I was excited to experience the coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest. I figured it would be most-accessible in the cities. Like in Seattle, the birthplace of the Starbucks coffee empire (though I was more excited to try Starbucks’ competitors, since we’ve got plenty of Starbucks back in Ohio)… Or in Portland, where I’d heard about Stumptown Coffee and a host of other local places that would never dream of becoming an empire…
But even in the cities, the main thing I‘ve noticed is a profusion of little shacks, or huts, or food-trucks that seem to be even more dominant than traditional brick-and-mortar coffee shops. They look temporary, in most cases (though I don’t think they are). They’re often positioned in a little corner of a big parking lot or right next to a gas station. They’re tiny. Maybe an average of 100 square feet. But they seem to be very popular, these “Espresso Shacks of Washington State.”
We decided to give one a try today. Near the vacation rental property where we’ve been staying, there’s an espresso shack called Country Shotz. It doesn’t look like much, but when we pulled up we discovered that the interior contained top-of-the-line espresso equipment, staffed by a single barista. The interior basically looked like the espresso bar area at Tree City or Bent Tree back in Kent. But there was no seating area. They didn’t have much in the way of large drip machines or coffee roasting equipment. So the menu was more limited. Still, they had a few pastry items for sale, in addition to a variety of espresso drink options.
So we ordered a couple of lattes. We chatted with the barista while she made our drinks, and we learned that she was also the owner-operator of the establishment. She’s been in the espresso shack business for thirteen years. She didn’t know of an industry-standard term for these “espresso shacks,” but they seem to have been a reaction to the downtown corner shops and strip-mall explosion of Starbucks. She emphasized the drive-through capability of espresso shacks, along with their individuality and independence. And then she finished with serving us some genuinely lovely lattes.
I’m not the most-knowledgeable connoisseurs of coffee or espresso — but I do consider myself something of a “student of culture.” I like to notice all the little ins and outs of different places and different peoples. And there seems to be something significant here, in the espresso shacks of Washington State. Maybe I’ll go order another latte and see if I can figure it out.