A trip to Seattle for most coffee tourists begins in Pike Place Market, home of the first Starbucks, but it should never end there. While the Mermaid receives plenty of praise for turning a nation of Styrofoam cup guzzling, freeze-dried, caffeine consumers into so-called coffee connoisseurs, it’s Seattle’s royal roasting court that lays claim to the “Caffé Crown.” Take a look at our coffee lover’s guide to the city for Seattle’s best coffee shops.
Seattle’s eclectic roster of roasteries offers the best reflections of what’s brewing locally, be it buzzworthy neighbourhoods or cultural styles. Look no further than cool Caffé Vita, owned by Mike McConnell, a local kid who discovered the allure of good coffee during his challenging formative years.
“In the 80’s we used to save up our money and go drink espresso at the Nordstrom Coffee Bar,” he recalls, “a bunch of ragged teenagers with unintentionally ripped jeans sampling Italian coffees in a high end department store.”
McConnell’s flagship Caffé Vita sits on Pike Street, smack in the middle of the Pike-Pine Corridor, Seattle’s most dynamic district. The minimalist ambience reflects its founder; the baristas tattooed and pierced, the music loud, the coffee outrageously good.
Like Seattle’s grunge music movement, when musicians routinely sat in with other bands, Seattle’s espresso culture remains a cooperative affair. McConnell credits Espresso Vivace‘s David Schomer with teaching him the trade and encouraging him to strike out on his own right around the corner.
A revered pioneer, Schomer began roasting coffee in the Northern Italian style over 25 years ago. Concentrating on espresso blends exclusively, Schomer has opened just three local outlets, though he exports his beans around the world. (Caffé Vita has 11 outlets, including New York, Los Angeles and Portland.)
Vivace’s flagship café, brightly framed in Tuscan yellow, sits on Broadway in the Capital Hill neighbourhood. Vintage lamps hang from the ceiling, rotating galleries feature local artists and permanent drawings celebrate the Italian coffee tradition. The espresso here is considered the finest blend of its kind in the city.
Deming Maclise launched Caffé Fioré with another singular focus, to create an organic coffee roasting operation that stood up against the best non-organic blends. Bathed in rich reds and dark stained wood, the flagship Fioré warms visitors against the Seattle chill. Adirondack chairs line the front, serving as the Queen Anne neighbourhood’s front stoop on summer evenings.
Zoka Coffee Roasters provide a living room for its Greenlake neighbourhood, Seattle’s answer to pub culture abroad. Locals get competitive over board games, regulars slump in overstuffed leather chairs browsing the paper and the glow of laptops suggest the city’s robust digital work environment. Zoka once roasted in the back of the café, but like its peers, demand now dictates a larger, industrial environment.
Seattle may be best known internationally for its 20,000 store coffee franchise, but sample the city’s signature roasters if you want to experience the authentic local buzz.
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Have you visited any of these Seattle coffee roasters? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Crai Bower