metro Coffee (UWT Campus)



Tasting Notes: Only the best foam micro foam could possible reflect light this well.  About the best cup of coffee possible without the "cap" raised portion above the lip of the cup. Rating: Third place in Tacoma only after Blackwater and Satellite.  (My apologies for not including Metro in the initial post).

Satellite Coffee ( 817 Division above Supernova) :



Tasting Notes: My cell phone rarely takes such good pictures.  Full command of foam which is almost a meringue.  They used two milk containers to make this.  Great precision.  This one is almost perfect.  The coffee laden foam makes it a work of art and delicious.  Rating: tied for first with Blackwater depending on the barista.

Starbucks (many locations) :



Tasting Notes: Still fresh on the barista bar untouched.  Here, the bathtub like foam bubbles are far too large to do anything with.  There's some foam alright but it will disappear in short order leaving a cup half empty.  Rating: unrated. Used as a benchmark.

Here's a few more shots of some coffee pours.



From Wikipedia: Cappuccino takes its name from the order of Franciscan or "Capuchin" monks, called "cappuccini" from their hooded cassocks ("cappuccio" means hood in Italian). Probably, the nickname derived from the fact that the foam in a cappuccino, with its white central part, due to milk, surrounded by the brown part, due to coffee, could evoke the tonsured head of a Capuchin monk.

Besides a shot of espresso, the most important element in preparing a cappuccino is the texture and temperature of the milk. When a barista steams the milk for a cappuccino, microfoam is created by introducing very tiny bubbles of air into the milk, giving the milk a velvety texture and sweetness. The traditional cappuccino consists of an espresso, on which the barista pours the hot foamed milk, resulting in a 1 cm-thick milk foam on top. Variations of the mixtures are usually called cappuccino chiaro (light cappuccino, also known as a wet cappuccino) with more milk than normal, and cappuccino scuro (dark cappuccino, also known as a dry cappuccino) with less milk than normal.

Attaining the correct ratio of foam requires close attention be paid while steaming the milk, thus making the cappuccino one of the most difficult espresso-based beverages to make properly. Moreover, a skilled barista may obtain artistic shapes while pouring the milk on the top of the espresso coffee.

Of course, there are many other factors to judge a coffee shop.  Kid friendly?  Atmosphere? 

Why do you go to the cofee shop you do? 

(Note : Satellite Coffee and Blackwater Cafe prevailed)

comments [28]  |  posted under blackwater, coffee, commencement bay, mandolin cafe, metro coffee, tacoma, washington

Comments

by jenyum on 12/11/2007 @ 7:35am
Excellent, important research, sir.

by intacoma on 12/11/2007 @ 9:04am
Did you do this all in one day?? You must have had the shakes by the 3rd

by KevinFreitas on 12/11/2007 @ 9:09am
None of the photos are too blurry so he must've spread it out a bit. ;)

by Erik on 12/11/2007 @ 10:59am
Excellent, important research, sir.

Thanks.

Did you do this all in one day?? You must have had the shakes by the 3rd

It was a project conducted over several weeks.

Some pictures did not turn out. I thought out of having pictures of some of the average and below average products from other shops but I finally decided against it. Some baristas paniscked when I made my order or insisted that one could not foam whole milk.

Hopefully, they will get the ideal of where the bar is in Tacoma and take it up a notch.

by morgan on 12/11/2007 @ 11:43am
Great research Erik! In the years I lived in Seattle, I don't think I ever saw a comparison like this. In the interest of protecting the public, I would like to see the rest of your research posted.

by NineInchNachos on 12/11/2007 @ 11:52am
Everyone take note.. this is a great example of 'little brother is watching you'

the Tacoma Urbanist does it again! Bravo sir.

future comparisons:
- burgers
- milkshakes
- pizza
- hardware stores

by Erik on 12/11/2007 @ 12:01pm
Ok. Here's a little bit more.

Here is the Starbucks drink after one minute:



Massive foam implosion.

by Marty on 12/11/2007 @ 2:56pm
Great work Erik.
I notice they are all above average.
Was there some we should avoid?
And what the deal with Java Bean?

by Erik on 12/11/2007 @ 3:13pm
I notice they are all above average.

Yes, I did not include the average and less than average. However, there were also some above averages in the city which are not here.

And what the deal with Java Bean?

The times I have been in Java Bean they never had whole milk despite my order. Then they tried to make a cappuccino with half-and-half and 2 percent. It didn't work very well.

Perhaps they perceived their was not the market for whole milk drinkers enought to carry it. However, I wanted to make as close as comparisons as I could so I did not include them.


by jenyum on 12/11/2007 @ 4:06pm
What has your experience been with Forza? I usually find them to be a little above average. And I haven't been to Firehouse since they became origin 32 ungooglablesymbol, but I used to really like them as well.

by jcbetty on 12/11/2007 @ 5:03pm
it looked to me, today driving by, that Java Bean is closed. or at the very least, very empty for cleaning? Or was I so worked by my trainer that my eyes were making things disappear?

