Who: Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company, Seattle, Washington; Jeff Babcock, Proprietor
What: Two coffee shops offering an extensive list of freshly roasted coffees - blends, single origin estates, organics and decafs - from around the globe.
Greenlake, Seattle 2200 North 56th Street,Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 545-4277 (2,400 sq. ft.)
UZ (University Zoka)
University Village, Seattle, 2901, NE Blakeley Street, Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 527-0990 (2,400 sq. ft.)
3450 16th Avenue West, Suite 101, Seattle, WA 98119
(206) 217-5519 administrative office
(206) 554-4313 wholesale sales
When: Both stores open daily from 6:00 am to midnight.
And: An extensive menu of freshly prepared, on-premise hot and cold foods served all day - including breakfast pastries, pies, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, milkshakes, cookies and more.
Joan Reis Nielsen (JRN):
This Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea House is the first of your two shops and it is such a classic coffee shop. It is warm with dark wood, lots of couches and comfy chairs and a really convivial atmosphere. I see lots of great coffees on the menu board and cases filled with wonderful pastries, scones, muffins, quiches, cheesecakes and other tempting things to eat…
Jeff Babcock (JB):
... Like pizza, soup, salads, sandwiches and our terrific cold coffee drinks. Try this Zoka Mocha Milkshake - it has a double espresso shot, chocolate and raspberry flavors with plenty of ice cream. We even offer Zoka’s own Chocolate Sauce to pour over a bowl of ice cream or a freshly baked brownie.
JRN: A truly awesome array…
You have to try the pies! This one is great - the best Peach-Cherry Pie you’ll ever taste. Now, try this Apple Lattice Pie à la Mode. All of our baked goods are made by us, daily, from scratch. Baking and food is a major part of what we do.
JRN: Out of this world! Are you busy like this all the time?
The Zoka concept is a very inviting place. We want people to come into our stores and camp out, treat us like their second living room. People from all over this Greenlake district gather to meet here, from PTA moms to students, businessmen and punk bands. We have live music a couple of nights a week, a poetry reading, and the work of local artists. There’s always something happening here.
JRN: Talk to me about your coffee selection…
All of our coffees are hand sourced and selected - the best of the best. Here, at Zoka, we go right to the source for the best beans in the world. We find sustainable, high-quality coffees to bring back to Seattle for our roasters. (On some trips, I’ll take my roasters, green coffee buyers, and even my baristas along with me.) I usually personally visit most of our sources, but recently it was really great to host one of them, who visited us from Brazil. It was the definition of a true “relationship” coffee. They got to see and experience firsthand where their green coffees end up!
JRN: What are some of your coffees most in demand?
Right now, our favorite blends include our Espresso Paladino and our house blend, the ever-popular, Tangletown Blend. Espresso Paladino is a complex blend of five different coffees, again all hand selected and sourced from origin. Also, it is especially roasted to produce a cup that is rich, round, intense, complete and harmonious. I think it’s the ultimate espresso - thick and sweet, with mild acidity, aromatic nuances and subtle complexities.
JRN: “Tangletown?” Where does that name come from?
Our Tangletown Blend is named for the traffic jams caused by the trolley cars that used to pass right by this Zoka storefront - real old-time traffic jams! The blend is based on a mixture of high-grown South and Central American coffees. It’s got those distinctive characteristics of medium body, lively flavor and clean straightforward aromas of caramel and toffee. You can’t beat it for a rich, bright, uncomplicated cup of coffee - the perfect morning cup. We also feature our Zoka-Java Blend Organic, which is our take on that great combination of nut-like chocolaty flavors of estate-grown Java coffees and bright, fruity floral notes of washed Ethiopian beans. The Col. Fitzroy’s Blend is another popular coffee. We take it to a dark ebony roast and the result is a strong cup of smoky, tangy coffee, bittersweet from the carbonized sugars. Then there’s our Tatoosh Blend Organic, a mixture of premium full-bodied beans roasted to an even darker ebony brown. This brings out a smoky aroma and dark, spicy flavor. As it says on our menu, “It’s a syrupy, smooth intense brew that may blow the taste buds right off your tongue!”
We have so many more coffees-a full range of organics, a really comprehensive offering of single origin coffees from estates around the world, and a great decaf program. I do my best to bring in a full house of coffees that I can be proud of. I am especially pleased with the single estate coffees we offer: Central America - Costa Rica Hacienda La Minita, Panama La Torcaza, and Guatemala La Flor del Café Antigua; Africa and Arabia - the Kenya AA Auction Lot, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Organic Fair Trade and Yemen Mocca Sanani; South America - Brazil Fazenda Vista Allegre and Colombia Riserva del Patron; Indonesia - Sulawesi Toraja and Sumatra Organic Fair Trade, just to name a few.
