around the world with bash: coffee cupping brunch

[today i am beyond thrilled to welcome back paige anderson appel to d*s- as a monthly contributor! i’ve been wanting to expand the entertaining content on d*s for a while, but since i’m not a pro, i thought i’d call in someone who is! paige will be joining us every month, along with kelly harris of yes, please (with whom she runs bash, please), with an entertaining idea inspired by a different location around the world! welcome, paige!]

Hello! I’m thrilled to be back at Design Sponge as a monthly contributor for entertaining ideas. For my column inspiration, I decided to go global and focus on a specific region each month. To throw a little excitement into the mix  I will blindfold myself, spin the globe, and unknowingly stop it wherever my finger lands. That region will be the basis for my entertaining idea. (Yes, I promise to hold myself to the province landed upon, no re-spins). Lucky me! The first spin landed me in Seattle, Washington. I brought my partner in crime, Kelly Harris, on board to help me plot the perfect Seattle shindig.

When I landed on Seattle the first thought that came to my mind was: coffee. What’s more representative of Seattle than coffee?  (Ok, maybe grunge music, but we’ll leave that  – and Courtney Love – back in the early nineties)  I mentioned this to Kelly and the next thought that popped in her mind was beignets, the perfect accompaniment to the morning joe. (We realize that beignets are traditionally from New Orleans, but we had the most amazing ones on our last jaunt to Seattle). We now had the region, the drink, and the food. These three elements all pointed to the obvious answer of a coffee and beignet brunch. We envisioned a sleepy, grey, Seattle morning with friends snuggly in their Uggs, hot coffee steaming, newspapers being passed, and intellectual chatter abounding. Now we just needed to put our creativity into the party.

On a recent trip to Seattle we were smitten with a new trend popping up in local indie coffee shops: coffee cupping.  Coffee cupping is actually a quality control tool used in the industry to determine the aromas and nuanced flavors from a selection of coffees, but in this case it’s all about appreciation.   A coffee lover’s version of wine-tasting, cuppings give connoisseur patrons the chance to appreciate the dynamic and masterful nuances of the roaster’s evolving craft.   It’s a sensual enjoyment of coffee, a shared appreciation for the complex craftmanship that goes into our cup of morning joe. For directions on how intricate cupping works go here: We simplified this and made it a bit more social and manageable.

*all photography by annie mcelwain

CLICK HERE for party details, coffee recommendations, downloadable scorecard, decorations, a recipe and music recommendations after the jump!

First, you must buy the best gourmet coffee you can find. Don’t even dare think of hitting up Starbucks, even Seattle’s coffee-heads have lost faith in the chain. We scouted our most populated coffee houses for the top notch goods. Final contenders chosen were 3 respected brands: Intelligentsia (Brazil bean), Caffe Luxe (Equador), and Equator (blend from Ethiopia, Ecuador, and Sumatra). Before the guests arrived, we spooned the coffee grounds into 3 cups. We taped a number and name to the bottom of each cup to identify which grounds belong to each coffee. Each guest received a score card to rate their thoughts on Acidity, Body, Aroma, and Finish. When the guests sat down to begin the cupping, they smelled the grounds first. A big whiff and noted the aromas. Then we poured hot water on the grounds and they smelled again. The grounds then created a crust, which they then broke, smelled again, and then tasted. Each guest was comparing notes and trying to guess the provenance of the beans. They were passing around their score cards, comparing notes, and sprinkling grounds all over the table.  It was quite the buzzed and rowdy group after 3 strong caffeine shots.

(Free downloadable score card right here!)

For the beignets, we decided we would start from scratch with homemade goodness and searched for the simplest recipe we could find. had a quick and flawless user-friendly one and our first time attempt was a huge success. Go here to follow the recipe:,174,154189-228201,00.html We had a deep fryer, but in the case you don’t, be sure you heat your oil on the stove to  375 degrees. Watch out for flying splashes of hot grease!

