And we’re back with the next segment of my “Seattle’s Best Coffee Shops” series, this time featuring places that all start with “Caf(f)e”. If you missed the first one, feel free to check it out here. I purposely grouped these particular coffee shops together because of their names. Well that, and they’re all really good. It stands to reason that if you come across a coffee shop in Seattle whose name starts with “Caf(f)e”, it’s probably a good one. Plus it just sounds very classy and European, doesn’t it? It also made me wonder if there’s actually a distinct difference between cafes and coffee shops, so I Googled it. The only thing my Google search taught me is that nobody can seem to agree on the difference, and most people use them interchangeably. I think it has to do with the type of food they sell (light fair vs meals), but all I really care about in this case is that they have coffee. Good coffee. Well, that’s not entirely true. This is about coffee shops (or cafés, or whatever) so I’m looking at both the quality of the coffee and locations before adding them to the list. Let’s get to spilling the beans on what makes these places worth visiting.
Caffé Vita - 1005 E Pike St (& other locations)
If you’re having deja-brew, it’s because you might remember me mentioning Caffé Vita in Part One, with reference to Little Oddfellows. If you’ve ordered coffee in a local restaurant or cafe, there’s a good chance you may have had Caffé Vita coffee already. There’s a long list local places who use Caffé Vita beans in their restaurants (which should be an indication of how good it is), but of course you can also visit one of their locations directly. They have six locations in Seattle (seven, if you count SeaTac) and what’s kind of neat is that each of their locations has a slightly different vibe to it. For instance, the Capitol Hill location kind of feels like you walked into a bar. There isn’t a ton of natural light and the neon red sign on the wall reflects off of the black-and-white-striped tables. It feels very urban, and dare I say even a little Seattle grunge? The music also totally adds to the vibe. Let’s just say that if Kurt Cobain had still been alive when it opened, I feel like he could have been seen there working on his next song, while sipping a black coffee, or maybe a cold brew (because that’s just what I imagine he would drink, but I might be projecting). Plus, he was known to frequent Capitol Hill, so I mean, it’s totally plausible. Now on the other hand, the Pioneer Square location is full of natural light and and has that very modern bright, white, semi-industrial feel to it. Same great coffee, totally different vibes. As for the coffee beans, they source and import them directly from farmers with sustainable practices and roast them fresh on-site. You can even watch them roast their beans through the window in the back of the Capitol Hill location. My experience with their beverages comes in the form of coffee, americanos, and also a dirty chai latte, all of which were very enjoyable. I wouldn’t say that they necessarily rank number one in their respective categories, but I wouldn’t hesitate to order them again. I’ve also heard great things about their their cold brew. In full transparency, I’ve also read a lot of mixed reviews about the quality of the service there, and I’ll admit that it was a little slow, but my personal experience was that the baristas were friendly. I didn’t really mind that it took an extra minute or two to get my beverages. Plus, the drinks here fall more on the inexpensive side as far as independent coffee shops go, so unless time is money for you, the wait time isn’t much of a deterrent. I’ll be back again, and next time I’ll check out the cold brew.
