While many of us guzzle cheap gas station drip or coffee stand iced lattes, it cannot be denied that coffee has firmly entered its artisanal phase.
Narrative Coffee, on Holly Street, is the latest entrant into the bare-knuckle cage match that is third-wave coffee in Bellingham.
While the presence of Narrative in Bellingham is new, the management and staff are well seasoned. With a flagship, award-winning cafe in Everett, open since 2016, and staff made up of competition-winning baristas, my bar was set exceedingly high.
At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking Narrative leans toward the ostentatious. The Scandinavian interior, exposed bulbs and polished concrete floors are ripped directly out of a $4,700/month Manhattan apartment.
Upon entering, a fridge full of Topo Chico and butcher-paper-wrapped cookie dough is immediately to your left. You’ll find plenty of seating, but probably won’t be able to stretch out with a stack of textbooks at a table. MacBooks abound. But as soon as you step up to the register, any concerns that you accidentally stepped into a pretentious Portland cafe will be quickly dismissed.
The staff is earnest and friendly, and very clearly invested in the coffee experience as a cohesive whole. The menu reflects that even further, with oddball drinks to push the limits of what you perceive coffee to be. Take, for example, the 3rd Wave OJ ($6.50) — an amalgamation of orange juice, espresso, cardamom syrup and orange bitters. A typical scorched espresso would make this into something a fraternity would haze pledges with. But with the lightly roasted and fruity espresso at Narrative, you instead have a deeply satisfying and refreshing drink that made me think of a Garibaldi.
The Cafe Neato ($6), a tribute to the Cafe Nico at Seattle’s Espresso Vivace, is reminiscent of a cortado. That is if your cortado wears Versace and Ferragamo. This is a moody, complex cup that needs to be enjoyed slowly, as if to shed layer after layer of Italian silk (and excessive use of a tired metaphor).
An Iced Cappuccino ($5.50) offered me the lightest iced coffee beverage I’ve ever enjoyed. Don’t expect Starbucks-esque food additive wizardry here — it’s as airy and diaphanous as it is through sheer barista know-how. And Narrative doesn’t skimp on their coffee shop standbys. Floral and herbaceous batch coffee, creamy lattes and a very grown-up hot cocoa alongside teas and scratch sodas round out a very healthy drinks menu.
What better to go alongside a delicious coffee than a mouthwatering meal? Sweet and savory croissants and scones (both sourced from the Mount Bakery) are available for grab-and-go alongside house-made brownies and cookies. Classic cafe fare, such as granola, parfaits and avocado toast, takes a back seat to a far richer star: the biscuit. Served plain with butter and jam, it’s flakey, soft and all-around just really good, but where it positively shines is as the foundation to sumptuous eggs Benedict, a breakfast sandwich or topped simply with microgreens and lox.
The Biscuit Benny ($14) is an absolute standout. English muffins are, to be frank, a terrible choice for traditional eggs Benedict — a hill I am willing to die on. Where English muffins toughen as they cool and refuse to absorb all the liquid ingredients, a biscuit remains soft and absorbent, keeping you from having to lick your plate to get every last drop of the truly superb hollandaise. The eggs are cooked perfectly and the ham is without reproach.
A more classic biscuit-based breakfast bite can be had with a twist on the simple bacon egg biscuit ($12). Arugula, chipotle aioli, over-easy eggs and thick-cut bacon all combine their powers into a hunger-banishing meal, with the arugula and aioli keeping it from feeling too heavy or greasy. My sole critique here is that the biscuit itself might just be too tall for the ingredients, which are otherwise very proportional. I found myself chomping through a few dry mouthfuls. It’s a strategic decision — you could pile on more bacon or a larger egg, but it then becomes a distinct liability for anyone wearing a light-colored shirt. Next time, I’ll probably request some aioli on the side and add a bit as needed. As far as complaints go, it’s a pedantic one.
Narrative Coffee attempts to bring an intentionality and a thoughtfulness to coffee that is frequently missing from the average cafe. I believe that Narrative carefully balances that incredible attention to detail while still maintaining approachability. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a total amateur, you won’t feel out of place. The space is beautiful and the food is fantastic across the board. But best of all is that dedication to coffee. A cup of coffee, thoughtfully prepared, can be a near-religious experience. And in this case? Narrative is the church.
Narrative Coffee is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 1400 Holly St., Bellingham. Info: narrative.coffee