Tag Archives: Washington

My 5 Best Coffee Experiences

One week from now, I’ll be waking up in Guanajuato, Mexico — giddy, disoriented a bit, and searching for some breakfast. This trip has stalked up on us, and I have to plead that I’m feeling unprepared. Normally, the annual international trip is something I obsess over for months. Guide books lie scattered around the house; my “next trip” bookmarks folder swells to 60, 70, 80 bookmarks; doodles at work evolve from fighter jets and muscle cars to the rough outline of the country on my mind.

This morning I’m up before Hailey, which means I have a pot of coffee to work on and some color correcting to do for a client (in this case, Tim and Lexi — hey guys, your photos are now ready!). But I started thinking about travel and coffee and the moments where the two have collided beautifully. Travel tends to be an exercise of the senses. Obviously, sight + photography, but also sound + music (I’m working on a special Mexico playlist right now), flavor + food (just discovered they put molé on eggs in Guanajuato — yes!) and its cousin flavor + drink. In cases of this last pairing, I’m usually seeking out the holy trinity of liquids: wine, beer or coffee.

This morning, I’m compelled to write about coffee, and the best cups I ever did have. Warning: this is a self-indulgent exercise, but then again, so is blogging, right?

1. Italy (where to begin) – This cup starts in Varenna and has traversed the entire Boot wherever we’ve gone: the cappuccino. I had my first real one on Lake Como, and it was the first of many introductions to the beautiful details of Italian flavor. Enough espresso for every sip, a bold yet smooth flavor, and milk fading steadily into foam at the top. We can’t make these in America, at least not that I’ve found. In Seattle, they’re close, but as with many things and travel, its goodness is amplified by the setting. The cappuccino pictured above was our first in last year’s trip — served over breakfast at the Hotel Minervetta in Sorrento. When paired with a view of Vesuvius over the Bay of Naples, breakfast became less an exercise in sustanance, and more an exercise in realization — you are a long way from home, and its all good.

2. The Palms Cliff House, Big Island, Hawaii – Hailey and I honeymooned on the Big Island and Maui, and our first five nights were spent at this magnificent bed and breakfast on the wet coast north of Hilo. The amazing breakfasts were served on the lanai, accompanied by a hot cup of Kona. Mornings were always the right temperature. Pods of rain would splash the cliff-lined coast, cool things 5 degrees and cast a rainbow for 60 seconds, before moving on. The best cups of drip coffee I’ve had were on that porch, newly married, looking forward to everything.

3. Stella’s Cafe, Monteverde, Costa Rica – Here’s the magic formula of Stella’s: 1.) It’s backyard is the famous cloud forest of Monteverde, 2.) it’s patio featured an assortment of uber-comfy chairs, 3.) it’s local resident was an affectionate cat who had a penchant for sitting on your lap and purring, and 4.) they served mild shade-grown Costa Rican coffees. On top of all of that, our good friends Will and Liz were living up the road at a biology research center, meaning this was the place to meet up. On our first morning, we met a birdwatching guide here, and we hardly had to leave to see some of the area’s most magnificent birds. Across the street was a flock of golden-browed chlorophonias and a blue-crowned motmot perched nearby. Be sure to click the links to these birds — some of the craziest wildlife I’ve seen.

Unfortunately, this trip was a long time ago during my Nikon FM days — meaning I only have 4×6 prints of the trip, and crummy ones at that.

4. Seattle
– If you love coffee and you’ve been to Seattle, you just can’t leave it off your list. I’ve been a handful of times, but on this last trip in November, I finally “got it” when it comes to this city’s coffee culture. That’s because it rained the whole freaking time, and without fail, there was always a coffee shop to duck into. Tops on my list wasn’t even a cafe: Macrina Bakery. It was one of those places where they specialize in one thing (incredible baked goods) and just so happen to know how to make cappuccinos like the Italians do. Bonus.

5. The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize – My final selection is another trip from the Nikon FM days. This memory is flavored by the sweetness of morning ritual. Every day, the routine was such: wake up at sunrise (courtesy of the chachalacas in the tree over our hut), walk onto the porch, lie in the hammock, listen to the rainforest wake up, and enjoy the rich coffee they delivered to our room. Next door to us were my Mom and Dad, they’re first tropical rainforest/ecolodge/birdwatching/coffee-drinking experience. There was a small and ornery ferruginous pygmy-owl who was nesting in a hollowed-out tree above our porch. While drinking our morning cup of Joe, we’d watch her chase the iguanas off the tree. On our final morning, she killed a hummingbird and feasted on it while we discussed breakfast. Of all the collisions of experience that travel brings, file that one under Strange Yet Sweet.

