Let’s be clear : Amazing coffee is everywhere in this city, from neighborhood roasters to perfectionist downtown espresso carts. Think of this as a representative sample of the great moments, or movements, of our local coffee culture – a caffeinated history lesson, if you will.
Downtown, Pike Place Market, Bellevue
It’s the best of all Seattle coffee worlds: more inclusive than a coffee temple, more understated than a full menu cafe. Homemade Quaffle (essentially the kid in love with a croissant and a waffle) makes an enlightened pairing with Anchorhead’s espresso drinks. A traditional table setup mixes with bar seating to encourage lounging, laptop sessions, or morning get-togethers, all without losing the feeling that this is, in fact, still a specialty cafe. No wonder the Seventh Avenue location spawned siblings at Pike Place Market and Bellevue (with a two-story bakery and training lab coming this winter on 12th Avenue).
Central District, Renton
The espresso drink commonly known as Americano is here called ‘Africano’, a subtle hint that Eritrea-born owner Efrem Fesaha wants Africa’s vast and diverse coffee culture to gain recognition. that she deserves. Boon Boona sources coffee from small farmers across Africa and roasts their beans at Fesaha’s factory in Renton. A second location near the University of Seattle offers the same array of dazzling coffees, fun seasonal drinks, and a small patio.
Participate in the decades-long varsity caffeine tradition under the high ceilings of Seattle’s oldest self-proclaimed, permanently operating espresso bar. This hub adjacent to UW, accessible through an old alley – a real old cafe in Cambridge – has strong coffee, tons of tables and overflowing seating upstairs for Finals week.
In 2012, owner Solomon Dubie turned a mini-market into a Rainier Valley paradise for Ethiopian coffee traditions in Seattle, a city whose coffee landscape was sorely lacking in Ethiopian coffee culture. The soils are steep at the bottom of the pot, called jebena, and produce a surprisingly clean and strong cup. The Fly, the first taste of the first pot, begins the traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. The original location closed in May, but Avole Café will open a new location this fall in the Liberty Bank Building in the Central District.
The name translates to “coffee thief,” a nod to the days when the original location on Queen Anne dared to open next to the mighty Starbucks, intending to rob its customers. Ladro arrived in 1994, when Seattle rode a flannel jacket, Frasier– watch the wave that peaked with its booming coffee culture. Today, 16 discrete sites offer a reliable network of demanding coffee.
Once a second wave café that played host to musicians, Vita has grown into the nation’s largest independent roaster, distributed locally everywhere from Lark to Linda’s. In 2020, Deming Maclise (a longtime coffee guy, also co-owner of the restaurant group behind Rhein Haus, Stoneburner, Sabine and Poquitos) bought Vita from co-founder Mike McConnell, a guy whose life would make a great, high-profile Netflix series. . Nine locations in Seattle and beyond focus on customer service, while 2019 American Barista Champion Coffee Manager Samantha Spillman takes quality to even higher levels.
Capitol Hill, South Lake Union
Forget Howard Schultz. David Schomer is the guy who shaped the Seattle coffee scene. Vivace’s co-owner set up his Broadway espresso cart in 1988 and has trained a generation of future baristas and roasters in the intricacies of Italian-caliber extraction. Today, Vivace has three locations, including a cart just down the street from the original’s site, all serving up a perfect espresso for textbooks. (Schomer even helped make latte art a thing in America.)
Yenvy Pham, who runs Pho Bac with his family, is also behind this coffee counter inside the Little Saigon Creative community space. She and her business partner, Nghia Bui, have tapped into their family relationships to source high-quality Robusta beans from Vietnam. This strain contains an impressive amount of caffeine and usually leaves the country only as a quality filler for blends. Hello Em runs its own small roast and garnishes the resulting coffee with condensed milk, as well as lots of salty pudding-like egg custard.
The early 2010s spawned multi-roaster coffees, coffees that trade loyalty to a reliable roaster for the thrill (and logistical hassle) of spinning through the various roaster beans. This spacious place in Fremont, with its large windows and bridge as a backdrop, was part of Seattle’s avant-garde. Milstead is a pilgrimage for some, a reliable neighborhood café for others.
Denny Regrade, University Village
This pair of cafes epitomizes Seattle’s pre-pandemic coffee movement: sleek interiors full of plants, Stamp Act coffee beans plus a roaster (currently based at Brooklyn Sey Coffee), a menu of fancy toast, cereal salads , wine, and snacks at aperitif time in the evening. On top of all this, cafes in the city center and University Village have a special knack for specialty coffee drinks that appeal to coffee snobs and sweets lovers, from cereal milk cappuccinos to matcha lattes.
Bao Nguyen’s Little Saigon cafe does not have an espresso machine. Each drink is brewed via phin, the four-piece metal filter ubiquitous in Vietnam. The technique looks like a crossed French press with one pour over, so it makes sense that the result is slow and strong. Nguyen serves drinks with different ratios of homemade condensed milk, or frozen with a fantastic tangy yogurt which is also his creation.
Few cafes illustrate this “third place” thing better than this cramped spot in Plaza Roberto Maestas. The resort hosts a block party every year around the neighborhood, allows pop-ups like the Kryse ice cream sensation to take hold, and remains steadfast in favor of artists and activists. Plus, the Mexican mocha is some of the best in town.