Caffè Fiore - 224 W Galer St (& other locations)
The first time I had Caffè Fiore was at the Ballard location before a hair appointment. I needed to make a good first impression on my new hairstylist (shoutout to the amazing @withlove.hunter), so I stopped across the street and picked up a black americano for me and a latte for Hunter. I didn’t know her coffee order at the time, but I figured you can never go wrong with a latte. Actually, it turns you can, if that person is lactose intolerant. Whoops. Now, I just need to take a second and thank Hunter for her dietary restrictions (Thanks Hunter!), because without them I never would have had the latte, and let me tell you - it was un utter delight. For real. It’s one of the best lattes I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. Since having raved about it, I have dragged Chris with me to the Queen Anne location to try for himself, and they are, in fact, Chris approved. Sometimes I worry that when I hype things up so much the first time around that they won’t be as good as I remembered the next time. Nope, these were totally worth the hype (and yes, my own hype counts). The baristas at the Queen Anne location were absolutely lovely and even let us try some hemp milk while they were preparing our lattes, because why not? Overall, it was a really enjoyable customer experience. In regards to the coffee, Caffè Fiore prides itself on using 100% certified organic beans (the first to do so in Seattle), which they claim (according to their website) offers a more robust natural flavor, is healthier, and is more environmentally responsible. Now I wouldn’t say I necessarily seek out organic coffee, but I can respect a company who is committed to it. I will say though, the espresso is definitely robust and smooth, whether that has to do with its organic certification or not. While they have their own blends, they don’t roast their beans in-house; in fact, they send them to none other than Caffé Vita to be roasted. That’s right, we’ve got some coffee shop-ception going on in this blog post. They have four locations total, but the two I’ve been to are very “rustic-chic” and have this nice, cozy, mellow atmosphere. I think it’s all the warm tones, lighting, and wood that makes the interior feel like a big, fuzzy, warm hug. This is another one of those places where I just want to set up shop on a rainy day (good news - Seattle has a lot of those) and spend my day indulging in lattes and romance novels. Granted, I don’t really read romance novels, BUT IF I DID, I would want to read them here.
Cafe Allegro - 4214 University Way NE
This coffee shop, established in the University District in 1975, is the oldest espresso house in Seattle. Note: it’s not the first coffee house - that title belongs to the now defunct Cafe Encore, which opened in 1958. At 44 years old, Cafe Allegro is vintage and quirky, with a distinctly “local” vibe. It’s a little like the eccentric aunt of the Seattle Coffee Shop family. You know the one; the one who at first glance might seem a little odd, but always has these bizarre, yet entertaining stories that she takes forever to get through between the laughter and the drags of her cigarette. You might be hesitant to approach her at a family reunion (grandma seems like a safer bet, until you realize she’s probably going to drill you about when you’re planning to have children, because “You’re not getting any younger, dear!”), but once you do, you’ll be glad you did. The entrance to Cafe Allegro is down a back alley, so I can see why you might be hesitant to enter, or how you might miss it completely. Honestly, I was a little worried about the alleyway being sketchy, but hey, I lived to tell the tale. You'll find the entrance underneath an old wooden sign and flanked by large windows. As you enter, the brick wall on the left is adorned with art from local artists, while the wall to the right of the counter is full of posters for local events. They even had a table covered with poetry books and other literature. There isn’t an abundance of seating when you first enter, but they do have extra space upstairs, including a patio. I ordered an americano and asked to be directed to the upstairs. I was told to grab my coffee and head back outside (which gave me anxiety because I felt like it looked like I was stealing their mug), and then to go through the door to the left. You guys - it’s literally an old, unmarked black door that leads to a narrow (and not well-lit) staircase. I momentarily considered that this could be a textbook horror movie situation and that I was about to become the coffee shop version of a “Hostel” victim, but it actually just leads to a really nice and brightly lit space to hang out and drink some coffee (and is totally not murdery at all). The upstairs is also where they roast their own beans. Their espresso is described as being sweet and smokey and the balance of the two makes for a fine medium roast. I can definitely see why a lot of UW students come here to study, other than it’s proximity to campus. They also serve beer and wine, so you can have a coffee (or eight) before you submit your paper, and a drink (or eight) once it’s submitted. This coffee shop is a hidden gem (literally) with a lot of character and worth checking out if you find yourself in the U-District.
