Ah, Seattle. A rainy haven for evergreen trees, grunge music’s hometown, and, of course, the birthplace of the modern coffee movement. Seattle did not invent coffee, but they did perfect it, and the city is absolutely filled to the brim with coffeehouses and expert baristas. Coffee is more than just a drink in Seattle; it’s an art form.
Wondering who is serving up the best cup of joe? We’ve compiled a list of all the classic and favorite newcomers for locals and tourists alike.
Seattle’s history with coffee is a convergence of many factors. Throughout the 20th century, coffeehouses and jazz cafes became more and more popular. Think Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the rest of the beatnik gang, delivering enigmatic poetry readings to a crowd full of people snapping. In the 60s and 70s, counterculture flourished across the country, but it found its home in the Pacific Northwest.
We’re not so sure what made Seattle and Portland homes to the cooler-than-you coffee-obsessed hipster — maybe it was just the overcast, rainy weather — but whatever it was, it put the cities on the map, and now PNW coffee is sold internationally.
Of course, it may have coincided with the introduction of a humble coffee shop in Pike Place Market. You might have heard of it; it’s called Starbucks. The year was 1971. The shop name referenced Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The first sale was a pound of Sumatran beans for $5.36. The rest was history.
Before long, Starbucks expanded throughout Seattle, and in 1987, the chain was sold to juggernaut Howard Schultz. With some thoughtful marketing and key sales (including rights to produce the ‘frappuccino’), Starbucks transformed into the ubiquitous brand we all know today with 30,000 locations around the world. ‘Pike Place’ became a household name. Seattle became synonymous with coffee.
At the same time, independent and artisanal coffee shops surged in Seattle, confirming the stereotype around the city even before it really took off. Shows like Frasier and Twin Peaks featured coffee as a central cultural point of the Pacific Northwest.
It wasn’t just about the store-roasted beans or the designer espresso drinks. Coffee culture in Seattle was about atmosphere and ambiance. Cafes became a place to meet, work, and lounge. They stayed open late into the night. The classic dim lighting, wood paneling, and delightful aromas we associate with coffee shops were all trademarked in the Emerald City.
In many ways, the city has shaped the culture of the drink, and its influence has extended far and wide.
If you find yourself in Seattle, it’s absolutely imperative that you make multiple visits to coffee shops a priority during your trip. Starbucks has more than a few locations in the city, including a spot not far from the original store, and its massive Reserve Roastery is worth a visit if only for the impressive displays and aromatic smells. Still, you’d be missing out on so much authentic Seattle coffee culture if you limited your visits to Starbucks.
Below is a list of some of the coolest and most accomplished cafes in the city, in our humble, espresso-loving opinions.
With four locations across Seattle, Herkimer Coffee serves up some of the best, simple cups of joe available. The shop works with sustainable farmers who practice old-world cultivation techniques, reducing their carbon footprint. They emphasize partnering with small farms and shrug off the coffee bean industrial complex.
Perhaps most importantly, their friendly staff is always able to offer a helpful suggestion on taste. Seattle locals can buy their beans directly, but for the rest of us, Herkimer offers a substantial subscription service for all those who want to regularly enjoy their take on espresso and pour-over coffee.
The lines outside Monorail Espresso are probably the first indication that they’ve got something special going on there.
Founded in 1980, the brand has spent the last four decades brewing quality, Italian-style espresso. It actually started out of a coffee cart, purchased from La Marzocco owners Kent Bakke and John Blackwell. The success of Monorail Espresso is often credited for the coffee cart craze throughout Seattle.
Today, Monorail has several brick-and-mortar locations and is just as beloved now as it was back then.
One thing to love about Seattle’s coffee scene is its diversity—and Makeda and Mingus is a prime example of cultures coming together to make something unique and special.
In addition to delicious cups of golden milk lattes, Makeda and Mingus serves top-quality Italian comfort food. Their aloo gobi, biryani, and spinach daal features on their weeknight menu, and it is absolutely worth a visit. Believe it or not, coffee was made to be served with much more than just donuts. Trust us.
No list of the best coffee spots in Seattle would be complete without a mention of La Marzocca. More a museum and art studio than a coffee shop, the store is in many ways the cultural meeting point of the espresso scene.
La Marzocca was founded out of a fascination with repairing espresso machines more than a love for drinking coffee. Founder Kent Bakke started mending Italian machines and saw an opportunity to import the espresso culture to the United States. Before long, the brand was building and selling machines across the country, becoming the de facto national maker.
In addition to a cafe (called Caffe Vita), La Marzocca has a showroom where visitors can learn more about their roasting process.
North of Seattle proper, Black Coffee Northwest Cafe is a favorite of ours for its quality brew and commitment to education. It could be easy for coffee shops to view their roasting methods as proprietary and therefore lock up the gates, but Black Coffee Northwest Cafe prioritizes fostering a new generation of baristas and coffee experts.
It is also crucially a meeting point for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities in Seattle, providing an open and engaging space free of prejudice or gatekeeping. It’s a Black-owned business and must visit if you’re in Emerald City.
Accessible, low-key, and tried and true experts in their craft, the folks at Tougo Coffee Co. have been serving up some of the best cups of Joe in Seattle since 2007.
Is the shop full of coffee nerds? Definitely. Should that stop you from coming through? No chance. They don’t take their coffee obsession too seriously and prioritize serving perfect pours and scrumptious pastries over snootiness. For a city where everyone claims to be a coffee snob, we love that.
Everyone in the world has heard of Starbucks, but everyone in Seattle knows about Anchorhead.
Originally started as a wholesale bean and cold brew provider, Anchorhead became famous around local farmer’s markets for fruity and top-quality coffee beans. Like many Seattle transplants, founders Jake Paulson and Mike Steiner came to the city via music. They were both audio engineers before making the pivot to coffee. We’re so glad they did.
Anchorhead’s cafes (including one in Pike Place Market) are built on dark, wood tones but flooded with natural light from tall, open windows. The employees are friendly, the fans are cultish, and the coffee really is that good. Definitely stop by Anchorhead for some of its signature cold brew.
Anyone else seriously craving a cup of coffee right about now? Just thinking about Seattle’s rainy days has us wishing we had a warm, aromatic cup of coffee in our hands right now. If you’re far away from the Pacific Northwest, many of these shops will also ship their beans straight to you. If you’re lucky enough to be in Seattle, take yourself on a coffee tour and visit as many of these shops as you can. The atmosphere, the energy, and the cozy vibes are reason enough to stop by and stay awhile.
Are you a Seattle local? First of all, go SeaDogs. Second of all, you definitely need to pick up our Seattle coffee t-shirt, available in seven different colors. Screen printed on quality, vintage-feel cotton with an ultra-soft feel, it’s the most comfortable way to say you’re proud to be a Seattleite. Check it out and let us know what you think. In the meantime, we’re gonna start brewing.