Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee are ubiquitous in Seattle and Tacoma. Both were founded in Seattle and, while they still possess a bit of unique Seattle flavor, these companies have gone big business. For locals, there’s a lot more to the Seattle coffee scene than big business—namely, local coffee shops and small chains. Really, nothing is better than a locally roasted brew. While coffee beans aren’t exactly grown in the Pacific Northwest, local roasts benefit from being roasted in small batches, and from community relationships with roasteries and with customers. Many local roasteries also focus on fair trade, directly trading with farmers, and sourcing organic coffee beans, making their brews more appealing to socially and environmentally conscious patrons.
In a city filled to the brim with coffee options, Café Allegro is unique in that it alone carries the title as Seattle’s oldest espresso bar. That’s right. It had to start somewhere and it started right here – a cozy little shop near the University of Washington. Beans are roasted right at the shop, which is located in a building from 1909 and was chosen by founder Dave Olsen for its proximity to one of the busiest entrances to UW. Today, it’s an atmospheric place to enjoy an espresso and a pastry among students, business people and coffee aficionados alike.
Caffe Umbria is named after the Umbria region in Italy, which is where the Bizzarri family hails from, and where they began roasting coffee in the 1940s. Today, Caffe Umbria’s master roaster is Emanuele Bizzarri’s, the third generation to work as a coffee roaster. These generations of experience make Caffe Umbria unique. “All of our coffees are blends, which means combining different varietals of beans to create a unique and balanced flavor profile in each of our coffees,” says Jesse Sweeney, co-founder, and VP of sales. “Blending also allows for a consistent profile year after year which is not the case in single origin coffees.” Caffe Umbria uses beans from all over the world, but primarily from South and Central America.
Caffe Vita works with farmers around the world as part of the Farm Direct movement, searching out exceptional coffees and farms that adhere to strict criteria—namely that the farmers are well paid, that the coffee is grown sustainably and without chemicals, and that the farmers treat and pay employees well. Caffe Vita representatives venture out to the farms at least once each harvest time to ensure all these requirements are met. Beans are roasted locally on old Probat and Gothot roasters, and there are several cafes in Seattle, south in Olympia and Portland, and one each in New York City and L.A. too! Beyond Caffe Vita cafes, Caffe Vita coffee is sold wholesale and the roastery partners with other coffee shops.
Fonte Coffee is some of the finest in Seattle, with a clientele list to back it up, including Wynn and Mirage in Las Vegas, W Hotels, Google, and Four Seasons hotels! Brews have gathered plenty of national attention for their quality, but also have received high marks locally as a fine micro-coffee—a unique line for Fonte to tread, and one they do successfully. Fonte also maintains a focus on purchasing directly from bean farmers, which grown beans sustainably. Roasteries are overseen by master roaster Steve Smith, and roasts are shipped to customers within 24 hours of roasting, ensuring some of the freshest coffee anywhere.
Victrola started as a neighborhood café with a 1920s-vintage appeal in 2000. By 2003, Victrola ventured into experimenting with roasting its own beans and the rest was history! Today, Victrola is one of the most popular local roasters and is available at many local cafes that partner with the roastery, as well as at Victrola cafes. The company roasts beans grown in the world’s best coffee-growing regions, from South and Central America to East Africa to Indonesia, and works with each to bring out the best characteristics. The cafes and the coffee have garnered national and local attention. Wednesdays at 11 a.m., the Victrola Roastery and Café on Pike Street offers free public cuppings, which combine brewing demostrations and sampling a coffee. You’ll get to taste. You’ll get to learn. You can’t go wrong.
Founded in 1996 by a University of Washington alum named Jeff Babcock, Zoka has branched out to a few locations, but still keeps a focus on community—from the local community to a wider community that interweaves employees, customers and farmers. All Zoka locations have free Wi-Fi and welcome you to hang out. Zoka coffees are roasted in small batches and beans are carefully selected. Zoka operates on a Family Direct Trade basis, meaning the company gets to know the bean farmers it works with—even visiting the farms around the world at least once a year.
Espresso Vivace has been roasting coffee beans in the Northern Italian style since 1988, making it one of Seattle’s older coffee establishments. As such, it’s got the experience to produce a truly fine cup of espresso, and note that you won’t find drip coffee here. It’s all espresso, all the time. Founded by former Boeing meteorologist David Schomer and computer repair expert Geneva Sullivan, Espresso Vivace started with a single coffee cart and made big waves in the industry by popularizing latte art and Schomer wrote “Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques,” one of the leading books on espresso in the world. So rest assured – you can count on an amazing coffee drink here.
Elliott Bay Book Company is Seattle’s premier indie bookshop, but browsing books isn’t the only thing to do within the hallowed walls of this big bookshop. You can also enjoy a cup of coffee at Little Oddfellows, a coffee shop tucked into the store. Little Oddfellows doesn’t roast its own beans, but instead serves coffee from Caffe Vita. This one makes the list for both its fine choice of beans as well as its unique atmosphere because there’s just something superb about sipping on a hot beverage in a bookshop.
Tougo Coffee is the place to go if you want to jump on in to a community atmosphere at a top-notch neighborhood café. The original location in the increasingly gentrifying Central District is cozy and friendly, and has the special bonus of a play area for kids. Let the littles get their sillies out whilst you sip upon a beverage. Tougo selects beans from a couple different roasters who all value ethical farming practices and fair pricing and treatment of their farmers.
Yes, you read that right. That name says “cupcake” instead of “coffee,” but don’t let that stop you (as though it would!) Cupcake Royale is indeed known for its cupcakes of many varieties, but all of this cupcake shop’s locations also serve espresso drinks and drip coffee made from Stumptown Coffee beans. So if you have a hankering for a hot beverage as well as something sweet, this is your place.
Located in Fremont not far from the famous and giant Fremont Troll, Milstead & Co has a different atmosphere than your average coffee shop – light and bright with expansive windows, modern and industrial chic décor, lots of seating, and indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting).