Seattle's Coffee Culture

Seattleites love coffee. But it's more than just a need for caffeine. The city's coffee shops are social hubs. Here's where to savor the best brews in town plus get design inspiration from gorgeous cafe interiors.

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Grand River

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Bean Box

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Why Do Seattleites Drink So Much Coffee?

The Starbucks hometown is largely credited with putting Seattle's coffee culture on the map but there are other reasons why Seattle has so many coffee shops. No. 1: It's rainy and gloomy and cold from October to April. Visit Seattle's Alisa Carroll notes that coffee shops allow friends, family and coworkers to connect in a warm environment. Scott McMartin, of Seattle roaster Fundamental Coffee Company, says it also has to do with the city’s roots. "Seattle is a fishing community. Fishermen needed something to keep them warm when they were fishing. The people who settled here were Scandinavian and those countries have the highest rates of coffee consumption in the world."

How Do Seattleites Take Their Coffee?

Seriously. They take it very seriously. McMartin, a sensory professional, and former Starbucks coffee taster, says it’s all about the special brewing techniques. "It’s such an important ritual for people. Like, pour over or French press or cool drip coffee." If all those options sound overwhelming, coffee shops such as Seattle Coffee Works offer cupping classes or coffee tastings. And as for taste, McMartin says, "A lot of people do drink coffee black." If you’re not ready for that, the latte is another popular choice. McMartin’s Humbucker Latte at Mabel Cafe is delicious on its own.

Dark vs. Light Roast

Though Seattle’s coffee giant Starbucks is famous for dark roast, there’s more of a light roast community emerging in town. But what’s the difference? Similar to hops and beer, there are two camps of roasting coffee beans. Light roast lets the origin of the coffee shine through but is usually more bitter. Dark roast is smooth and mellow.

The Vessel

"There’s a tumbler lifestyle here," says McMartin. "People carry tumblers of coffee with them." McMartin carries a vintage Stanley thermos but also digs the tumblers at MiiR. At home, and especially during the winter, mugs with hand warmers are a great choice. Handmade ceramic varieties can be found at Made in Washington by Pike Place Market.

Coffee Compost

Seattle is all about recycling with recycling programs citywide. One of the ways cafes and roasters stay sustainable is by putting out used grounds for free. People can take them and use them in compost. Fresh Flours in South Lake Union sets out huge helpings of grounds.

Latte Art

Across from the REI flagship store, Espresso Vivace Alley 24, has the best latte art in town...literally. The shop’s floor features fun tile mosaics of intricate latte art designs. Aesthetics aside, it’s a great spot to fuel up before tackling the infamous REI garage sale.

Coffee Break

It’s not just about good sips. As social hubs, coffee shops in Seattle have atmosphere and personality. Here are some of the best, from serene escapes to serious cool factor.

Brew With a View

Pike Place Market can be overwhelming but if you go across the street to Corner Market and head up the stairs, around the corner, up more stairs and then down a hallway, you’ll find the hidden storefront of Storyville Coffee. With big leather seats, a roaring fire and an incredible view of Pike Place Market, it’s a much needed escape from all the crowds.

Coffee Shop Style

Italian espresso machine company La Marzocco has an incredibly hip outpost in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. This is where Seattle’s music culture and coffee culture collide. Indie radio station KEXP broadcasts right from inside the building and patrons can watch through the window.

Fueling Indie Radio

The music theme can be found throughout the shop with speaker designs painted on the floor and fun, funky furniture like a wooden, cassette coffee table.

Coffee Al Fresco

Another Queen Anne spot, El Diablo has a great hidden outdoor patio in the back. Covered in a canopy of greenery, it’s incredibly serene and a great escape in the city.

Monorail Espresso

Quite literally a hole in the wall, Monorail Espresso has been open for nearly 40 years. It’s a popular spot for bike messengers and it’s a great pick me up if you’re shopping downtown.


You can’t talk about Seattle coffee culture without talking about Starbucks. There are two ways to pay homage. You can visit the "first" Starbucks story by Pike Place Market. But the line is insane and the beverages are just like other locations. A more immersive option is the Starbucks Roastery in Capitol Hill. Chat with baristas and sample coffees from all around the world.

Bean Box

If you can’t get to Seattle, ship Seattle coffee to you. Subscription company Bean Box works with local roasters to curate samples of the best brews in town.

Coffee + Doughnuts

There’s no better combo than coffee and doughnuts. Portland may have the pink box but Seattle has the blue box. Local, hand-forged chain Top Pot Doughnuts serves classics and signature flavors such as The Feather Boa.