Exploring Excellent Cafes in Seattle

Seattle is a wonderful American destination for a city break or a pit stop to check out the gorgeous scenery that completely surrounds the city. In winter you can go skiing or snowboarding close by and during warmer months you can hike the mountains or catch a ferry across Pugent Sound to one of the nearby islands for a picnic or bicycle ride. The ferries actually run year round and the 30 minute December ferry I took from Seattle to Bainbridge Island was one the highlights of my stay. Bainbridge Island offers excellent views of Seattle’s unique Space Needle and the entire skyline. Seattle has a laid back vibe that’s personified well through the excellent cafe culture the city has, extending far beyond the origins of Starbucks.

Pike Place Market and the Original Starbucks

Yes, Starbucks originated in Seattle in 1971 and is slowly engulfing the world. Near Pike Place Market, America’s oldest farmer’s market (a must visit in Seattle) lies the original Starbucks. I walked by and watched musicians perform outside but did not partake in the long queue. I made a pact not to visit any Starbucks while in Seattle because it’s not necessary for finding great coffee in the city. But while some people knock Starbucks, I do give some credit to the company for raising the consciousness of good coffee in many places in America that had a very low bar previously.

Musicians perform out the front of the original Starbucks in Seattle.
Musicians perform outside the original Starbucks in Seattle.

Espresso Vivace

I stayed with friends in Seattle (who take coffee very seriously, grinding fresh beans before each brew) and my friend Mike recommended Espresso Vivace as a must visit cafe for this story, as they’ve had a lesser known impact on good American coffee than Starbucks. Since 1992 they’ve been brewing coffee in the Northern Italian style and legendary chef Emeril Lagasse previously heralded them as brewing the best coffee in America. It’s indeed great coffee, but I discovered an equally good cup of “Americano” (an espresso mixed with hot water) right in Seattle, as Mike also said I would.

Vivace Espresso Seattle

Espresso Vivace Seattle
If Espresso Vivace’s coffee doesn’t remind you of Italy, this painting might.


In fact, of the several coffees I drank during my time in Seattle, Fonte served up the best brew. It was a bold, smooth and fresh as can be cup of Americano- I rarely order the fancy sugary stuff and never did while in Seattle. Like many Americans, I like a caramel mocha on occasion, but I also just enjoy the taste of an espresso, influenced by the people who do this best, the Milanese.


Another great find was the modern and ultra sleek Storyville. While I’d rate their Americano behind the ones I drank at Espresso Vivace and Fonte, Storyville was a unique and chill place to enjoy my drink- and it still tasted plenty good enough. And they still take coffee plenty serious. I noticed on their bags of fresh roasted beans that all the “expiry” dates were in under 10 days.

Storyville Coffee Seattle

Colombia Center Starbucks Offers an Amazing View of the Seattle Skyline

I did make one exception while trying to avoid Starbucks in Seattle- apparently it’s unavoidable after all. But my friends and a taxi driver recommended visiting the Columbia Center over the Space Needle because the wait is far shorter and you can actually see the Space Needle from the observation deck of Seattle’s tallest building. My friend Dennis gave me another great tip though- visit the Starbucks on the 40th floor of the Columbia Center.

Colombia Center is free and open to the public and a gem of a spot. Thanks to its wonderful view, I’d rate it as my favorite Starbucks in the world to date. So it was worth breaking my pact.

I was also told that the Starbucks cafe in the Starbucks headquarters is quite special (as one might imagine). But I didn’t have time to make it there.

The only Starbucks I allowed myself to patronize while in Seattle. The free view was worth bending my rule.
The Starbucks on the 40th floor of the Columbia Center. The only Seattle Starbucks I purchased a coffee from.

Quality Coffee Beans, a Grinder and French Press Equals Great Coffee at Home

You don’t need a fancy coffee machine to easily and cheaply brew a great cup of coffee though. All you need is quality freshly ground coffee (which is extremely cheap compared to always ordering coffee out, even if it’s at McDonald’s) and a French Press coffee plunger. We make delicious coffee at home every morning we’re in town and the savings over ordering coffee out helps to save for traveling.

Where’s your favorite place in the world for a cup of coffee? Have another great Seattle cafe tip? Please share in the comments!


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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6 thoughts on “Exploring Excellent Cafes in Seattle

  1. We Melbournians take our coffee very seriously and we have lots of wonderful places for coffee. I also make a good brew at home. We all need our coffee hit!!!

    1. Melbourne sure does have great coffee! And the Italians themselves helped facilitate this, along with the fact that a larger percentage of Aussies tend to be well travelled outside of Australia. Happy coffee brewing!

  2. We typically try to avoid Starbucks too as there are so many awesome ‘little guys’ out there that we prefer to support. When in Seattle though, I’d say you’re justified in popping in since Starbucks was founded there. It’s kind of like visiting a tourist attraction in that case. Bottom line, I’m not judging you 😉

    1. Thanks Dr. J! 🙂 Yeah I suppose it’s good that I went to one Seattle Starbucks afterall since it was founded there (though I didn’t go in the original location). I suppose for some Starbucks fans it’s worth the long line to buy a coffee from the original location, but personally I’m pretty happy with the one on the 40th floor of the Columbia Center. Maybe next time I’ll check out the cafe in the Starbucks headquarters. Happy travels and cafe hunting!

  3. Great recommendations and I now want to go to the Columbia Tower Starbucks.
    One of my favorite Seattle places is Uptown Espresso (for your next trip out here).

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I really hope to get back to Seattle someday (and for Bell to visit for the first time) and when we do, we’ll definitely check out Uptown Espresso. Thanks for the tip and enjoy the view from the Starbucks on the Columbia Center! 🙂

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