Cooking tip: the dough is gooey, be sure to have two spoons for dropping the batter in the oil. One spoon for scooping the batter and one spoon for scraping the batter out once you’ve dipped it in the oil. This keeps them nice and round and prevents them from getting long and stringy.

Cook about 5 minutes, rolling them over with a fork every now and then. Remove and strain the oil on paper or paper towels,  then sift on your powder sugar. So unbelievably delicious and easy, there were no leftovers! (I think I ate 10 of them myself while preparing for this shoot).

Our decorations were all DIY Seattle-coffee house-brunch inspired details. We were pondering the things we loved best about coffee shops that were different from homespun brunches and we both laughed and said “all the coffee rings on the tables”. What charm and history those rings bring.

We decided to preserve our own dining table and cover it with white butcher paper so that we could use it as 1. a table “cloth” and 2. a canvas for coffee rings. Then a bright light went on: let’s make coffee ring place cards. Easy, charming, and unique.

That led us to further ponder, what else could we do with the actual coffee? Dye the brunch napkins. We took white, soft, cotton napkins and dipped them into cooled, brewed coffee until the hue was just right. A perfect chestnut color, then hung them on a line to dry. They also played a hand in the brunch aromas, as they maintained a warm coffee fragrance long after brunch was over. When our guests went to sit down, they immediately asked, “Do these napkins smell like coffee or is it just us”?

For florals, we found 3 old coffee cans and peeled off the label to reveal a beautiful, ribbed, tin; the perfect planter. With the Washington landscape being lush, green, and wet we wanted to capture that feeling and bring it to the table. We created a dense, natural moss runner that laid directly on the paper cloth for a fresh woodland scape. Sprouting out from the moss were  Scabiosa, White, Helleborus, Maidenhair Fern, and Lily of the Valley. It was our vision of the wild, evergreen, terrain plucked from the rich Washington landscape and landing on the table as an inspired installation.

For our last touches, we stacked books and newspapers around for conversation pieces and relaxing Sunday morning reading. 

Last but definitely not least, you must choose your best coffee house music and create a playlist. Here is a copy of ours. A mellow mix sprinkled with some of Seattle’s finest bands, as well as selections from the classic, indie, Seattle based Sub Pop record label.  

Happy Brewing, Sniffing, and Buzzing from Bash, Please!


Older- Band Of Horses
Everyday- Vetiver
For Emma – Bon Iver
I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (Demo) – Aretha Franklin
Fitz and the Dizzyspells –  Andrew Bird
My Girls -Animal Collective
Cherry Go Round – Bibio
Simple Twist Of Fate  -Bob Dylan
You’re a Wolf -Sea Wolf
Ragged Wood – Fleet Foxes
Ain’t Blues Too Sad  – Roky Erickson (with Okkervil River)
The Little Acorn – Fruit Bats
The High Road  – Broken Bells
What’s In It For?  – Avi Buffalo
No One Does It Like You –  Department of Eagles
Somethings on Your Mind  – Karen Dalton
Red Moon – The Walkmen
Bloodbuzz Ohio – The National
Baby   – Devendra Banhart
I Will Possess Your Heart  – Death Cab for Cutie

  1. Lisa in Chicago says:

    I love this post. Its a great idea for a party. Did you know that Intelligentsia is the home of the 2010 World Champion Barista! I can’t wait to take a class at their Roasting Works.

  2. Gemma says:

    thank you. fabulous post, including playlist.. great touch! feel like I was there!

  3. Emily says:

    I tried this for a birthday brunch — spun the globe with my eyes closed and landed on… French Guiana. It was both educational and delicious…

  4. XIronman says:

    enjoy the fun of the process. when you make the coffee or food with a happy state of mind, the food will be more delicious.

  5. I think it’s a shame you and I aren’t best friends. Really. I’m superdupercool! You would like me! Please… invite me to your next party ;-)


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