So here’s a heads up: I’m hoping to blog from Mexico next week. We leave Friday and return the Monday after Easter. We’ll see how the internet connection is at the two places we’re staying, but hopefully we’ll be able to chronicle our journey through Holy Week nightly. Looking forward to it.

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72 Hours in Seattle – Part 3

<<UPDATE: New York Times Just posted an article, a Weekend in Seattle. Good timing.>>


Monday morning was bittersweet. From noon until 7pm I had to work…attending a meeting and dinner with Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. That’s fine. But it was likely that Hailey was going to be on her own for the afternoon and evening, and well, I wanted to join her.

We started with breakfast at Lola once again. That’s the homemade granola (above) with Greek yogurt, strawberries, apples, grapes and pomegranate seeds. I normally think apples are boring, but apples in Washington are another thing.


Why’s Hailey smiling? Could it be the scrambled eggs and pork-maple sausage with garlic fried potatoes?

2008-11-10seattle-3982No, turns out she was just smiling because I asked her, too. I’m not as natural as she is, as you can tell by my photo below.

After we checked out of the Hotel Max and checked into the Crowne Plaza (the hotel Weaver was paying for the night), we had an hour to kill so we ventured two blocks over to the Rem Koolhaas-designed Seattle Public Library. From the outside it looks like just another product of an architect who wanted to be unconventional… so much so that they closed their eyes, scribbled on a piece of paper and said “tada!” (see the Daniel Libeskind design of the Denver Art Museum). But like the Denver Art Museum, it revealed its brilliance once inside.

2008-11-10seattle-3990In principal, its a giant steel and glass shell. It feels like one room. But somehow, Koolhaas managed to create dozens of intimate knooks and crannies for quiet study, and the book spiral — a meandering ramp with rows upon rows of books that runs down the core of the building — is a marvel of space utilization.

2008-11-10seattle-4017I’ve noted this in office spaces that I’ve worked in: When an area is more open and spacious, people tend to be more quiet because they are more aware of others. The opposite is true for closed in spaces such as high-walled cubicles. This principal works nicely at the Seattle Public Library, and if I had this place two blocks from my office, I would spend every lunch hour there decompressing. It is a true asset for the city, and I think it reflects well on Seattle’s priorities — education, literacy, sanity, tranquility, information, design, aesthetics … I could go on and on.

One interesting part that we saw in the book spiral was a series of shelves filled with old phone books from the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rocky Mountains. Why people hang on to these worthless relics (let alone put them on shelves for reference) is beyond me, but…

2008-11-10seattle-4026…hey look! Boise’s phone book from 1975. And look: Mom and Dad.

2008-11-10seattle-4023That’s right. Back then — the year my Idaho-native brother was born — my news-reporter father and my mother were listed in the Boise public directory. I guess phone numbers weren’t always included back then. It was just a chance thing to see that volume on the shelf, let alone find them listed.

From 1975 to 2008: now this is something I can see preserving in a reference library for centuries to come…

2008-11-10seattle-4031So off I went to my lunch meeting, presentation and client dinner. Hailey took it easy, and found her way back to the Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks. “Finally…” she must have thought. “Time alone with the camera.”

2008-11-10seattle-4038And lo and behold, after she visited the Experience Music Project Museum, she snapped what is — in my opinion — the coolest shot of the trip. This is of the Space Needle as taken from inside the monorail on the way back into town.

2008-11-10seattle-4042Tuesday was our final day — really just a few hours in the morning before we had to catch the shuttle back to the airport. It was the coldest and rainiest day yet, so we laid low at a dive restaurant below the fish market, watching ferries come in and out of the harbor. We watched the fish mongers for a while, the very ones who throw 20-pound salmon across the counter. I have to admit, looking back on the images from the trip, I didn’t engage enough with locals and get them in my shots, especially at Pike Place Market. Its probably because I didn’t want to feel obligated to buy something. That’s why I ended up with a 10-in-1 kitchen tool that blows bubbles from Rome. But man, that shot was worth it.

2008-11-11seattle-4081We used the coupon book we publish at Weaver to get 2-for-1 admission into the Seattle Aquarium. A nice place, but really a spot for families. Would have loved to see my nephew’s reaction to the giant octopus they had there.

2008-11-11seattle-4087And finally, we closed out our trip with a return to Macrina Bakery for a warm beverage. As we walked over there in the rain, I quickly pulled my camera out to snap this shot before stashing it away in the dry confines of the camera bag. Seattle: what a marvelous, soggy and magical place.

