Chug Less, Sip Often: Spokane’s coffee shops offer more than a caffeine fix for Gonzaga students

Written by guest blogger: Evan A. Olson

Here’s a tip: next time you are in Crosby and that $3 Irish Cream and hazelnut latte special on the cafe chalkboard hits your fancy, skip it.

Unless you have a bounty of flex stashed away or are in a rush for class and need the caffeine, those three dollars in your pocket can be utilized elsewhere — and I’m not writing about the corner Starbucks by the burger joint.

Chairs Public House, Boots Coffee, and Caffé Affogato, listed in no particular order, deliver some of the finest and most unique coffee and espresso drinks within walking distance of campus. At these locations, the coffee drinking experience is more than simply chugging hot bean juice for its perceived energizing properties. It requires careful sipping.

“Snow?!? In April?! At least we have hot @theroasthouse coffee!” (Credit: Chairs on Facebook)

Chairs Public House, situated on the northern side of campus, offers a special Black & White Heart Attack Latte that begs to be sipped.

Premium white chocolate and dark chocolate are stirred into a rich, buttery mixture of two shots white espresso and two shots medium roast espresso.

It’s the white coffee that gives this drink its unique flavor. “They only let the beans go for five minutes,” says Steve Scott, manager of the Chairs on Hamilton. Under-roasted beans often have a nuttier, greener flavor and much higher caffeine levels compared to more fully roasted beans. Combined with the longer-roasted beans and the two chocolates, the Black & White Heart Attack Latte punches the taste buds with layers of flavor. If you’re a fan of the movie “Kill Bill,” this latte is the fatal martial arts Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart technique of espresso drinks.

“Keeping Chairs local and sustainable is key”

However, rather than give you a heart attack, this latte feels good in the heart. All of Chairs’ espresso and coffee drinks are wholly organic, ethically sourced, and certified fair trade from Roast House Coffee, a company located a mile north from campus. Keeping Chairs local and sustainable is key, according to Scott.

“We try to focus on regionally local suppliers,” he says. “All our food waste goes into a composting program which is picked up by local gardeners here. They actually raise fruits vegetables and herbs to sell back to restaurants.”

When taking on the Black & White Heart Attack Latte inside Chairs, expect a good deal of noise. There is a reason they call it a public house. The environment is active, especially in the afternoon, with lots of conversation, music, and sounds from the TV screens. Chairs is wonderful for meet-ups and for those who enjoy studying in a busy atmosphere.

On stepping inside Boots Bakery & Lounge, you might begin to wonder what hemp milk tastes like in a latte. Most definitely, you will notice the recycled blender glass lamps hanging above the register and the wooden door tables and booths along the walls. Portlanders will feel at home here.

Brick walls and dark wood style the interior. (Credit: Boots Bakery & Lounge)

Boots has more offerings for latte ingredients than hemp milk, such as coconut, soy, and almond milks. They have the regular dairy options for the boring folks to boot.

Yet why stay traditional?

Rather than tossing the $3 saved from not getting a latte in Crosby onto the purchase of a plain espresso drink, be bold and order it with the hemp milk and the shots extracted from Boots’ own custom blend of Roast House, DOMA, and Evans Brothers espresso. Like Chairs’ coffee, the coffee at Boots is organic, fair trade, and ethically sourced — one would not expect less at a cafe interested in vegan customers.

A latte crafted from hemp milk and the Boots Blend carries a dark nuttiness to it that is slightly bitter. It hints at the pleasant side of soil in a garden. It’s difficult to describe, though is a must try and will be a memorable experience.

If you are over 21, you can get an espresso drink drizzled with booze. Nearly everything signature inside Boots has some kind of booze in it, prompting the thought that maybe the cafe should be called “Booze’s Bakery & Cafe.” And if hungry, its legendary Boozey Brownie is a must — Alicia Purvis-Lariviere over at Inlander Magazine wrote an entire article describing this gluten-free and vegan brownie creation.

“Customers make the space their own”

Setting the food aside, Boots Bakery & Lounge at its core is about community. Michael, a barista, describes how it is the people of Spokane who make Boots what it is.

“It was very important to have local artists,” Michael says, when talking about the grand opening of Boots in 2012. The art in the cafe is local and up for sale. “It is a day to day process to keep the community in mind. Customers make the space their own, kind of their spot.”

Across the street from Boots Bakery & Lounge sits the just-opened Caffé Affogato, and its coffee drinking experience is phenomenal. Order their specialty, an affogato, and this will become clear.

What you see waiting at the counter of Caffé Affogato. (Credit: Evan Olson)

Meaning “drowned in coffee” in Italian, the traditional affogato dessert usually consists of a scoop of ice cream or gelato in a cup with espresso poured over the top. Cafe owner Sharo Nikfar takes the affogato a step further. He begins by heaping a scoop of your choice of Brain Freeze Creamery ice cream, local to Spokane, into what looks like a reinforced wine glass. Then, he pours on the shots of espresso.

“We use authentic Italian recipes to make drinks,” Nikfar says. The organic and fair trade coffee at his cafe is imported from Caffé D’arte in Italy, where it is wood roasted. Roasting coffee beans over a fire by wood is an ancient and uncommon practice that Nikfar capitalizes on. The resulting flavor is unique. It’s not something found just anywhere in Spokane.

“Whenever I was in Europe, I always went to espresso parlors. When I came back to Spokane, I looked for them and the coffee is decent, but it’s not European,” he says. “I thought well, I’ll stop complaining and create it.”

(Credit: Caffé Affogato)

On top of the espresso and the ice cream, Nikfar adds whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and slides in two cookie straws. All together, the affogato is beautiful.

What further establishes Caffé Affogato as a unique place to get your java on is that it is located inside of an old open floor plan workhouse. Alongside the cafe sits Nikfar’s brand new Cafe Meditarano and a pub in the back. High brick walls, darkened wood beams, and steel decor give the facility its industrial nature. Light pours in from the centerpiece: a massive round skylight with beer and wine bottles hung by rope skirting it. The building takes on the appearance of a covered European-style cafeteria, and this was Sharo’s intent.

“Food is a language of love to me,” he says. “It’s an open kitchen concept so people can see how their food is being made.”

The coffee experience at Nikfar’s espresso parlor, in addition to the experiences at Chairs Restaurant & Lounge and Boots Bakery & Cafe, helps to define what Spokane has to offer less than a mile from campus for Gonzaga students.

For further adventure, there are other cafes out there besides these three that offer a unique take on the art of bean juice sipping:

  1. Atticus Coffee & Gifts — Everyone goes here. Dozens of coffee blends await your taste buds, but so do lines and a lack of seating. The wait for a unique coffee blend of your choice is worth it.
  2. Couer Coffeehouse — A tiny cafe, this shop is reminiscent of espresso parlors in parts of Europe. However, look up the shop’s white walls and you’ll see the works of a taxidermist, which gives it an American flare.
  3. Brews Brows Espresso — Great coffee and exceptional scones from The Scone Ranger await inside this decorated cafe. Seriously, the scones alone are worth the walk from campus in below freezing temperatures. No other cafe has this great combo of scone and coffee.

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