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Seattle Coffee Scene's Very Best Coffee Shops of Seattle 2012

Coming up with a top ten list for Seattle’s Coffee Scene was practically impossible, So I expanded the list of “Seattle’s Best Coffee Shops” to twenty – and even that was a feat. Lucky for us, there are a lot of great coffee shops in Seattle serving amazing locally roasted coffee and who certainly are an integral part of our daily routines. To be fair, coffee shops can’t really be placed in a “one size fits all” category like, say, stretchy headbands, so coming up with “The Best” is slightly disingenuous (that’s my disclaimer). Rather, I wanted to create a list that embodies the great diversity of coffee shops that we have in this city. They all have something in common: they strive to build a sense of community, they serve great espresso, and they consistently display great customer service (After all, what’s the specialty coffee industry without great service?)

I’ve spent time in over a 120 different Seattle cafés this year – some of them multiple-multiple times. The passion many of which display is unbelievable – and the good news for us that it’s made our coffee only better. To be sure, there are constantly new players changing how we – and the world – drink and enjoy coffee, which I have included in the list.



 

Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #20

Row House Café

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Address: 1170 Republican Street, Seattle, WA 98109

Website: http://rowhousecafe.com/

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To those of you who don’t wander about South Lake Union as I sometimes do, this café might be hard to find, but it’s worth the adventure. In a century-old building surrounded by modern rising towers, this place takes you back to a time where creaky wooden floors were common and neon signs ruled the night. A favorite of Amazon.com employees who shuffle in and out on a daily basis, this place can get packed during lunch hours. Still, its Americana ambiance can provide a refuge of sorts for the technocratic world that lay just outside its front steps. The Row House Café offers great coffee, a full menu, and a bit of the “hard stuff” served by Ellen – if the coffee doesn’t suit you.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #19

Top Pot Coffee

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Address: 609 Summit Ave E Seattle, WA 98102

Website:www.toppotdoughnuts.com

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With great donuts and excellent coffee, who can want more, right? Top Pot remains close to my heart and many others here in Seattle. I’ve never had better donuts, which serve to complement their own roasted coffee. Or is it the other way around? Either way, I'm happy. Their warm and educated staff – who often double as bakers – remain high on my list for Seattle’s friendliest baristas. Although, I’m a sucker for the Capitol Hill spot where their location is canopied by giant leafy trees in a tucked away and unassuming street, they have 14 other locations that are more visible. If you haven’t already nibbled and sipped their offerings, consider checking them out!

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #18

Liberty Espresso Café

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Address: 517 15th Ave E · Seattle, WA 98112

Website: http://www.libertybars.com/espresso

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Known for its collection of quality spirits by night, Liberty Espresso Café on 15th Avenue also serves coffee during the mornings and days. Set nicely in a red-brick building in one my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle, Liberty Espresso is quite the perfect café to spend the entire day sipping on coffee, chatting with the baristas while they take their smoke breaks, and staying for their sushi happy hour. Where else can you find someone sipping at the bar on a bourbon or latte – or both?

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #17

Café Solstice

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Address: 4116 University Way Northeast Seattle, WA 98105

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Serving Lighthouse coffee Café Solstice knows how to pull shots. On the edge of the University District on the Ave, this always-busy and always-loud café reminds me of my college days. Now the high level energy of this place might be the very thing that turns off some customers – but hey, every café, can’t be everything to everyone, right? They’ve done some remodeling this past year, upgraded their bathrooms, and given a lot of love to their bakery operation, all to the glee of their customers. They have an oatmeal raisin cookie that I love – but they also serve soups, salads, sandwiches, beer, and wine. If you want to get a pulse on UW students, this spot is worth a whirl.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #16

Café Pettirosso

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Address: 1101 E Pike St Seattle, WA 98122

Website: http://www.pettirossoseattle.com

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Owners Yuki and Miki Sodos have spent the majority of their adult lives developing their customer service and management skills before opening Café Pettirosso, which has emerged to be one of best cafes to open in 2012. Serving beautiful crafted coffee (Lighthouse Roasters) along with their own baked beauties, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy this place. My recommendation: try their chocolate éclairs. Café Pettirosso also has their own full bar and a deep and respectable menu that makes your head turn every time a plate is being brought out and served. The vibe is ultra-relaxed, so whether you come in for a date, camp out and do a little work on your laptop, or stop in for a draft beer, you’ll be in for a treat. But we warned: if you’re not careful, this little café will steal your heart away.