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72 Hours in Seattle – Part 2

2008-11-09seattle-3957Day 2 began with another remarkable meal. After sleeping roughly 11 hours, Hailey and I walked a few blocks to Lola, a place I had enjoyed for breakfast on my last business trip. Denver has a Lola as well, totally different concept, totally different chef, and it is consistently the best restaurant in Denver. Seattle’s Lola is almost as good, though I can’t say for sure because I haven’t had lunch or dinner there yet. Since it was Sunday brunch and the Seahawks were on (man, this town is in a sports funk right now), we had to sit at the bar. We both indulged on a stack of golden brown pancakes with pork-maple sausage and vanilla mascarpone. I can only describe it by cussing. It was so delicious.

2008-11-09seattle-3897-version-2The day was going to prove challenging. For one, we had no rental car and we wanted to get out and explore a neighborhood or two. So it took us a while to figure out a game plan that relied on the public bus. For two, it was super cloudy and drizzly. Seattle is pretty far north, and this time of year, the sun’s rays come in at such an angle that they hardly penetrate the clouds. It was dark and somber all day, and despite the 11 hours of sleep, I couldn’t stop yawning. Apparently I have chlorofill in my skin and rely on sunlight for energy.

Anyhow, we ended up in Fremont, a funky, Bohemian peace-love-and-lots-of-colors kind of place. We window shopped, thought about buying stuff (never did) and wandered to a cafe for a late afternoon cappuccino to liven things up.

2008-11-09seattle-3903-version-2With sunset approaching and nary a compelling photograph on my memory card, we discussed what to do. At 5:30pm, my Uncle Mat and his wife Connie were picking us up for dinner, so we had to time things right with sunset (which wasn’t happening) and blue hour (which always happens) and not be too far from the hotel so we weren’t late for Mat and Connie. So we called a cab and had them take us to Kerry Park (the place for Seattle skyline shots). Right away, he found another couple of tourists who needed a lift back to downtown, so we split the cabfare. Kerry Park sucked. Yes, a beautiful view, but it was so dark, somber and cold, we were there for three minutes and back in the cab.

Just below Kerry Park and the Queen Anne neighborhood is Seattle Center, where the Space Needle is. The cabbie dropped us, we wandered for 20 minutes and then took the monorail back to downtown. Finally, things started coming together. Sorry for the repetition…I couldn’t decide on which of these Space Needle and carousel/Ferris wheel shots I liked the most. Any thoughts?

2008-11-09seattle-3936Once again, I was glued to the 24mm prime lens. Without a tripod and with such broad compositions unfolding at Seattle Center, it was nice to have such a wide and fast lens. It’s also balanced well, so even as I propped the camera on a railing to stabilize it, the lens balanced the weight nicely and I was able to hold still for a few frames.

It also has a remarkable bokeh, which is the unfocused effect that takes place when the aperture is wide open. Here’s Hailey at f/1.6. I love how the carnival glows around her.

2008-11-09seattle-3963And here is me at f/1.6. Hailey found a better composition, though it looks like my halo is exploding.

2008-11-09seattle-3965-1After we rushed back on the monorail, I thought I’d experiment one more time. I put the lens on manual focus, trained it on the traffic, traffic lights and street lamps (and a bit of blue night sky) and completing unfocused the lens for an all bokeh effect.

2008-11-09seattle-3972-version-2I don’t know. Everybody’s done this at least once, but its nice to have an abstract, impressionistic shot of the city at night.

One more episode from Seattle to come….

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72 Hours in Seattle – Part 1

2008-11-08seattle-3873I’ve long wondered: if I didn’t live in Denver, where would I live? Family, the Rocky Mountains and plain old familiarity have kept me rooted here (I’ve lived in Denver my whole life with the exception of four years in college…which, of course, was just down the road in Colorado Springs).

If it weren’t for Denver, there is little doubt that I’d live in the Pacific Northwest somewhere. The variety of landscapes — the Cascades, the Olympics, Puget Sound, the Columbia River — and the variety of cultures, food, arts, and job opportunities all combine to make it that phantom home for me. Plus, it’s not called “California.”

2008-11-08seattle-3706On Saturday, Hailey and I took a mini-vacation to Seattle. A group of us from Weaver were meeting with the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau on Monday, and since Hailey had never joined me for a business trip (plus she works for herself, and hadn’t been back to Seattle since she lived there when she was seven) it all made sense to extend it over the weekend, eat fresh seafood, window shop, and drink coffee like a U-Dub post-doc pulling an all-nighter.

