A review of The Blackdrop cafe in Bellingham
Bellingham is full of coffee shops. The successful Woods Coffee Shop began in Bellingham, and one of the city’s many bean roasters, Tony’s, which has stuck with a fair trade, small batch mentality since the early 70’s. Yet even in a community in which coffee plays such a large role, the pressures of a modern world can put the values of small, community minded businesses at risk. The people who frequent cafes may turn to large chains for convenience sake, choosing to have their coffee on the run instead of taking 15 minutes to enjoy the place they live. The owners may succumb to the draw of enfranchisement, struggling for larger markets and increased profit. It is because of these trends that it becomes more and more difficult to find a café that that caters to the individual, and remains a key part of the community. To me, the Blackdrop café remains one of these places.
In my experience coffee shops come in two varieties. You may be familiar with the Starbucks style of café, and have most likely been to one of its ubiquitous, modern styled locations. This type of café provides its customer with a quick, reliable source of coffee, and can almost guarantee them that their cup will taste like the one they got last week, even if it came from a different city. One usually goes to Starbucks, places an order, waits a couple of minutes, and then leaves, perhaps enjoying their drink in the car or as they walk. It is an event treated like a chore, to be done as quickly as possible. The recent introduction of drive-throughs and apps allowing you to preorder makes this routine even easier.
Without a doubt Starbucks serves a convenient purpose, it saves people valuable time, allows them to make better use of coffee as a tool, and assures them that they can get their favorite drink just the way the like it even when they are far away from home. However, just as one rarely goes to a restaurant solely to eat, a good coffee shop should also provide a place where people can feel comfortable to socialize, work, or relax. This second style of café is the more important one, because it helps build community, and can provide a level playing field where customers of all types can commingle, and begin to accept each other.
Black drop is certainly one of these coffee house. It is a place that in many ways perfectly reflects the community that Bellingham is. Bellingham is a town of modern values with the mindset of the ’60s. There are times while living here I feel like I have moved to a bohemian commune. It is a place where people care about practicality over style, where people are always willing to have a conversation on the bus, and where issues that come up are treated as problems for the community to solve and not as crimes. Bellingham’s unique customer base creates this level playing field. I believe political and social change does not begin with a court case or with passing a bill, but rather with a group of people putting aside their differences and debating an issue. A cafe where elderly couples out for a walk mingle with young artists searching for inspiration is the type of place I could see this grass roots change taking happening. A place like this brings people to the table, it catalyzes conversation, and makes people identify the problems they have with the community, and if this place treats them like equals, then they may overlook their differences, and work together to solve the problems. Since we live in a time where topics like diversity and equality are hot topics, this should excite us.
Countless icons of 21st century counter culture are visible here. Patrons sport rainbow pins on their back packs, and wear “Black lives matter” tee shirts. Behind the counter a barista wears black leggings and a skirt, and ties his long hair back in a ponytail. The café creates an atmosphere where people who clearly identify as different can mingle with the middle-aged white man wearing a suit and tie. Like it or not, the truth is you don’t see that everywhere you go. This melting pot captures the true meaning of diversity, and for me, it signals the beginnings of great things to come.
There’s more to a coffee shop then the community or diversity it serves up. A good coffee shop must have good coffee. One of black drops claims to fame is its impressive specialty drink menu. I myself prefer coffee for the taste of coffee, and I’ve found nothing focuses me better than a good Americano. So to start off my research, I ordered one of Blackdrops, and I was impressed. An Americano should be strong, verging on bitter, and this one was just that. Their special blend of responsibly sourced beans gives their coffee the hearty, solid flavor of a campfire in a cup. For my second cup, I did something unconventional, and ordered the level 10 fireball mocha from their specialty menu. Perhaps you’ve had a Mexican mocha, which is a mocha mixed with cinnamon. This drink is similar, however in place of cinnamon it uses cayenne pepper. Anyone who’s done a bit of cooking knows that cayenne pepper packs a lot more kick then cinnamon. The fireball mocha is a must have for any chili head.
There’s nothing to say a chain café couldn’t resemble a place like Blackdrop, or that they couldn’t serve up a better Americano. However, when a local business encompasses so many values that a community like Bellingham does, it becomes a place where they offer then just food and refreshments, they become a part of the community, a place where change can start. It’s more than just the location or the atmosphere the staff create, it’s the people who visit black drop that makes it what it is. They recognize the importance of enjoying this space, of getting to know the person in line behind you. The people who come here are willing to work with people different then themselves, and for those who came by accident, it’s just possible that the seeds of diversity and community will be planted in their psyche. I believe that these ideals are politically neutral, this isn’t about making a liberal paradise, this is about creating a space where people on both sides, and those in between the isle can come together to make their community a little more welcoming. So if you are like myself in believing everyone should have a voice, and that people of all types should feel safe, then I suggest you find a place like Blackdrop in your community. If there isn’t, make one.