This article was written after a May 2007 trip to Seattle.
Getting off the plane at SeaTac airport, you may see a sign that will set the tone of your trip. It is a directional sign for Espresso. Indeed, Seattle is a town that has elevated espresso to a special status. Espresso is a passion, a science, an art, a drug and a pleasure.
Seattle is the Espresso Capitol of the World
Notice that I’m not suggesting that this town is the latte or cappuccino capitol of the world. The milk is not nearly as yummy as the milk in Auckland, so I can’t give it that prize.
Seattle Airport Espresso Sign
Espresso is king. The town is completely saturated with espresso: practically every corner, every cafe, every nook and cranny of the town has an espresso machine. I even saw espresso machines at a gas station. Granted, it was a super-automatic and I couldn’t spend my adrenaline tasting that sort of thing, but I have to hand it to a town that is that dedicated to espresso.
When planning your espresso tour of Seattle, here are some of the places that are not to be missed.
Trabant Coffee and Chai – They pull Intelligentsia Black Cat as their espresso shot. But when we attended, they also had a single-origin Sumatra that was absolutely amazing. The baristas are very serious too. A naked portafilter is commonly used to pull shots. By the way, don’t be dismayed or thrown off by the fact that this place bills itself as a Chai lounge. Frankly, I have absolutely no idea whether or not their chai drinks are any good. They could be fantastic, but that was completely irrelevant to me. Espresso rules the town, and their espresso rules!
Victrola Coffee – I actually happened upon this place, while I was on my way to Caffé Vita (see below). Their plain shot of espresso is first rate. You might even try the espresso con panna: which is a shot of espresso with a dollop of whipped cream on top. There, the whipped cream is made from scratch and is infused with vanilla bean, so it is especially yummy. And, not that this matters to the tastebuds, but I do love their logo – it is memorable and unusual.
Caffé Vita – Their Capitol Hill location is just up the street from Victrola, so don’t get too wired at one location. Vita definitely knows how to pull a shot. The espresso presentation was flawless – a really beautiful head of crema in a perfect porcelain demitasse. Moreover, this is one Seattle location where I can honestly say that they got the latte right too. Their latte art was outstanding.
Caffé Vita latte art
Zoka – The baristas here are ranked among the best in the country, so they really know how to pull a shot. Additionally, you can find Zoka espresso blend sold at several other locations in the Greater Seattle Metro area.
Espresso Vivace – This espresso blend is outstanding. So even if you don’t make it to a storefront location to drink from the source, you might consider ordering their green bean espresso blend and roasting it yourself.
Vérité Coffee – The espresso is good and the atmosphere is really fun. Be sure to try the cupcakes from the Cupcake Royale which shares the retail space. Vérité uses Stumptown as their espresso blend.
Original Starbucks – On Pike Place (right across from the Pike Place market complex). This is one location where you won’t find super-automatic machines. They are still pulling shots of espresso in the artisan fashion – despite the fact that half of the tourists order Frappuccino drinks.
Caffe Ladro – Competent baristas and a good blend, this place also has a few inventive espresso-based drink recipes to offer. For example, you might be interested to try the Yankee Dog, which is an Americano plus a dollop of cappuccino foam.
Diva Espresso – This converted auto body shop is best known for their mochas, and rightfully so. The espresso comes through brightly so the drink isn’t overly sweet.
Best Places for Tea in Seattle
Now, man does not live on espresso alone – even in Seattle. I was glad to see that there are a few places where tea is the specialty and it is taken very seriously. Oftentimes, these Seattle tea houses co-exist in the same retail centers as coffee houses, so arrive thirsty.
Teacup – This place serves tea in the English style. You get your very own tea cozy, teapot, and porcelain tea cups. There are a lot of teas to choose from, and the self-proclaimed tea geeks at this shop really know what they are doing. Note: the Queen Anne location is literally next-door to Caffe Ladro.
(UPDATE Jan 2012: Teacup is no longer in business.)
Vital Leaf Tea – The Pike Place Market location is the second storefront location of Vital Leaf (the first is in San Francisco.) Tea here is served in the Chinese style. One allure of this location is the “free tasting” setup with tiny taster cups, which is a way to showcase the various different loose leaf teas that are sold. As a result, you’ll find yourself introduced to a lot of different varietals and estate teas. Be sure to try the Milk Oolong; it is a rare treat.