 

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #15

Caffe Vita

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Address: 1005 East Pike Street Seattle, WA 98122

Website: http://www.caffevita.com

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One of the pillars of independent coffee shops and roasters in Seattle, Caffe Vita has evolved into no-joke robust coffee roasting operation. Their Capitol Hill café is their flagship stop and a great place to see it all happen under one roof. It is also one of my favorite places to get work done and enjoy an excellent Americano. Earlier this year, I spent some time talking to Jamie, one of the seasoned baristas who stated that their staff members are put through a robust training program to ensure the best coffee is served to their customers. Caffe Vita who is exporting their roast and doing a fine job in representing their coffee expertise to New York and Los Angeles with two new cafes is on a mission: to spread the coffee love. We’re lucky though, their home is in our backyard. If you haven’t been lately, drop by for a visit. If you’re adventurous try their cold brew.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #14

Kaladi Brothers

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Address: 517 East Pike Street Seattle, WA 98122

Website: Kaladi Brothers

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Already a coffee powerhouse in Alaska, Kaladi brothers wanted to extend to Seattle’s coffee market and did so by grinding it out in a more-than-hard-to-find-location on Capitol Hill. That all changed this past year, when they opened their new café in 2012 with a unique design that incorporates non-profit organizations as a part of the daily vibe. Certainly, I think they’re doing a tremendous job with marrying community-involvement and great coffee like no other place in Seattle. They are truly a great coffee business. Its high ceilings, wooden frames, and large windows that dominate the corner of Pike and Belmont all allow for natural light to flush in and provide an “open air” and welcoming atmosphere to meet with neighbors, hold meetings, or blog about coffee places that you enjoy. No doubt, the baristas are friendly, helpful, and know how to serve the coffee you love.

 

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #13

Fuel Coffee

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Address: 610 19th Ave East 98112
Website: http://www.fuelcoffeeseattle.com
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I just finished Dani Cone’s book, Tall, Skinny, Bitter – Notes from the Center of Coffee Culture, which I enjoyed. It’s easy to tell that she understands the role baristas play and space our neighborhood cafés occupies in our lives: “Your barista is quite possibly the first person you see each day, setting the tone while giving you not just your morning ritual in a cup, but the time, weather, much-needed fashion advice, music to wake you up, a listening ear, helpful advice, directions, solicited and/or unsolicited opinions, daily news, gossip, political analysis, art and movie reviews, friendship – and of course, coffee,” she writes in her book. Fueling Seattleites with their own locally roasted coffee, Fuel Coffee has a dedicated following and provides each one with great customer service. That level of customer service doesn’t come by accident – it's a priority. Dani also owns and runs the highly successful High 5 Pie, which you can also find in several cafes around town . Turning her years of experience, tenacity, and her love of coffee, into two successful businesses simultaneously, should be an eventual case study for local MBA grad student at some point. For a delicious espresso on a sleepy street, try their Capitol Hill location.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #12

Java Bean

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Address: 5819 24th Avenue Northwest, Seattle, WA

Website: http://www.javabeancoffee.com/

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I have to call Java Bean in Ballard a neighborhood “front porch.” Certainly, Java Bean is one of the best neighborhood coffee shops I’ve been to in Seattle. The baristas are friendly, chatty, and provide a warm place that has a welcoming vibe. Neighbors have responded to the warm service by loyally coming back day after day. If people are interested in running a successful neighbor coffee shop, I recommend stopping in and saying hello. Java Bean serves excellent coffee, is also kid-friendly, and makes you feel right at home. My recommendation: Sit by their wood stove fireplace and put your feet up.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #11