Nice research. Mo own paltry "hot chicks serving 130 degree lattes in Lakewood" comparison pales :)

by Erik on 12/11/2007 @ 10:09pm
What has your experience been with Forza? I usually find them to be a little above average.

That's usually what I found. About the same as Cutters Point.

it looked to me, today driving by, that Java Bean is closed. or at the very least, very empty for cleaning?

Interesting. I had (and have) high hopes for Java Bean as it has such a great central location. They have a great meeting area and alot of light in their space.

by KevinFreitas on 12/11/2007 @ 11:41pm
Tho anytime we tried to stop by Java Bean it was never open. Sry but to get our biz you gotta be open past 5pm.

by Erik on 12/12/2007 @ 12:19am
When they had their grand opening (May 23, 2006), Exit 133 gave them a mention.

On that thread,
commentors tried to give them some advice.


The blogs are turning out to be pretty good keepers of history in Tacoma, even if it is relatively recent.


by jenyum on 12/12/2007 @ 7:59am
The internet cafe thing seemed cool, but the computers were way too expensive ($5 for a half an hour) and the interior was just never inviting.

When the One Love opened up with free wifi and nice, free computers with internet access, it kind of killed their whole concept.

by Erik on 12/12/2007 @ 11:32am
Some of the "feedback: I have gotton so far on this article have been pretty good. Why I did not include a number of other coffee shops have been raised. Yet, there are so many. Hopefully, there will be a addendum in the future with more coffee shops.

The internet cafe thing seemed cool, but the computers were way too expensive

I think it is too much trouble apparently for them to take out a laptop. One Heart Cafe does it pretty well with the computers already set up. The best "internet cafe" in Tacoma IMO with 4 high speed computers set up for free. I know of no other Tacoma venue that offers that.

by jenyum on 12/12/2007 @ 1:15pm
Sorry, One Heart. I keep calling it "one love" for some reason. They do have a really great set up. The laptop thing was awkward.

by Erik on 12/12/2007 @ 3:12pm
Update:

Java Bean is closed. The furniture is cleared away. Gone.

Tomorrow's topic will be : Java Bean Post Mortem.

by Erik on 12/12/2007 @ 7:26pm
I have added Metro Coffee after popular demand.

by Steph DeRosa on 12/13/2007 @ 7:58am
Have to say- I really liked One Heart. Plenty of room, free wifi, open and airy, friendly service, and always a great variety of specimens for my people watching.

I had to stop going there due to the fact that they were always running out of stuff. Toilet Paper, Vanilla, Milk, etc. These are all crucial things when operating a coffee joint.

Especially the toilet paper.

by Erik on 12/15/2007 @ 12:14am
Have to say- I really liked One Heart. Plenty of room, free wifi, open and airy, friendly service, and always a great variety of specimens for my people watching.

Me too. It seems to work pretty well with the Grand alright. The comfy furniture says "stay awhile." They also knocked down alot of walls inside the place.

by urbanX on 12/20/2007 @ 1:41am
One heart has the best Chai brand: Big Train, the little drive through on sprague also uses it but Commencment Coffe uses a great brand called Divinity. They aren't all natural but they taste divine.
Hey! check out pics of Tacomas latests coffee house: Satellite coffee at my blog: www.urbanxchangetacoma.blogspot.com

by Steph DeRosa on 12/20/2007 @ 10:42am
I finally went to Satellite the other day. The Americano, atmosphere, and service was amazing.

I once again had fallen in love with something that will never love me back like I deserve.

At least that's what my therapist tells me.

by Steph DeRosa on 12/20/2007 @ 10:43am
*were? was? I am gramatically confused.

by Erik on 12/20/2007 @ 12:22pm
Hey! check out pics of Tacomas latests coffee house: Satellite coffee at my blog: www.urbanxchangetacoma.blogspot.com

Nice Julie. However, having a blog on "Blogger" is pretty hard to get much action. I would suggest getting one in feed Tacoma so that your posts can be seen in a common Tacoma area in Feed Tacoma.

You can email Kevein at kfreitas@feedtacoma.com for more information. Plus, its free!


by KevinFreitas on 2/6/2008 @ 7:04am


Forza over off 21st and Pearl made this beautiful soy caramel latte for my wife a week ago. I was impressed with the look considering it was made with soy and she certainly enjoyed the taste.

by Erik on 3/12/2008 @ 4:11pm
Satellite coffee now has a new web page:



satellitecoffeeco.com/

And now they are having a party (via TNT):

Satellite Coffee Grand Opening Party

When: Friday, March 21 at 9 p.m.

Where: Supernova Hair and Tattoo, 817 Division Avenue, Tacoma

Bands: Eddie Spaghetti

Freebies: One free 8 oz. French press coffee between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

blogs.thenewstribune.com/gritcity/2008/0...

by Erik on 2/27/2009 @ 1:05pm
Blackwater Cafe is moving. They will close on February 28th and will reopen on 743 St. Helens in downtown Tacoma on March 6th.