A Newcomer’s Guide to Coffee in Seattle
It wasn’t long after I stepped off the plane, unpacked my bags and settled into what would become my new home for the summer that I confidently declared, “I need a cup of coffee.” Fortunately for me, I was settling into what some had referenced as the coffee capital of the country: Seattle, Washington. Always a fan of the craft, with an interest that went beyond the cup, I was excited — ready to embrace a familiar comfort in an all-too-new space.
Now one month into Seattle-living, I’ve found my way in and out of the doors to several coffee houses, sipping from mugs of both famous and hole-in-the-wall cafes. I’ve outlined some of the most memorable, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable coffee shops here; this is a newcomer’s guide to coffee in Seattle from an East Coast coffee enthusiast.
1. Storyville Coffee
Locations: Pike Place Market, 1st & Madison, Queen Anne & Bainbridge Island
What I tried: Peach Italian soda and lemon cake
Atmosphere and Amenities: Storyville Coffee has several locations planted throughout the greater Seattle area; for this visit, I decided to visit the one nestled in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. This is a coffee shop well known for its Instagram-worthy aesthetic and high-quality drinks — and for good reason. The lovely space, warm and mod, is framed by beautiful arched windows that overlook the market and water; they instantly draw people in to stay. The quality of coffee, drinks and food is hard to compete with, and customers can tell, the baristas behind the counter know exactly what they’re doing. I experienced great service, a comfortable leather booth and relaxing afternoon conversations in this memorable space.
Storyville Coffee is Great For: Coffee conversation, working, exploring Seattle for the first time, catching up with a friend, coffee on-the-go — this shop is stunning with a great novelty aspect to the space, which has a tendency to draw in big crowds on the weekend. During the week, or toward the end of the day, the shop is far more airy with less tourists and more quiet conversation, writers, readers and friends catching up with friends. The warm, yellow-orange tones and clean lines in the space bring a lot of energy and 70s-inspired vibes to the shop. I would definitely re-visit this relaxed, casual coffee shop.
Overall Thoughts: Because I knew this shop was known for its coffee and had a great reputation, I went for something a little non-traditional and tried one of the Italian sodas. I was very pleasantly met with a refreshing, sweet peach flavor and just the right amount of bubble at an affordable price. There was also an option to add cream to the soda, but I kept it simple and still thoroughly enjoyed the drink. I also picked up a slice of their lemon cake, on display for customers at the barista counter, and left smiling. The cake was moist, with a great full-bodied flavor and the perfect size serving. This shop is beautiful and such a sweet piece of Seattle to experience. I would recommend this space to those visiting for short weekends as a must-see before they leave.
2. Anchorhead Coffee
Locations: downtown Seattle
What I tried: Iced vanilla latte and raspberry scone
Atmosphere and amenities: Anchorhead coffee is an inviting, spacious coffee shop located in downtown Seattle on 7th and Pike. One of the best features of this establishment is the floor-to-ceiling windows that open the shop up to downtown and bring in a lot of natural light. Also nice is the plethora and diversity of seating options: window-bar seating, spacious tables, a bright, bold blue couch at the center of the shop and counter-bar seating. The signature COFFEE signs, one hung on each side of the window-lined walls of the building, draw coffee drinkers in from blocks away. Always friendly service, the simplicity of the menu makes choosing a coffee in the morning stress-free and fast.
Anchorhead Coffee is great for: Casual business meetups, coffee before work, journaling and reading, coffee with a friend. With so many seating options, great service and just the right amount of background lull, this shop is perfect for conversation, a quick coffee run on the way to work or a spot to settle in before heading out for the day. Conveniently located downtown, this shop is nearby to many offices, shopping centers and hotels, making it easily accessible to the public.
Overall thoughts: The iced vanilla latte was very well done. Personally, I prefer my coffee with a bit of punch to it, more body and less milk — and this iced latte totally delivered. It offered a refreshing, smooth taste with a great kick. I’ve made this drink my go-to morning coffee. Close to many downtown offices and never too long of a wait, Anchorhead’s service is friendly, efficient and the shop produces a quality cup of coffee.
The raspberry scone was also enjoyable. I would recommend this scone to anyone looking for a filling, yet light morning pastry; fresh-baked in the back, the scones are wrapped in a swirl, held together by more than just a raspberry ‘spread,’ but real, whole raspberry chunks in between. Also nice is the shop’s great selection of scones, muffins and breakfast sandwiches freshly baked and displayed in the front of the shop. Look out for the ‘taco scone’ on display at the counter; I’m looking forward to trying this one on my next visit.
3. Slate Coffee
Locations: University District, Ballard, Pioneer Square & Chrome Hub
What I tried: Drip coffee and nitro chai
Atmosphere and amenities: Though Slate Coffee has several locations, I decided to visit the shop located in the University District. Upon first walking in I was welcomed into a light, open space complete with upstair-loft seating, bright green plants and the comforting smell of espresso. The clean space is adorned with string lights, eye-catching artwork against white walls and a beautiful barista counter. I felt very relaxed and at ease in this space; there was plenty of room for me to spread out books and a laptop at my window seat.
Slate Coffee is great for: Work days, sampling a great coffee, meeting a friend or group — it’s inviting, open and offers a great selection of drinks. The quality of products offered here is high; Slate work with fine ingredients and has a very friendly staff, eager to answer questions and offer recommendations.
Overall thoughts: I would definitely come back again. The drip coffee was smooth, a perfect temperature and had a nice punch to it. The nitro chai, something the barista offered me a sample of upon walking in, was very well done. Although I didn’t order a full serving of the nitro chai, I definitely appreciated the few sips that I had. Smooth, a little bubble and a great spice — this will be the first thing I order upon coming back. I would definitely recommend this spot to anyone looking for a place to relax, write or get some work done.
