A Coffee Snobs Guide to Seattle

Seattle is one of the best places in the world for coffee. And no, i’m not talking about Starbucks. When I meet people who are planning on visiting the Emerald City, my biggest piece of advice is to check out the local coffee scene. Coffee shop owners in Seattle put a lot of love and attention into their coffee.  Many coffee houses in Seattle roast their own beans or buy from a local roaster. You can find coffee beans from Honduras to Rwanda and they all taste totally different. Here is a small list of a few cafe’s I have been able to sample during my time living in the Seattle area.

Espresso Vivace (Locations: Capitol Hill and Eastlake)

When I first moved to Seattle in 2009, I had not quite come to appreciate the vibrant coffee culture the city was famed for. But, then an old friend took me to Espresso Vivace on Capitol Hill and so my education began. Vivace is something of an institution within the Seattle coffee community. They have served Seattle since 1988 and they roast their coffee beans on sight at their flagship store on Capitol Hill. My favorite coffee drink to get there is the Cafe Nico. This is a very rich drink that comes in a 4 oz or an 8 oz and is essentially a breve (half cream and half milk) macchiato with orange zest and cinnamon. However, it’s definitely more of an afternoon pick-me-up than morning fuel.

Milstead & Co. (Fremont)

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Cold brew coffee

Milstead & Co. coffee is located in the artsy neighborhood of Fremont, just down the hill from the famed Fremont Troll. I first went there last summer in the middle of a heatwave and was immediately impressed with it’s rotating selection of roasted coffee and it’s outdoor seating area which features a large piece of the Berlin Wall. Okay, the piece of the Berlin Wall actually belongs to the historic society next door that also shares the space but it’s still a very cool feature. Milstead’s cold brew coffee served over ice in a large pint glass was the perfect thing to kick the summer heat. If you aren’t feeling up for coffee their burnt sugar lemonade/iced tea over ice is also pretty noteworthy.

Slate  (Ballard)

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A “de-constructed latte” from Slate. Espresso in one glass, steamed milk in the second and a latte in the third.

Slate was a coffee place that was a huge disappointment the one and only time I went. I was immediately put off by the fact that rather than being a coffee house the place had the atmosphere of a cramped wine bar that happened to serve coffee. While you can pick up a coffee to go, if you choose to stay and sit in the cramped quarters of Slate you soon learn that they have table service — which is unnecessary since the place is so small and isn’t a restaurant. This means that you are obligated to tip the wait staff for a cup of coffee. The coffee, while just as good as any in Seattle, isn’t exactly mind-blowing or offering anything different to what you have tried before. This makes the fact that they charge you $4-$5 for a cup of coffee that comes served in a 6 oz wine glass even more ridiculous.  Overall, the place wasn’t worth the money or the time.

Trabant Coffee & Chai  (University District)

Trabant

Trabant was not one of my main stops for coffee when I lived in the U-District. It’s known as one of the best places to get a chai tea in the city. I don’t  like chai tea so I never bothered to go there until I got my first big job out of college. The bus I had to catch in the early hours of the morning stopped directly in front of Trabant. It soon became the place to go to when I was running late and hadn’t had time to grab breakfast or coffee.I soon realized that while Trabant is famed for their chai tea– they were no slouch when it came to espresso. Then one morning I was running VERY late. I quickly ordered a non-fat latte and a chocolate croissant to go. Just as the barista finished my coffee —  my bus pulled up outside the door. I would either have to pay and miss my bus or leave my order and run for it. The barista took one look at me and shoved the coffee and croissant into my hands and said “Go! Don’t worry about it!”After that, the coffee and the staff totally won me over. Trabant has continued to do well for itself in the years since. They have solidified themselves as a go to place for coffee in the U-District neighborhood and have opened a second location in Pioneer Square.

Next time you are in Seattle, indulge in one of the city’s favorite pastimes and enjoy a very high quality cup of joe!

Other worthwhile cafe’s to check out:

Seattle Coffee Works (downtown)

Bauhaus Coffee (Ballard)

Bulldog Newsstand (University District)

Victrola (Capitol Hill)

Photo credit: Espresso Vivace coffee sign image was taken by “Another Believer” and obtained through Wikimedia Commons

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Port Townsend: A Victorian Town in the Puget Sound

On the Olympic peninsula of Washington state there is a small town called Port Townsend. This small seaside community is a preserved historical area where old banks and saloons  have been restored and turned into inns/restaurants for visitors in the warm seasons.

