Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Seattle Coffee Guide: Drinks and Places

Espresso Good coffee is not hard to come by in Seattle, but what if you’re in the mood for that one special drink, where should you go? Or, maybe you want the perfect ambiance to read a book, have a conversation, people watch… What’s the right spot? Four years of sampling the best and the worst of Seattle coffee has lead to the creation of this list.

1. Americano: The best americano in town is at Chaco Canyon. Their brand spanking new La Marzocco espresso machine, local and organic coffee from Lighthouse Roasters, and careful baristas make the americano everything it was meant to be. I love combining this nutty roast with a splash of soy and a tiny bit of sugar.

2. Italiano: Ordering this under-appreciated drink can result in raised eyebrows or confused looks, but not at the Green Lake Zoka. The baristas are quirky, knowledgable, and refreshingly unsnooty. The balance of their espresso roast (high acidity, earthy finish) lends itself to an italiano rather than a straight shot of espresso. They pull a double shot unless you request otherwise. I’d recommend the smaller demitasse cup with no addatives.

3. Espresso: Bar none, the best shots in town are at the Capitol Hill Stumptown. I can’t say enough about the quality of espresso there. Beautiful crema, rich flavors (balance of carmel undertones with high earth notes and a low acid finish). Plus the baristas make sure to pull the perfect shot. They roast their beans in the basement and have tastings every afternoon. This is a can’t miss for espresso lovers. Honorable mentions: Walnut Street Coffee, Cafe Umbria.

4. Soy Latte: Many changing variables make this a difficult call, but it’s got to go to Zeitgeist in spite of the snooty downtowners behind the counter. Thankfully their skill is equal to their snootyness so they steam the soy to perfection, give you a beautiful pour, and pull phenomenal shots. In addition, there are plenty of seats, so its easy to lock down a table for an hour to write the next great American novel.

5. Generic Corporate Slop: If for some reason you simply have to sell your soul to the man who sold the Sonics, there are two Starbucks that are a cut above the rest. Last I checked (for reasearch purposes only) the Madison Park Starbucks still pulled shots by hand. Rumor has it that when Schultz deigns to imbibe his own sludge he buys it at this store. This keeps the baristas on their toes, at least in theory. Second is the Starbucks in Wallingford.

6. Cappucino: I’ll have more to say about this space below, but Cafe Umbria is the place to go for an Italian coffee experience. The single most perfect cappucino that I have ever seen/imbibed was created here. The pour was minimalist, just one arc of espresso broke the smooth white head on the drink. There was no scraping or scooping foam onto the top to make it dry. Just the perfect steam, shot, and pour.

7. Best Overall Space (Quirky): So many variables go into this that I had to split the category in two. Whether you like crepes, wine, cheese, import beer, quality local art, friendly baristas (as talented as they are friendly), interesting clientele, Joe Bar is your place. They also make the best mocha in town. All this combines to make Joe Bar the best place in Seattle to drink a great cup of coffee, whatever your beverage. And please, please, try a double shot of espresso over brown sugar.

8. Best Overall Space (Upscale): Again, many variables. But Cafe Umbria takes the cake (and eats it too). As I said above, this is perfect Italian experience. Their gelato is brought in from Gelatiamo–the best gelato in town, their espresso is top notch. Combine this with the brick promenade, sparkling water, trees out front, and you’ve got the best place to be on a sunny Seattle afternoon.

9. Best Slutty Drink: If you’re in the mood for something that will shorten your life but increase your happiness, swing in to Tutta Bella and order the shakerato. It’s a double pull (roughly four shots) from their hand pull espresso machine that is lightly sweetened, skaken, and delicious.

Hope you enjoy the list. What are your favorite places/drinks?


  1. Their coffee is only Seattle average (which is a B+) but the excellent free wifi, large tables and chairs, and the friendly staff make Caffe Vita one of my choices for hanging out with a laptop. Caffe Vita also distributes a lot of beans regionally to above-average coffee shacks and roadside stands.