Anchored Ship Coffee Bar

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Address: 5306 Ballard Ave NW Ballard

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I simply love this café. It has everything you want in a neighbor café – great coffee (Herkimer), friendly baristas, a few spots to sit and take in the neighborhood and people watch. What it lacks in physical space it makes up for in personality and elegance. It’s quite hard to not like the Americana aesthetics of Anchored Ship Coffee Bar. Everything about this café is local – from the coffee to the Macrina baked goods, to the down-home personalities that work here.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #10

Bauhaus & Books Coffee

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Address: 301 E Pine Street Seattle, WA 98122
Website: http://www.bauhauscoffee.net
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Closing up shop in the next few months and moving to Ballard, Bauhaus Coffee & Books is a great place to grab coffee. They roast their own beans, provide Ding Dongs on the side, and emphasize a coffee pastime: reading books. There is something about enjoying coffee and a great conversation against a giant wall of books that makes the experience quite special. Join campers up on their loft and catch a view of Seattle’s space needle. My recommendation: Check them out now – as this building is set for demolition.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #9

Caffe Umbria

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Address: 320 Occidental Avenue South Seattle, WA 98104

Website: http://www.caffeumbria.com

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Situated in Pioneer Square, one of Seattle’s oldest communities, Caffe Umbria is an easy-on-the eyes café that serves great coffee beautifully. Three generations of Italian roasting knowledge has made true believers of coffee lovers at this Euro-cafe. Step into Caffe Umbria on any rainy day and I swear the clouds nearly disappear. Their excellent service, great coffee, deep menu, and beautiful café completes me, er, I mean allows me to happily recommend them to anyone.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #8

Espresso Vivace

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Address: 532 Broadway East Seattle, WA 98102

Website: https://www.espressovivace.com/

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Espresso Vivace’s owner David Shromer can spend hours talking about his roasting methods (I have attended his lectures). His passion fuels his success in specialty coffee roasting, and Seattle and the coffee world are better for it. While David literally wrote the book on coffee art, he also influences the quality of service that each and every customer receives in this town. Service matters and David understands this. David's passion and expertise is what truly makes Seattle one of the coffee hot spotson the world stage. Though I was much fonder of their original location on Capitol Hill – with its deep Seattle-earthy vibe that café possessed, their Brix Café on Broadway Avenue is beautiful too. If you love great coffee, you’ll love Espresso Vivace.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #7

Fonte Coffee & Wine

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Address: 5412 6th Ave South Seattle, WA 98108

Website: http://www.fontecoffee.com

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Classy. Sexy. Comfy. Fonte was made for those who want to stay and enjoy the “good life” – whatever that may be for you – for just awhile. Started in 1992 by Paul Odom, Fonte Coffee has become very well known among high-end restaurants and hotels throughout the U.S. for its espresso roast. In fact, the hometown roaster is more famous beyond Emerald City’s walls than inside. To showcase that roasted coffee of theirs and to strengthen its Seattle roots, Fonte created their beautifully designed café a stone’s throw away from Pike’s Place Market. Talk to the manager Ellie and you will immediately get a sense of passion that that Fonte has. The café is beautiful, welcoming, and simply makes you happy that you found it. Sit down and you’ll want to stay a bit longer than your usual time spent in a café.

 

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #6

Odd Fellows Café

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Address: 1525 10th Avenue Seattle, WA 98122
Website: http://oddfellowscafe.com/

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I really enjoy walking into this Americana-styled café. Their passion for providing customers with great food, tasty baked goods, and coffee is quite evident. These guys really enjoy what they’re doing and I can appreciate that – the weekend crowds can vouch for me. The café itself is beautiful with large tall windows that open up to the sidewalk. Their menu selection of baked goods, lunch, or whatever you’re in the mood for, is seemingly endless. This place is great for weekend brunch, your noon-time meeting, or an early morning scone and coffee. My recommendation: Sit by their tall windows up front and people watch.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #5

Tougo Coffee

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Address: 1410 18th Avenue Seattle, WA 98122

Website: http://tougocoffee.com/

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Pulling shots while jumping through a flaming hoop? Not sure if that’s in the job description, but I'm sure these baristas are capable of it. I am not sure exactly how they determine who gets hired as their baristas, but these guys are among the best Seattle has to offer. Tougo Coffee may be off the beaten path to some, but if you make your way, you’ll find that it’s worth it. Tougo Coffee is a favorite among locals for a couple reasons: this café is kid-friendly and they are passionate about the coffee they serve. My recommendation: if the baristas aren’t too busy, they love to talk about coffee – ask away!

