Thursday, December 10, 2009
Best coffee in Seattle
Hi everyone, I've got a post brewing on the Fat Studies reader (in a nutshell: it is awesome), but in the mean time I thought I'd share something I learned recently, which is that Seattle has some fabulous coffee. Obviously I'd heard that before, but until last weekend I'd never gone and checked it out for myself. And now that I have done so, I figure I might as well post my findings, since a google search for "best coffee in Seattle" proved to be surprisingly unhelpful as I prepared for the trip.
We had four nights in Seattle, so even though we had a bunch of family stuff to do (we were there for a wedding), I figured I could hit at least four coffee shops. I went to the forums at coffeegeek.com to compile a list of places to hit, since the geeks on coffeegeek are super-anal about their coffee. There was a remarkable amount of overlap in the places that people mentioned. Here are a few: Victrola, Espresso Vivace, Zoka, Caffe Vita, Stella, Stumptown, Lighthouse Roasters, Cafe Ladro, Hotwire, Zeitgeist, and Caffe Umbria. In particular, it seemed like the consensus favorite was Vivace, though Victrola and Zoka are also well-liked. Caffe Vita and Caffe Umbria got mixed reviews.
The first night, we stopped at Victrola for some coffees to go. I got a cappuccino and the Admiral got a regular coffee. Both were great. The cappuccino had some seriously exquisite latte art going on; it made me wish we'd sat and enjoyed it right there, but we arrived late and I think they were closing.
The next day, I ventured out on my own to the Stumptown next to the University of Seattle campus. I was doing some reading, so I ordered a latte. It was delicious and had a beautiful rosette design. I wished I'd ordered a cappuccino to better facilitate comparison with the other places I visited, but anyway, I did enjoy the latte. As I was sitting there reading, this guy started setting up for a free public "cupping" (i.e., coffee tasting) next to me. So I stopped reading and joined in the cupping. It was such a cool experience -- a very elaborate ritual that really enhanced my appreciation for the different roasts they had on offer. I also got a serious buzz -- you're supposed to spit after tasting, which I did a few times, but when you're sipping coffee that good it's hard to just spit it out. I got the Admiral an Americano to go, and he reported that it was exceptionally good (by that point I was so saturated with caffeine that I declined to taste it).
On day 3, we walked all over town. Our first stop was Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square. Some geek had posted something about how their famously rich steamed milk was achieved by nefarious means, namely, adding half and half to the milk. Scandalous!! Well, I have no idea if that's true -- the milk for my cappucino was poured straight out of a milk carton, but I suppose it could have been tampered with behind the scenes. In any case, the cappuccino was delicious. Almost as good as the one from Victrola. That afternoon we stopped at Caffe Ladro. My cappuccino was really good, better than you could find in most cities, but not exceptional. Points for friendly service and funky decor, however. And later that night, on our way back from the wedding, we stumbled upon Caffe Vita and decided to pop in. They were just about to close, which was too bad because they really had a nice, cozy atmosphere and I would have loved to stay a while. My cappuccino was excellent -- with lovely latte art and tasting just as good as the one from Victrola.
On our last day, we finally made it to Espresso Vivace, our 6th and final stop. I had high hopes, and I wasn't disappointed. The atmosphere was cozy, my cappuccino was delicious, and the barista's latte art (pictured above) was very nice. I kind of think once you get to that level it's really hard to distinguish among really excellent coffee drinks, so I can't say that I liked it better than Victrola or Vita, but it was equally good. I guess on the whole I'd say I liked Caffe Vita the best. But I look forward to a return visit so I can check out the rest of the list.