4. Starbucks Reserve Roastery
Locations: Capitol Hill
What I tried: Emerald City Mule
Atmosphere and amenities: This is not your average Starbucks; this is a massive space, decked out with mirrored walls, two espresso bars, a staircase, swag shop and centerpiece roaster. This is more than just a place to grab coffee with a friend; it’s an experience. In addition to the regular menu offered at the local Starbucks, customers have the option to choose from the Starbucks Reserve Roastery’s second menu with coffee mocktails and specialty drinks as well. Explore the large variety of mugs, coffee-makers, shirts and bags available in the gift shop, try a new drink at the downstairs bar or spend some time learning about the coffee-roasting process as you sip on your macchiato and watch the coffee beans churn.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery is great for: Starbucks enthusiasts, stops for tourists, a date night, exploring with a friend — visiting the reserve roastery was such a treat and what I would classify as an experience rather than a casual meet-up. This is a place you can walk into, explore tables of specialty merchandise, watch coffee as it’s made in a massive roaster, sample specialty coffee-mocktails and spend a fun evening with friends or family.
Overall thoughts: This was such a fun stop; I would definitely recommend this as another must-see to groups, families or friends visiting the city. The mocktail I ordered, an Emerald City Mule, was fantastic. The smooth orange-citrus complemented the punch of the coffee very nicely, creating a refreshing, cool drink for the afternoon. The citrus peel and berry on top of the drink were also a nice touch, creating an elegant picture of relaxation at this friendly, fancy Starbucks.
5. The Ugly Mug Cafe & Coffee Roasters
Locations: University District
What I tried: Iced chai and Belgian waffles
Atmosphere and amenities: This coffee shop may be my favorite on the list. Memorable for its novelty charm and incredible taste, the Ugly Mug is a cafe I won’t soon forget. Cozy tables, benches and window seats set the mood with customers’ drawings, doodles and notes on display underneath the glass of each table. This is a space where customers can leave their own mark as they settle in for an early morning, afternoon or evening visit.
The Ugly Mug is great for: Work, conversation, breakfast with a friend and an incredible iced chai — Contradictory to it’s name, The Ugly Mug offers beautiful plating, a cozy atmosphere with fun, poppy colors and a special hole-in-the-wall vibe that leaves every visitor feeling like they’ve just discovered the next best coffee spot in the city. This is a great space to do work, with perfectly sized tables for two. Quiet conversations run on a track between friends and students catching up over lattes and laughter. Located near the University of Washington, this is a popular spot for college students to come and work on the weekends or in between classes.
Overall thoughts: The Ugly Mug offers one of the best iced chais I have ever tasted — on the West Coast, on the East Coast, just in general — it was very well done. I actually went back for a second cup before leaving. This chai is rich, just sweet enough, with an orange-tinted body. The shop specializes in several other flavored-chai options, too, so there’s something for every palate. The Belgian waffles were a great addition to the drink. Just enough syrup, topped with strawberries and a generous side of whipped cream, I happily cleaned the plate. The waffles were dense with a great texture that perfectly complemented the ripe strawberries. I would happily order this breakfast again. I feel this cafe especially excels in dining and drink options, while providing a comfortable work space.
6. Mr. West Cafe Bar
Locations: downtown Seattle
What I tried: Latte with house syrup and grilled cheese
Atmosphere and amenities: Immediately upon walking into this cafe, I was impressed with the simplistic elegance of the space; it was very inviting. An open floor plan leads customers up to the counter where they’re first able to order, then to the dining area where they can relax and enjoy their food when it’s brought out to them. Mr. West Cafe provides great options for breakfast, lunch and dinner foods, as well as coffee, cocktails and beer. The menus are very clean and modern, making the ordering process a breeze for the first-time customer.
Mr. West is great for: Casual or celebratory gatherings, a quick lunch or coffee run, meeting up with a friend — this space is clean, chic and very inviting. The counter-order service is very efficient and the decor is simple, very green and calming: great for group gatherings.
Overall thoughts: The coffee was delicious; I always appreciate a good piece of latte art, and this latte came with a swan. Warm, smooth with a nutty aftertaste — this latte is perfect for the classic Seattle rainy day. Also impressive was the cafe’s twist on the grown-up grilled cheese… I had ham added to my sandwich for an upcharge of $3, and I must say, this was a great investment. I really appreciated the fun aspect of the classic grilled cheese, a popular sandwich from childhood, amped up with a sophisticated and filling twist. I would definitely re-visit this cafe for a lunch or coffee run again.
7. Zoka Coffee
Locations: University District, Green Lake, Kirkland & South Lake Union
What I tried: Iced chai and blueberry scone
Atmosphere and amenities: Though this coffee shop has several locations, I visited the Zoka Coffee located in the University District of Seattle. Something I really enjoyed about this shop was the amount of seating and space it offered. I don’t like to speak in hyperboles, so know when I say that this coffee shop has the most seating I have ever found in a single shop, it isn’t charged with exaggeration. This shop has great table space, an open layout and a warm fireplace with leather chairs tucked in the back, creating a comfortable, homey and inviting space for visitors.
Zoka Coffee is great for: Long-term work, study groups and slow afternoons spent indoors — with so many available seats, room to spread out and free Wi-fi available, this space makes a great home-away-from-home for the day. The atmosphere encourages productivity in a comfortable space.
Overall thoughts: The iced chai was very nice. A very sweet, smooth, light chai, I enjoyed the refreshing chill paired with a blueberry scone. My favorite thing about this shop is the atmosphere; it’s a space you can walk into and immediately feel like a local: comfortable, cozy and relaxed enough to stay for the day.