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


So cool. Love this new “feature”. Really inspiring. This site just went from awesome to AWESOME! Thanks!


Gorgeous! I love the idea of dipping napkins in coffee and having that lingering fragrance. I might do that and just take it to work with me. haha


wow! i definitely would love to do one of these. have to find more coffee loving friends:)

ashley english

Pure genius. I love the concept. I love the content. Paige and Kelly, welcome aboard. It’s going to be a gorgeous, delicious, creative whollop of a ride!


This is great but where were the great beignets in Seattle??!! :)


LOVE the coffee rings for place cards. I’m stealing this for a wine tasting party.

Kristin N.

What a lovely idea!!! I lived in Portland, Oregon for 3 years while going to college and now am back in CA (missing the Northwest). I am already planning my coffee party :)


What a great idea! Do they have coffee houses in Seattle that do this sort of thing? I have tons of coffee from New Orleans that I couldn’t possibly use all myself so this would be a perfect excuse to throw a party! Love all your little details too… the sugar cubes and the “old” milk container!


I LOVE this idea!!! I’m a teacher, so with the summer coming, this will be a great little mid-week party for some of my friends!!!


Love the coffee ring name cards. I can’t wait to see where you’ll land on the globe next time!


I love this idea! I love to entertain and will definitely use this recommendation!


Ah-mazing party idea. Cupping is the greatest way to experience coffee and this makes it so accessible. I love love love this new feature and can’t wait until the next globe spin. Although if you could land that finger on or close to Granada, I would be oh so happy.


How wonderful! I adore the mug rings and the coffee-dyed napkins! Gonna try that. :)


Where did you find Intelligentsia coffee in Seattle? I have been looking for a place to buy beans in Seattle – thanks for the great article!


Great photos. All around great post, right down to the playlist! That was a nice touch.


Lovely! You can buy Cafe du Monde beignet mix at World Market (I’m sure they have it online)! DELISH and super easy!


I suggest that to make the experience even more complete, you should also add green coffee beans from your favorite location to the list and try roasting the beans together. It’s an experience that you won’t want to miss.


Really REALLY cool idea, ladies! I know more coffee-drinkers than wine-sippers in our group, so this is definitely doable for our next gathering. I appreciate and commend you for going all-out: the dyed napkins, the place-marker rings, the stacks of newspapers…great touches. Thanks! :)


Great post! Can you land in England as well please and do a high tea please? ;) I’m planning one. Love all the details!


Another fabulous spread by Bash, please! You girls seriously speak to my soul!


Looks lovely!

But if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying the best coffee (which you should!), the roast should be fresh and the beans ground right before cupping. Otherwise you lose many of the subtleties that make the coffees worth the extra cost. The coffeegeek link you included is a great resource, especially the second page.

If you don’t have a good grinder at home, either grind the coffee when you buy it, or make sure it’s a week old or less.

As for buying fresh coffee, check the date on the package. If there’s no date it’s likely rather old. Locally roasted coffee will tend to be fresher, but you have to check. I know Intelligentsia ships coffee the same day it’s roasted, however their prices have really jumped over the last couple of years and their coffee has become a rare treat in our house.


wow. i dont know what else to say. just wow.
great idea (the whole globe spin) in itself and i love this post. slightly biased as i adore coffee but great alternative to the standard brunch


I want one (or two maybe) cup of that coffee!! It looks delicious. Great post. :)

Irene Ballance

awesome – brings coffee katch to a whole new level. What lovely ideas!!!!!


already planning a cupping party in my head… love the playlist! i <3 sub pop.


amazing! i love this feature, and your approach to writing it!

i live in niagara, ontario, which is a very wine-centric area of canada. we do a LOT of wine tasting, wine pairing, wine list writing, etc. this is a refreshing idea for an event that involves skills that are similar to wine tasting, and the possibilities of coffee pairings are endless!


Susan, try Lighthouse in Seattle. Great beans! The best beans are online-Old Bisbee Roasters. Fabulous! Fair trade and fantastic coffee! Yum! Think I’ll be make some now….


What a fabulous idea! I love coffee, but one can only go out for coffee with friends so many times…. Plus, that tends to limit the amount of people who can come.

I’m really glad you’ve added an entertaining column as well. I look forward to more locale-inspired ideas!


Intelli coffee is the best. I have the luxury of having it most days here in Silverlake Ca.


Great party idea. Love it!

I like to share my travels with theme-inspired get-togethers. Can’t wait to see where you go next.

Anne's Kitchen

Oh wow, this is how I want all my weekend to look, feel and taste like! What a creative and inspiring post! Absolutely great!


love the post every thing is attractive, adding the traditional and inspiration from local ideas add an accent to the post


liked this post and idea so much, i had to check it out again! thanks!


This is so cute. I love all the white dishes with the brown of the coffee and paper products. Beautiful!


one of the best ideas I’ve seen lately, I will replicate this as a gf’s book club party!. thanks a lot.

Lisa in Chicago

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.


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


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…


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.