Caffè Umbria - 320 Occidental Avenue South (& other locations)
Do you ever wish that you could just forgo all your responsibilities and hop on a plane to Italy to relax under the Tuscan sun, sipping espresso and enjoying paninis and gelato, while being fed chocolate by a tall, dark, and handsome Italian man (or woman)? Or maybe you didn’t even realize this was something you wanted until this very moment, but now that you do, you’re disappointed that there’s just no way you’re going to find yourself on Italian soil anytime soon? Don’t worry, I’ve got the next best thing. You can relax instead under the Seattle sun (or maybe indoors, because you know, Seattle rain), sipping espresso and enjoying paninis and gelato at Caffè Umbria. Even the chocolate is included! Except you’re on your own with the whole “being fed by a tall, dark, and handsome Italian man (or woman)” part. Sorry about that. While a European getaway might not be in the cards, Caffè Umbria (owned by the very Italian Bizzarri family who hails from the Umbria region, hence the name) does offer an authentic Italian bar experience, complete with traditional Italian espresso. The Bizzarri family’s coffee roasting roots go all the way back to the 1940’s in Italy, so you could say they know what they’re doing. The spaces are modern, sleek, and beautiful, and the gelato cart, which obviously serves a delicious function, is also really quaint. I didn’t get a chance to try any gelato, paninis, or pastries this time around, but that gelato is going to be calling my name in the summer months. I did, however, have an americano made from their “Gusto Crema” blend, and it was rich, delightfully sweet, and slightly chocolatey (and I don’t just mean because it comes with a chocolate on the side, which really is a nice touch). This is the featured blend at all of their cafes, but you can also purchase a number of different roasts from them, as they roast their own beans. Their “Bizzarri Blend” is a Golden Bean North America medal-winning coffee, so I’m thinking I might need to snag a bag of those beans for the apartment next time I’m in the area. Alright, so now that you’ve accepted that your daydreams of espresso-fueled escapades through the Italian countryside are not going to be on the agenda (at least not today, anyway), travel instead to the nearest Caffè Umbria. I promise it’s magnifico.
Cafe Solstice - 925 E Thomas St (& U-District location)
Despite its name, this one seems the least like a coffee shop or cafe. Although it does have your standard cafe selection of coffee and tea beverages and in-house baked goods, the Capitol Hill location also has a full menu (brunch, small plates, soups, salads, and sandwiches) and over a dozen beer on tap. So is it a cafe? A bistro? A bar? I’m going to go with a hybrid of all three. It’s worth noting that Cafe Solstice did get its start as a coffee cart, so it really is a coffee shop at its core. It’s got a very chill, laid-back kind of vibe to it. If Cafe Allegro was the eccentric aunt of the bunch, then Cafe Solstice is everybody’s favorite uncle. You know, the one who wears old band tees and always has a beer in hand? He might not cook a lot of fancy meals, but he knows how to make a mean sandwich or a great plate of nachos. Now, it appears that at some point your favorite uncle also learned to hand-mix teas and make home-crafted kombucha on the side, but you can bet there’s a good story behind that. He shows up at family events equipped with an acoustic guitar and a story from the road, and naturally brings everyone together. Cafe Solstice really does nail that vibe with their huge open seating area, and signs inviting others to join people at their tables. While that would seem intimidating to some, don’t worry - you’re not forced to make conversation with strangers. Usually it’s people with laptops joining other people with laptops, so social interaction isn’t necessary. The idea is that there is room for everyone, and sharing is caring, right? Sometimes they host comedy nights, musicians, or writing groups. Like I said - they’re always bringing people together. So far I’ve only been by a couple of times for coffee and scones. They use local beans from Lighthouse Roasters and they make a really good cold brew. I plan on going back for a happy hour beer and plate of nachos, and who knows, I may even test out some kombucha if I’m feeling adventurous. I’ll report back if I do. What I can tell you though, is that Cafe Solstice has great coffee, a great atmosphere, and great staff. Whether you consider it a cafe/coffee shop/bar/bistro/or whatever else, the bottom line is that it’s a great place to hang out with a cold brew (coffee, or otherwise, take your pick).
Honorable Mention: Caffe Ladro
I’m posting this one as an honorable mention, ONLY BECAUSE I haven’t actually been to any of the shops (and I did say this is as much about the locations as it is about the coffee), but I HAVE purchased their beans, so I wanted to include it. Chris and I found Caffe Ladro beans at QFC, and since we’re trying to stick to local roasters, we bought some to make coffee at home. Their beans make a fantastic homemade cup of coffee. It’s one of the best bags of beans we’ve brought home so far, and I’d love to see how a drink made by an actual skilled barista would compare. Until then, it at least gets this honorable mention.