JRN: What about the decaf program you mentioned?
You may have noticed that there is a strong presence of Swiss Water Process decaffeinated coffees on our board. Our customers want their decaf 100% chemical free and organic. So, Zoka decaf coffees are exclusively decaffeinated by Swiss Water in their state-of-the-art plant in Vancouver, British Columbia. We offer SW decaf Guatemalan, Sumatran and Ethiopian coffees, as well as our own decaffeinated Zoka-Java and Tangletown blends. We brew them strong so you can’t really tell they are decaf coffees, plus they remain true to origin. The Ethiopian has citrus notes that will blow your socks off!
JRN: Is all of your roasting is done at your new roasting facility now?
Yes. We are artisan roasting on a 22 Kilo Probat, more than 100 bags a month…
JRN: Lest I forget, I see that you offer a big selection of fine loose-leaf teas, too - black, green, Oolong, scented, blended and herbal. How much more can you fit on your menu!
Let’s go over to the U of Zoka store and I’ll show you more…
JRN: What a different neighborhood - totally collegiate. This store reflects the beautiful surroundings here (near the University of Washington campus), just like the other Zoka store fits so perfectly into the Greenlake district. This store is very well lit, with clean lines, great space, lots of wood and great graphics on the walls.
Yes, a lot of these are old black and white University of Washington photos. We’ve practically immortalized this 1905 U of W football player, Owen Crim. The newer photos and the photomurals behind the signage are taken by Chase Jarris, the action sports photographer.
JRN: Very unique…
My Zoka philosophy is unique, un-corporate, short and punchy. I need to be better than the more than 130 Starbucks that threaten to swallow all competition here, with better coffees, better food, and better baristas.
JRN: Before we get to your well-known barista training program, tell me what I’m seeing here - a full house of students on laptops. This reminds me of a study hall! Aren’t you concerned that they will buy just one coffee and stay all day?
Not at all. The wi-fi isn’t the only thing that brings them in. It’s our coffee and food, too! All of the food we serve here is made on premise, starting at 4:30 in the morning and finishing at 1:00 pm. These kids, don’t forget, have a high metabolic rate. They need fuel to keep going all the time. We pump out an enormous amount of fresh, good food and we find that they’ll get up and order every two hours or so. They smell the great pizzas, lasagna and Creamy Tomato Basil Soup coming out of the kitchen and they can’t resist - especially the homemade cookies!
JRN: Is everyone behind your counter a barista?
Heck, no! They may start out doing other stuff, but if they have the desire, show the heart, and are excited about competition, we will offer them lots and lots of training. We have a pretty formal training program. We have mini competitions within our company and our own “Zoka” certification program.
JRN: Yes, and it seems to me that Zoka’s major “claim to fame” is intrinsically tied to its barista training program. Can you elaborate?
When we started in 1997, I realized that anyone could have good coffee but to execute it brilliantly is another thing. That’s why I take the Barista Championships so seriously. In 2001, I took five of my best baristas to Norway and it changed our company. I’ve brought Martin Hildebrandt and Jens Nørgaard, both World Champions, over from Denmark to give our best baristas additional training. Anything I can do to give my baristas a cutting edge in the championships, I will do. I truly believe in being the best at whatever you wish to accomplish.
JRN: From the results of those championships, I’d say you’ve done pretty well!
Yes. I’m proud to say that Zoka has a history of producing champion baristas. Among our Zoka alumni we can count Dismas Smith, who won the North American Barista Champion title at the 2002 national competition in Anaheim, then went on to astound the powerhouse Europeans at the World Barista Championship in Oslo, Norway, by taking sixth place; Stephen Vick, who placed third in the country at the 2003 U.S. Barista Championship in Boston; and Kyle Larson, who trained as much as nine hours a day and won the title of Northwest Regional Barista Champion in Portland, Oregon in September 2004. Our current head roaster, Chris Davidson, who is a founder of the Barista Guild of America and an active member of the Roaster’s Guild, was in this year’s finals of the U.S. Barista Championships. But we are so very proud of our latest Zoka Champion - Phuong Tran, 2005 United States Barista Champion. She went on to represent the U.S. in the World championship and placed a very decent seventh out of 37. She proves how seriously Zoka takes the craft of drink preparation!
JRN: Well done, Phuong! And thank you, Jeff.