Seven of the best coffee shops in Seattle

From specialist roasteries to quirky, hole-in-the-wall stores, you’re never far from a good cup of coffee in the hometown of Starbucks.

Beans for sale at Starbucks Reserve roastery.

Photograph by Starbucks
By Connor McGovern
Published 2 Mar 2023, 09:00 GMT

In 1971, Starbucks opened its first store, right opposite Seattle’s legendary Pike Place Market. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the brand really took off and the convenience coffeeshop was born, offering an enormous variety of drinks at nearly all hours of the day. Suddenly everyone — from stressed-out city workers to lovestruck teenagers — could find sanctuary in one of Starbucks’ relaxed, identikit stores.

These days, the famous green-and-white mermaid graces over 32,000 branches around the world, but the brand’s home is firmly here in the quirky, rainy Washington city. If you want to pay your respects at the altar of American coffee culture, the original store is still there today, but it’s far from the only place to grab a cup of joe in Seattle — here are some of the best spots to get your caffeine fix.

Caffe Vita Roasting Co.
Vita has branches across Seattle — and the US — but you’ll find the original roastery and coffee shop in the lively Capitol Hill district. With a retro, 1970s-style vibe, it’s a fun spot for a morning pick-me-up, popular with the area’s student population. Beans are roasted in the back with vintage Probat machines, and the single-origin espresso is particularly good. Take home a bag of the aromatic Nor’wester blend, with punchy notes of maple, chocolate and cherry.

Espresso Vivace
You won’t find any modern caffeine chemistry at this Capitol Hill institution — it’s all about classic, espresso-based drinks (think velvety lattes and cappuccinos) which David Schomer and his team have been serving since 1988, following traditional Italian techniques. As the instructive chalkboards explain, it’s customary to stand at the horseshoe-shaped counter and drink the espresso quickly to enjoy it at its best. There are three locations, including one on Broadway East and the pint-sized Sidewalk Bar just down the street, which glows with red neon.

General Porpoise
The stylish, white-tiled shops found at four city locations make a peaceful spot to take five with a coffee — specialities include the espresso, pourover and cold brew, with beans carefully sourced from roasteries across the city. But you’re here for the delicious homemade doughnuts as much as the coffee, so take your pick from the likes of vanilla custard, nectarine jam or chocolate marshmallow.

Doughnuts for sale at General Porpoise.

Doughnuts for sale at General Porpoise.

Photograph by Eric Tra

Starbucks Reserve roastery
If you’re not inclined to queue at the original Starbucks, head to the roastery in Capitol Hill instead. This is far from your average branch, with polished serving counters, copper stills and roasting machines in a space decked out in wood and gold tones. There’s plenty of coffee paraphernalia for sale, as well as a sophisticated menu of drinks — sip a dark chocolate mocha or whiskey cold brew and watch wide-eyed Starbucks fans take it all in around you.

Former audio engineers Jake Paulson and Mike Steiner turned their hand to roasting in 2013 and haven’t looked back. In slick, glossy-black stores, loyal devotees come for unique blends as well Anchorhead’s heavenly coffee specials — try the ‘honey bunches of cold brew’, made with cold-brew coffee, oat milk, burnt honey, maple syrup and cinnamon. There are four locations around the city, including in downtown’s CenturyLink Plaza and Pike Place Market.

Monorail Espresso
Monorail started life as a La Marzocco coffee machine converted into a two-wheeled cart in 1980 — purportedly the first ‘espresso cart’ in the world. Founders Chuck and Susie Beek have since sold their enterprise to barista Aimee Peck, who’s expanded the local institution into four bricks-and-mortar venues across the city. The ever-popular serving window on downtown’s Pike Street is the flagship — join the devotees for what’s still some of the best espresso in Seattle, as well as baked treats and silky-smooth lattes. You can even pick up some Monorail merch, from bucket hats to beakers.

Flat white art at Monorail Espresso.

Flat white art at Monorail Espresso.

Photograph by Sarah Wolfe

Ghost Alley Espresso
You’ll find this popular little spot in a corner beneath Pike Place Market, the city’s original farmers’ market, within spitting distance of Seattle’s infamous Gum Wall. Co-owner Mike Buchwald worked with local roastery Middle Fork Roasters to develop Ghost Alley’s house blend, and the vanilla and caramel syrups are homemade. The shop itself has a rich history, too — it’s built within part of the first public toilets on the US west coast, with the original 1908 tiled floor to prove it. Keep your eyes peeled for Arthur Goodwin, a former manager of the market who’s said to haunt the coffeeshop.

How to do it 

Several airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways and Delta Air Lines, fly direct from Heathrow to Seattle, while other operators fly via European or US hubs.

Doubles at The State Hotel — right beside Pike Place Market — start at $214 (£183), room only.

Published in the US Cities guide, distributed with the March 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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