Does having the most coffee shops per square mile mean that you have the best coffee? Yes, there is a Starbucks, and usually one other competitor on every block. There are a few Peet’s (our favorite), so there is hope for this city. But do they have really good coffee?
Here is an “expert” at the Stranger:
Coffee shops in Seattle function as social clubs, community forums, shared office space, and study centers. Even the most utilitarian place offers mind-boggling overheard conversation and fascinating people watching. In my opinion, Starbucks’s coffee tastes burned and people look dumb walking around drinking coffee out of giant paper cups like they’re constantly at a high-school kegger. Espresso is best sipped scalding hot from a ceramic cup without a weird plastic sippy-cup lid filtering it through a petroleum product. Try it.
That said, if you’re going to go to a Starbucks, there is one I recommend. It’s not the very first Starbucks (in Pike Place Market) or the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, but a Starbucks in the Central District.
Truth be known, that is NOT the original or first Starbucks. That one is long gone, and this one is just there so Asian tourists can take their photo out front.
In the downtown area, where we tend to stay: For a taste of old Seattle, visit Bedlam. This place harks back to the Belltown neighborhood’s pre-boom era, when World Pizza had punk shows and before the Speakeasy Cafe burned down. This is the real deal—no foam hearts or a bunch of fluffing about sources. Just really good espresso—rich and complex. Comfy couches, plenty of tables, and an old upright piano give this place a living-room feel. Not a hipster in sight. They make toast and pie. It’s on the north end of downtown. If you’re on the south end of downtown, go to Zeitgeist, a big, open, industrial-chic space with exposed brick right around the corner from King Street Station, where Amtrak trains arrive and depart.
Or venture over to Beacon Hill: The Station is the soul of Beacon Hill. Everyone knows each other, and if they don’t, they will soon. Good and strong Fulcrum coffee is served with that rare magical unicorn: cheap refills! Cozy and dog friendly, the new location offers an expended food menu, as well as the Station’s classic drinks like the D’Angelo (brown sugar latte), Coco Chanel (chai and coconut), and Bowl of Soul (Earl Grey, honey, vanilla, steamed milk), all at lower prices than most cafes. The old much smaller space at 2533 16th Ave S will open soon as a wine bar “loud with conversation and music” as affable owner Luis Rodriguez puts it. “I’m going to get political,” he says. Rodriguez and his spouse, Leona, put on a real block party every summer, support the local hip hop scene, and host poetry readings.
Many well known Seattle folks live in Ballard: Fremont boasts it is the center of the universe. This is very apparent in joints like Milstead & Co., where pilgrims come to double down on coffee wankery, near the famous Fremont Troll. If you’re in Ballard and need to rent a table workstation for the price of a cup of coffee, Cupcake Royale and Verite Coffee is there for you. If you want amazing small-batch French pastry that people stand in line for—the line goes out the door—go to Cafe Besalu. If you want to skip the line, head on over to Honoré Artisan Bakery for the kouign amann (a salty sweet crispy croissant situation), cannelé (custard baked into a cake with a carmelized crust), and macarons.
So, do you want to know what we do? We bring our own Peet’s French Roast, and make coffee in our room. And if we head to breakfast, it is usually at a Tom Douglas place, like Lola, or our favorite bakery, or LePanier near Pike Market, which serves illy. If we need a mid day “pick me up”, we choose a local place, not named Starbucks.