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #4

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Address: 107 Pike Street Seattle, WA 98101

Website: http://www.seattlecoffeeworks.com/

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Every time I walk in here, the baristas and staff are always friendly and having a good time. That tells me something about the management. I really like the vision SCW has. Owner Sebastian Simsch created Seattle Coffee Works out of his love for great coffee and to bring that brewing passion a little bit closer to the customer. To break down the barriers that exist between those who brew, pull, and serve the coffee to those of us who pay the big bucks to enjoy it, Simsch created a slow bar – a half-partitioned space where customers can really enjoy their coffee and taste the difference in a variety of brewing methods. Though it’s centered in a heavily touristed area, SCW staff and baristas make you feel right at home in a no-rush environment. My recommendation: try their Obama Blend.

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #3

Victrola Coffee

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[socialring]Address: 411 15th Avenue E Seattle, WA

Website: http://www.victrolacoffee.com/

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Hipster or not, you’re welcome at Victrola Coffee. These roasters know what they’re doing and they know how to run a serious coffee business too. Victrola has a certain vintage-hipster vibe, but their café on 15th Avenue is warm and inviting for everyone. Here campers meet, greet, and work on their laptops with those who simply stop in for a quick cup of coffee to go. I generally order an espresso and sip on some water here to appreciate their roasting expertise. My recommendation: Their breakfast sandwich along with any coffee choice can make anyone’s day brighter.

 

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Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #2

Motore Coffee

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Address: 1904 9th Avenue Seattle, WA 98101

Website: http://motorecoffee.com/

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Motore Coffee is sexy. The long curvy coffee bar, the euro-bike-inspired décor, and plenty of natural light make this place a nice respite for nearby office workers. Not necessarily off the beaten track, Motore Coffee serves mostly locals who chat with the exceptional and laid back baristas who love coffee. Though you can get your coffee to go, you can genuinely tell that they want you to stay – their black and comfortable lounge chairs, newspapers, magazines sprawled out on sleek tables make it easy to plop down, take a rest and enjoy your coffee.

 



 

Best of Seattle Coffee Scene: #1

Caffe Ladro

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Website: http://www.caffeladro.com/

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Many cafes are built on passion and Caffe Ladro is one of them. Sustaining that type of passion and innovation after years in any business is perhaps more challenging. Yet Caffe Ladro has answered that call and really turned up the heat in 2012. Digging deep, they have started sourcing and roasting their own coffee beans to perfection (said while kissing my fingertips). In addition, they brought on a small army of coffee educators led by a smart and savvy coffee educator, Laila Ghambari to give their baristas the ultimate support they need to carry their service to the next level. Yes, these guys know their coffee, but it’s not pretentious. “It’s very easy to go over people’s heads and we don’t ever want to do that. We try really hard to approach with ‘How can we talk about this coffee to our customers?’” Laila once explained to me. Caffe Ladro is constantly looking for ways help their customers enjoy the coffee they are drinking – and that is something that should be commended and even imitated by others. With 13 locations throughout Seattle, most likely you’ve passed one up. My recommendation: check them out!

 

Honorable Mentions:

Frank Coffee in North Capitol Hill, Black Coffee Coop on Capital Hill, Cafe on the Ave in the U District, Chocolati in Greenwood, Mox Cafe in Ballard, Uptown Espresso in South Lake Union, Zeitgeist Coffee in Pioneer Square, and Zoka Coffee in Greenlake.

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