We checked into the Hotel Max (environmentally sensitive mantra on linens, pictured above), which is wedged between downtown and the South Lake Union neighborhood. I don’t know. I’m starting to get annoyed with trendy places like this, but I didn’t realize it until we checked in. The rate was decent, the place looked funky and different, but the room (marketed as an Artist’s King) was a phone booth with a queen-sized mattress. The lobby was a bit too cool for me (I felt like a tool sitting on this velvet chaise lounge wearing my Old Navy jeans and my beige rain jacket), and the hallways were dark to the point of almost being skanky. When done right — see Hotel Greif or Hotel Grace (fka Hotel QT) — a “mod” hotel can be a lot of fun and can add to the overall way you see a destination. When it is done wrong — see any W Hotel, the Jet Hotel in Denver — it just feels like a sad wasteland for 20- and 30-somethings to drink martinis and be shallow.

Despite the rain, we didn’t hang out there much.

2008-11-08seattle-3742Before I get into the razor clam chowder with white-truffle oil at the Steelhead Diner, I must say that 2008 is shaping up to be the best food experience year of my life. I’m losing track of the memorable meals…it’s all blurring together as a euphoric fog in my hippocampus. Seattle was no exception, with Saturday being a parade of amazing flavors. It started with lunch at Steelhead Diner (all-time best chowder, and I’ve been to Cape Cod nearly a dozen times), continued with ginger-infused apple cider at a mid-afternoon break at Macrina Bakery + Cafe, and finished off with whiskey-brined pork tenderloin with poached pears at The Purple Cafe. Allow a little hyperbole: Seattle is the most underrated food city in America. There, I said it.

2008-11-08seattle-3774In the afternoon, we walked through Belltown to the Olympic Sculpture Park, a public space with works from Alexander Calder, Roxy Paine, Roy McMakin and Richard Serra (his work Wake is pictured above). It began to rain while we were there, and the dreary skies made photographing the works very difficult. I had to crop out all sky just to get color and proper exposure, which ruled out photographing a few of the taller, more magnificent works. The park is a nice addition to the waterfront — a treasure few cities have. However, some of the more prominent artists’ work — namely Calder and Serra — are so signature to their style they’re beginning to look repetitive. OK, Mr. Calder, we get it: you like big, bright-red pieces of painted steel arranged in angled ways. And Richard Serra seems to be on autopilot: more rusty-colored plates of steel, set on their ends, and you can walk through them. Didn’t I see the exact same thing from him in Dallas and St. Louis? I guess my take is that versatility, innovation and rule-bending are the pillars of good art. There is a fine line between milking a good idea and converting it into a rerun. I’m guilty of it. How many times have I done this shot?

2008-11-08seattle-3805Walking back to the market through Belltown we came upon So Much Yarn, an all-things-knitting kind of place, which drew Hailey in with a big grin on her face. She’s getting tired of knitting just scarves, so she got some helpful tips from on of the clerks working there (plus a circular needle…which I guess is pretty important).

2008-11-08seattle-3837Then it was back to the Pike Place Market for blue hour. I have a new prime lens, and this is the first blog post with it in action. It’s a Canon 24mm f/1.4. What does that mean? Basically, it lets in a ton of light, which allows me to shoot handheld in some pretty dark situations. For the past year, my favorite lens has hands down been my Canon 50mm f/1.8 which works on the same principal. What you lose with not being able to zoom in and out you more than make up for with being forced into a creative mindset.

2008-11-08seattle-3855Without that luxury of just zooming in or out, I find myself bending my knees, backing up, coming closer, and even elevating my angle for the shot. In the end, it’s like this:

  • With a zoom lens: “that’s an interesting object…CLICK”
  • With a prime lens: “that’s an interesting object, now where is the best composition…”

It’s easy vs. hard, but the challenge is always worth it. In fact, all of the photos in this post — with the exception of the chowder and the top Pike Place Market clock shot — were taken with the new 24mm (and the chowder was taken with the 50mm).

2008-11-08seattle-3864There was this drunk dude harassing me as I took all of these blue-hour market shots. He followed me around and asked why I was taking shots for fun. That had never dawned on him before: taking pictures…for the fun of it? He also asked annoying questions like how much my camera cost, where he could get one, why I was taking so many shots. That’s another thing about travel photography sometimes: You make a scene even if you don’t mean too. I forget that crouching low and squinting through a viewfinder in the middle of a street is a bit abnormal. Oh well…

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