Stumptown Coffee Roasters may not have been roasting green beans in Seattle last Sunday night, but its equipment made for a magnificent backdrop at a special pop-up dinner in the roasting facility—the first of its kind at the site. Despite the lack of roasting, there was plenty of coffee being produced in the basement of the 12th Avenue location that evening as An Evening With Stumptown Coffee Roasters meant a five-course dinner with coffee pairings and plenty of other libations.
With a particular interest in coffee, I was invited to attend, and I was mighty curious. Just how would they pair coffee with food? How much coffee could there possibly be, and how much would I dare consume? Will there be spit buckets? How late would a caffeine-heavy evening keep me awake?
Turns out I’d be drinking coffee until after 11pm, which is the time I left Stumptown (the event started at 6pm) with the party still going.
The setting at Stumptown was beautiful, with the space amazingly transformed. Three large tables, gorgeous lighting, fabulous ambient music loud enough to enjoy but quiet enough for comfortable conversation. (Restaurant owners, take note.) For his first production, “An Evening With” producer Alex Negranza got the pop-up setting as perfect as one could hope. Negranza (who has quickly accumulated extensive barista and bartending experience at places like Milstead & Co., Liberty, and Spur) is a motivator with boundless energy; his infectious exuberance was on display, spilling into friendly and efficient service from the teams of chefs, servers, sommeliers, baristas, and bartenders on hand for the evening.
Prepared by chefs from the McCracken-Tough team, the food was sure to be a winner, despite the inherent limitations of the Stumptown space. From the first (colorful) course of chèvre custard to the final lick of a spoon with Fernet ice cream, the food was fun and flavorful.
As for the coffee pairings? Unfortunately, a little unfocused. Coffee typically came too far ahead of the accompanying dish (on two occasions, servers picked up cups before the food even arrived), with small pours that quickly got cold and couldn’t be fairly “judged” against the paired food. I enjoyed sampling the varieties of coffee and watching the various preparation techniques (Chemex, Aeropress, etc.), but I didn’t become convinced that coffee could really pair well with the savory dishes served. For example, I found coffee to be jarring with the brininess of the salmon roe plated with confit duck gizzard. (The dish was initially envisioned with sea urchin, which might have been better with coffee.) And when dessert arrived, instead of the chance to drink coffee to counter the sweetness of the chocolate-covered olive oil cake, we were given a cupping experience. I watched as my tablemates took a slurp or two, and then quickly put their spoons down.
Part of the problem, I believe, was that the ambitious undertaking resulted in an overwhelming number of beverages. Each course came with coffee, a cocktail, and wine. (At one point, I remarked that beer might have been the best pairing for a particular course, inspiring some interesting discussion and debate.) As if there were not enough liquids, there was also consommé with a potential pairing of espresso (or punch) as an amuse-bouche, spruce granita with juniper berry DRY Soda as an intermezzo, and a Stumptown Gesha coffee as a going-away drink.
Still, a fun experience, and a building block for future “An Evening With” events. Given Negranza’s energy and enthusiasm, I expect future events to be equally exciting and even more polished. While there’s nothing solid on the schedule (you can follow “An Evening With” on Facebook), Negranza noted, with witty word choice, that he has a few ideas “brewing.”