An Insider's Guide to Coffee Culture in Seattle
In Seattle, Washington, there’s almost always a line outside Pike Place Market at the oldest operating Starbucks in the city.
Despite the fact that the international coffee company opened a Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room only a few kilometers away, visitors still seek out the flagship location for photos of the original coffee brown logo.
There’s no denying that Starbucks has helped shape the appeal of Seattle’s coffee culture, but the local café scene today is so much more. The city claims to have more coffee shops than any other city in the U.S. — and that doesn’t include the cafés, bakeries and restaurants with an espresso machine behind the counter.
What is it about Seattle that inspires a coffeehouse culture to thrive here? Some say it’s the cloudy, rainy weather, when the days shrink to eight hours of daylight in winter, and a warming cup of coffee keeps a person charged. Seattle is a highly literate city, too, with readers sipping on lattes while flipping through the newspaper or a novel. There’s also the urban appeal of public spaces to meet friends, share ideas and admire the art your barista has created in the foam of your latte.
Where to Drink
Experiencing the Seattle coffee scene can be whatever you want to make it. For those who want a simple cup of coffee, try the cozy C & P Coffee, located in a Craftsman-style house in West Seattle that serves as a local gathering place. There’s lively Zeitgeist in Pioneer Square, a convenient central location populated with designers and technology types that work nearby. At All City Coffee in funky Georgetown, you can share a table with an artist or a pilot just back from flying into nearby Boeing Field.
Coffee devotees looking for a more immersive experience will find educational opportunities everywhere. Learn to taste coffee and distinguish between the flavors with a “cupping” lesson at Seattle Coffee Works. Pull your own shot at the La Marzocco Espresso Lab at Seattle Center, which hosts classes and demonstrations. And if you still can’t decide where to start, try going on a guided coffee tour to sip throughout the city.
Drink Like a Local
Once you’ve chosen a café, deciding what to put in your cup can be overwhelming. In Seattle, a coffee isn’t just a coffee. Here, you’ll find a broad range of beans, milks, temperatures and pouring styles. “Pour-overs” are popular on menus. It’s the straightforward method of pouring water over filtered grounds to extract an even flavor and texture. For something chilled on one of Seattle’s sunnier days, try a cold-brew coffee, made by soaking the grounds for 12 hours, filtering the brew and serving it over ice. Some menus feature single-origin coffees, with baristas happy to explain where your beans were grown and whether they’re roasted on-site. Classic espresso drinks are abundant, from a whipped cream-topped mocha to a meticulously pulled shot served in a tiny cup.
There’s no wrong choice, so have fun tasting your way through the city. Passion is what makes Seattle’s coffee scene so exciting, with baristas who care deeply about what’s in your cup. It’s so intense you can taste it.
Baristas often raise the drinks they serve to an art form.