Port Townsend was first settled in 1851, although it had been established as a harbor as early as 1792. There were big plans for the new town. It was thought that Port Townsend would become the largest port on the west coast of the U.S. and it was thus named the “City of Dreams.” Unfortunately, these dreams would never come to fruition. The failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad to connect the city via railway to the city of Tacoma coupled with the economic depression of the mid 1890s caused the once thriving boom town to go bust. The town managed to survive through fishing, the port, canning, a nearby military fort and of course the illegal activities of the day such as shanghaiing. In spite of the passing years, all the beautiful Victorian buildings that the heyday of the 1800s had left behind were preserved. So much so that in the 1980s, Port Townsend was included on the U.S National Register of Historic Places.

I grew up on Whidbey Island which is  across the sound from Port Townsend. I remember catching the ferry boat with my friends to get a large milkshake or root beer float at the over-priced 1950s style diner in Port Townsend and then peruse the European style book shop on Water street. Years later, I returned to get married in the old red-brick courthouse with the clock tower that oversees the entire town. While living in Tacoma for the last two years, Port Townsend has been a constant stop for me whenever I make my way home to Whidbey Island to visit my parents. Stopping in Port Townsend to wait for the ferry is always a welcome break from the road. I stop and get a quick slice from Waterfront Pizza where you can find many of the locals picking up a pie on their way home from work. If I make it there earlier, I’ll stop for a latte at Better Living Through Coffee and make my way over to the William James bookstore (the same one from my youth) and finger through the cluttered stacks of used paperbacks.

Today, tourism is a thriving part of Port Townsends economy. The number of gourmet bistros, historic buildings, and incredible views of the Olympic mountains as well as the Puget Sound make it the perfect weekend getaway.

Photo Credit: All photos belong to me with the exception of the photo of Jefferson County Courthouse (the building with the clock tower). This photo belongs to Joe Mabel or Jmabel and was posted to wikimedia commons with permission to share. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Port_Townsend_-_Jefferson_County_Courthouse_01.jpgr

A Little Advice for Visiting Pike Place Market

When you live in Seattle — visiting Pike Place Market is both something to look forward to and dread. The market, which has been in existence since 1907, carries practically everything you can think of. You can buy fresh flowers, produce, fish and then also pick up a German newspaper, some African deck chairs and a used copy of “Atlas Shrugged,” if you so desire.DSC_0014

Pike Place is full of nooks and crannies and no matter how many times you visit — there is always something new to discover. So, why do we locals dread the market? Because it is probably the most visited place in Seattle and is constantly overcrowded with tourists.

Therefore, when out-of-town friends want to visit the market; I always advise them to go early, go hungry and bring cash.

Get to the market around 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. Most of the vendors at the market have set up by that point but the market has not begun to get crowded. Saturdays are the absolutely worse time to go. I recommend going sometime during the work week.

Don’t stop for food before heading for the market! There are so many amazing food stalls and restaurants to stop at. Some of my favorite places for pastries are Piroshky Piroshky (a Russian style bakery) and Le Panier.

Piroshky Piroshky is a tiny in and out place that is often crowded but everything here is delicious! Some memorable items are their oven-baked apple with sweet cream cheese and their Oskar Star. Le Panier is the resident French bakery and serves as an actual cafe where you can sit and have a cup of coffee or tea with homemade macaroons and chocolate eclairs.

For a quick bite, I like heading to the Michou Deli where you can pick up a panini or salad made with market fresh ingredients. Mee Sum Pastry is a Chinese dumpling and pastry shop that offers the perfect lunch to eat while you walk. Their bbq pork dumpling is incredible!

Bringing cash is not as big of a deal as it used to be due to the fact that many vendors can use their smartphones to make credit card transactions. But, I still recommend it because as a hustling and bustling place — cash keeps things moving quickly. Try and get cash before you make it to the market. I have seen a grand total of three cash machines in the market and they charge huge fees!

On the big draws of the market….

The Market Theatre Gum Wall is a popular place to stop and gander. Be aware that this is an area constantly swarmed by people taking photos and it’s not uncommon to see couples there getting their engagement photos done. This is another good reason to get to the market early if you wish to have an unencumbered photo session.

The Flying Fish is always a popular place to be. The world famous fishmongers throw a fish every hour or so and are entertaining to watch.

The first Starbucks is also located at the market. However, it is a major tourist trap and there is always a line of tourists out the door. Honestly! I think if I ever walked by it and there wasn’t a line out the door, I wouldn’t recognize it! From everything I have seen and heard, it’s worth just getting a photo of the storefront and continuing on.

In conclusion — avoid the hectic experience, but enjoy the market!

Any other tips on visiting Pike Place? Leave them in the comments below.

Photo credit: Mike Menshikov and Andy Melan