A Guide to Coffee Culture In Seattle

07 August 2020
A Guide to Coffee Culture In Seattle

You might think that coffee exploded onto the scene in Seattle with the birth of Starbucks back in the ’70s, but the story actually begins in the 1700’s when tea became too expensive due to heavy taxes. Throw in more than a few gloomy Seattle days, and you’ve got the recipe for why the city feels somewhat like there are more coffee shops than people. Not quite true, there’s said to be a coffee shop for every 400 Seattleites, but you get the idea. But in a city with such history, and one which seems to run entirely on coffee, how can anyone be expected to settle on just one favorite coffee shop, or point you in the direction of the best? We can’t tell you what the number one coffee shop is, since no sooner would the words leave our lips that a newer, quirkier spot would spring up, but we can share with you five of our favorites. So here are five completely unique cafes to head to for your daily fix while you’re in Seattle!

With coffee picking up where tea and vitamin D left off, the city is now a mecca for all things coffee culture. In 1958, the first of the city’s famous coffee shops opened its doors, with Café Encore being closely followed by The Place Next Door in 1959 and El Matador in 1960. In the 60’s and 70’s, counter culture was thriving and bohemians were looking for places to gather to discuss new ideas; and what better place than a coffee house? Coffee culture and boho values flourished in Seattle, and so in 1966 three friends decided to buy beans from California and hone Seattleites coffee palettes with a selection of beans imported from every corner of the globe. The name of their company? Starbucks. 

Skipping happily over the first wave of coffee (the less said about Nescafe the better), Starbucks and California’s Peet’s Coffee & Tea marked coffee’s second wave, bringing speciality coffees to a mainstream audience. The global mega-chain evolved from its original store to the opening of their very first coffee shop in Pike Place Market in the 70’s. But as Starbucks went global and moved on, Seattle held on to its roots and boho counter culture, and a love of independent, Fair Trade and local coffee shops with ethical values was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.

La Marzocco

For anyone looking for a simple cup of coffee, La Marzocco can feel slightly overwhelming experience; part shrine to coffee, part immersive museum, part showroom and yes, part cafe, this flawless space pays homage to all things coffee, specifically La Marzocco coffee. Taking up residence in the city’s famous KEXP radio station, the soundtrack is matched only by the rotating roaster programme, where each month a different roaster brings their skills to the party. These Italian espresso machines who have been helping craft incredible coffee for almost 100 years, it’s no surprise that this is where world class roasters come to show off their knowledge and skills. Learn your coffee history as you sip an espresso in their showroom, nibble on pastries as you peruse the displays of coffee machines running from the 20’s to the present day and feel smug knowing that you’ve had one of the most sought after coffees in the city.

Preserve And Gather

Whether the ‘gather’ of this minimalist coffee shop refers to the carefully curated list of ingredients gracing the menu or the gathering of friends to enjoy them, either way we love the vibe. After a successful kickstarter campaign, Preserve and Gather has held on to its grassroots, slightly DIY feel and created a space where you’ll want to spend more time than just running in on the way to work to grab a cappuccino. In fact, everything here seems to have been lovingly gathered; from the Sea Wolf bread to Conduit coffee, the coffee machine to the regulars who huddle together over the delicious plates and steaming mugs of coffee. The food is as good as the coffee, with home made jams, preserves and pickles taking centre stage beside the local artisan breads, cheeses and pastries. And the best bit? There’s no wifi, so instead of finding an internet connection, you might actually make a real connection with someone. 

Tin Umbrella

In a city flooded with coffee, looking for a truly unique coffee shop can feel a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. But, it turns out that Tin Umbrella is that needle. Where others are pushing boundaries with techniques and blends, this spot has eschewed all latte art and has instead focused on building a space for its local community. In the diverse and off the beaten path neighbourhood of Hillman City, where there are more abandoned buildings than occupied ones and not a single cafe (until Tin Umbrella came along), owner Joya Iverson decided to open her coffee shop after being hit by three cars in the space of five months. Instead of hiding away at home, Iverson decided to open her coffee shop so she could walk to work - despite the fact she had never made a cup of coffee outside of her own home before!

Making the trip to Hillman city for a cup of drip is worth it not for a fancy coffee, but for the warm and inclusive atmosphere that awaits you. You’ll soon see that the place is a true community hub, especially on weekends when locals pitch in to help out when things get too busy! Joya herself has said that the aim of the game was to create a space where anyone can walk in and afford a cup of coffee, not price out the locals with an upscale coffee shop which doesn't suit the needs of this specific neighbourhood. The result is magical, and the dream of a neighbourhood centric cafe which is about meeting your neighbours, not snapping an insta shot of your cold brew, has certainly been realised.


Describing itself as a ‘modern American coffee shop’, Analog has brought with it the best of Seattle’s second wave and shrugged off those parts we happily left behind in the 70s. Tucked away in an unassuming corner of Capitol Hill, a neighbourhood increasingly known for its revolutionary spirit and hipster vibes, you’ll know you’ve arrived in the right place when you spot a faded American flag behind the counter and the sounds drifting out of Analog’s record player reach your ears. With records stacked and the day's newspapers and comics clipped to the walls, indulge in some time away from the digital age and busy yourself with a cup of cold brew (they were the first coffee shop in the city to fit a cold brew tap system), conversation and a good read. Hip without being hipster, Analog’s perfectly roasted Herkimer beans and the constantly spinning records make for the perfect bolt hole in Capitol Hill.

Brother Joe

You have absolutely no excuse not to head over to Brother Joe, a delightful craft coffee and tea house in Georgetown. You’ll quickly see where the ‘craft’ comes in; from bean to cup every part of the process has been lovingly considered and they pride themselves on their relationship with Herkimer, a local roaster committed to sustainability. They purchase their beans from small, independent farms, and maintain close relationships with the farmers, ensuring good wages and working conditions as well as excellent quality beans.

As well as all the usual suspects and the daily drip which is always barista’s choice, it’s their speciality brews which ensure Brother Joe stands out in a city obsessed with coffee. Bringing together flavours and techniques from across the globe has resulted in unique and inspired creations like cold brew with rice, vanilla and cinnamon; espresso with Mexican chocolate, chiles, orange zest; espresso with orange blossom honey-miso caramel and an espresso affogato with a cardamom and chocolate fudge ice cream. It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for coffee lovers.