Seattle is synonymous with coffee. The coastal gem has so much more to offer than just Starbucks or Seattle's Best, though. As citizens of the Pacific Northwest, we have the kind of love affair with coffee that is usually reserved for art and wine. Here are our recommendations for a few of the best coffee bars in the Emerald City for travelers looking past the iconic chains.
Slate Coffee Roasters
Slate stands out immediately as a great stop on the caffeine trail. The tiny hub is nestled in Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood, and strives to highlight the diversity of coffee around the world. The mantra here is "transparency and uniqueness." This mission statement is perfectly embodied in the flagship drink, the deconstructed latte.
Upon ordering, you are presented with a tray that contains three small wine glasses. From left to right you'll encounter a single espresso shot, a glass of steamed milk and a latte (or the union of the milk and espresso). Your barista will encourage you to sip them in the same order. The first time we tried it, we were genuinely shocked to discover that the tasting ritual does open up the flavors in a way that you wouldn't expect.
Slate Coffee Roasters are also pioneers in the method of exposure roasting. This technique involves roasting the coffee beans just long enough to highlight the flavors without over darkening them. As a family-run business, they do a great job of making you feel welcome when you enter the door. There is a complete lack of pretense, which is cool considering they serve coffee in wine glasses.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee
We are huge fans of Kaladi Brothers Coffee, too. This rustic-industrial joint is the newest member of our coffee pantheon. Originally from Alaska, where they got their start as an unassuming coffee stand in Anchorage, this coffeehouse has kept to its mission of making everything about the community. What we were originally drawn to was the ambiance of the shop. Vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and vintage chairs make this a superb environment to study or chat with friends.
All the staff are as friendly as they are knowledgeable and the coffee is delicious. Kaladi Brothers have done an excellent job of integrating themselves into the Seattle community and giving back. We're glad to have them. Fun fact: Kaladi is the name of the goat herder in Arabia Felix (the area in Africa where coffee was first discovered) whom is given credit for discovering the effects of coffee cherries.
Personally, we don't think any list of coffeehouses in the greater Seattle area would be complete without mentioning Caffe Vita. This is a one stop shop for coffee lovers. As a business, it is unswerving in its dedication to local ingredients and independence. Caffe Vita sources all of its coffee beans from independent farmers and you can see where said beans come from.
The coffee company keeps the process in-house by roasting beans in the shop (you can watch through the gorgeous window at the back of the seating area). When you walk in, you're immersed in the process of coffee from start to sip. The staff even teaches a monthly Public Brewing School (PBS) that educates the ground level consumer -- you and us -- alternative options to brewing your daily coffee. The goal is to encourage us all to coax more flavor and passion out of each cup. They teach techniques like Chemex, French press and pour over, among many more. The class is free, too. All of this and we haven't even mentioned the coffee itself -- our favorite is the PacNor; essentially two shots and breve all done up with latte art to boot.
Espresso Vivace is a great local shop that has infused its Pacific Northwest attitude with Italian vigor. In fact, "espresso vivace" means enthusiasm for espresso. The passion is infectious. When you enter the swanky shop your eyes are courted by a melange of Neo Classical Italian art and a post modern working class hangout. The seating orbits around the coffee bar where a team assembles drinks like a pit crew at a Formula One rally.
Our favorite drink is, by far, the cafe Nico. This concoction is an espresso, steamed Half & Half, and a blend of orange and vanilla syrups spritzed with orange rind and lightly dusted with cinnamon. You cannot help but love it when you try it.
We would be doing you a disservice if we didn't mention Macrina Bakery. Named for the 4th-century Greek mystic who pioneered a self-sufficient community that held communal property, Macrina today does as Macrina once did and gives back to the community with ingredients taken from the community.
Sourcing all their stock from local farms, Macrina is a bit of a local legend. The constant outflow of warm bread sometimes allows people to forget that this hot spot is a powerhouse for coffee, too. Our favorite part is that all of the syrups are made from scratch from local spices and flavors. A vanilla latte at Macrina is an experience that will elevate your palate irrevocably -- so beware. With locations in Belltown, SODO and McGraw, there's guaranteed to be a Macrina nearby, serving up bread to hungry locals.
Coffeehouses in Seattle are bountiful and we have only scratched the surface with this short list of our all-time favorites. Hopefully this will help you navigate your way through the great caffeine experience the city has to offer.
Published on January 6, 2015