    Big fan of your Edmonds honorable mention, Walnut Street Coffee. And Joe Bar is great if you can get a seat, but it’s too edgy and uncomfortable for a hangout spot.

    As to the Umbria cappucino, it is a curse. A mediocre latte is drinkable, but an mediocre cappucino is hell after experiencing the combination of perfect shot meeting perfect foam.

  2. Great list. I’ll have to get at that Umbria cappucino–that’s my drink. When I first moved to the LA area from Seattle I couldn’t find any good coffee. Then I discovered Intellegsia in Silverlake. Their Black Cat espresso kicks my butt in the perfect way. Bonus: Pazzo gelato is just across the street, and their Madagascar chocolate is the best chocolate Gelato I’ve had this side of the Atlantic.

  3. This must be the final announcement of any intellectual content at all in the US Someone forward this to the president to let them know that there is no need for bailouts. apparently we have all the wealth we need. media

  4. As someone who can’t partake of anything made with dairy, I’m always on the lookout for a good soy cappuccino. The good soy cappuccino is a rare beast, but the best I’ve ever had–and it was amazing–was at the Tyler Street Coffee House in Port Townsend. Yes, you have to hop a ferry (with your vehicle) to get there from Seattle, but of course that’s part of the beauty.

  5. Vivace on Capitol Hill has a legendary caramel latte. It is my favorite.

  6. Not being able to drink coffee limits the amount that I can add to this conversation. However, my favorite place to go out for a hot drink is Barnes and Noble. Not because of the outstanding drink quality, but because I sit in the cafe and people watch while reading all my favorite fashion, business and hollywood smut magazines. It’s perfect and it saves me tonnes of money on magazine subscriptions.

  7. Only know Vita from their beans, haven’t been to their shop. I’ll need to remedy that. Also, the curse of the perfect Umbria cappucino–totaly worth it.

  8. If you can find a way to eat media let me know. As for contacting the president, I think he’s a little busy right now cleaning up the mess from almost a decade of ‘real’ capitalism which was nothing more than a premeditated rape of the American economy.

    You have accidentally hit upon something interesting however. If media could be understood as wealth, our wealth would be infinite. As it stands, the hyperreal of modern media simply means that there is more distance (perhaps infinite distance) between a sign and the symbolic order. To quote Baudrillard, now a word signifies only what it signifies. His stuff is a little depressing, but worthy of consideration. What it means is that we operate more and more in a world that is a simulation of itself: Computers, screens of all kinds, take your pick of media… Here’s the rub, when we simulate the world to ourselves it is inherently symbolic. Our memory of a place (be it a coffee shop, or our childhood home) means something to us. When we re-present that place to our consciousness as simulation it contains a symbolic reference. That place, as it exists within you, signifies more than it signifies. In the hyperreal, and media is a great example of this, that symbolic order is denatured, sometimes it is eradicated completely because the simulation contains no reference to anything but itself. If that’s what you think we need, please alert the president, stop the bailout. Tell him that the hyperreal is all we need. Baudrillard may be wrong, but he’s compelling enough that his ontology deserves a good look. And if he’s right, and we’ve migrated into a representation of the world that no longer has ties to the symbolic, if it no longer resonates (has meaning) within us, then I don’t know a better reason to sit down and enjoy a killer cup of coffee while looking for a solution.

  9. I have to agree, Tyler Street does make a pretty snazzy soy cap. Too bad they’re so far away.

  10. Indeed, that almost made my list. Sadly one of my worst coffee experiences in Seattle was also at Vivace…

  11. So, you admit to being a magazine-looker-and-putter-backer.

  12. Totally. But those coffee smudges on the pages are deffinitely not me.:)

  13. You are:
    A) making me want to pull myself something hot and smooth to sip on
    B) distracting me from finals work that is left to do
    C) giving me a(nother) reason to move to Seattle, or at least visit

    Thank you for doing all three.

  14. you and me both Mr. Canterbury

  15. mission accomplished.