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Oct 27, 1999 04:30 PM

Decent coffee in Seattle?

  • t

I have to go up there periodically, and of course I have to drink coffee (or I'll die)...but I haven't had much luck finding a really good brew. I know enough to avoid Starbuck's; but I'm not savvy to the good stuff.

To avoid misunderstanding, let me define my terms: by "decent coffee", I mean roasted very dark (like Peet's) and brewed very strong (like Peet's) other words, as close as you can get to Peet's without actually being Peet's. (Unlike the Microsoft of coffee, Peet's is apparently not intent on world domination...hence, no Peet's in Seattle.)

Any help on this is greatly appreciated.

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  1. The original Torrefazione in Pioneer Square served at one time by far the best espresso in America. Beautiful stuff, rich, deep, almost thick enough to stand a spoon in. They've since been bought by a larger coffee operation, but I suspect the original location is still pretty great.

    3 Replies
    1. re: j gold

      I haven't read ALL the earlier postings, but the choice is clear -- Vivace espresso cart/window on Broadway has the best trained barristas, the nuttiest, creamiest espresso shot, the velvetiest foam. THE drink to get is a single macchiato (means marked with a little dot in Italian) A short shot of espresso with a little dot of foam on top --in their signature heart-shape... I could go on. I moved away for a few years, and really, that was the one thing I missed. Pathetic, I know...Just try it.

      1. re: sd

        you can get a really smooth, not-too-sweet mocha at the bait shop in ballard. the beans are from lighthouse roasters, which i think was started by ex-starbuck$ employees.

      2. re: j gold
        Gabriel Solis

        Here here about Torrefazione. I moved away about 5 years ago, but I still remember with slobbery tongue the fantastic coffee the kiosk on the bottom floor of the Ranier building (was that the name? The one that looks like beavers have been eating away at the bottom) was. I worked just upstairs, and became friends with the owners, and really thought they were quality people. Perhaps a bit on the trendy side, but I also really miss the Bauhaus Cafe (again, was that the name, my memory is really slipping) on Pine, as I recall, just uphill from I-5. I lived a few blocks away, and would regularly stop by on my way home from work (the sight of the slackers trudging down off of cap hill to downtown in the morning and streaming back up after the day was over is still a fond, vivid memory for me). The coffe wasn't particularly good, but the small alcove under the mezzanine ranks as the top place I've ever been for sitting at a counter, drinking cappucino and watching the rain come down. Perhaps these sorts of considerations are not what chowhounding is about, but for total experience, this is pretty hard to beat in my book.

        Reminiscing in easy nostalgia,


      3. You've mentioned Peet's. You've made Bob(TM), our site's Web Tamer (and head of Chowhound's lavish West Coast office) very happy.

        Bob(TM) does not start a day without Peet's. Even in Burma. Even in an airplane. Bob(TM) IS Peet's. Peet's is the most important single thing in Bob(TM)'s life.

        Bob(TM), would you like to weight in on this coffee matter?

        8 Replies
        1. re: Jim Leff

          The only thing that makes coffee-deprived NYC tolerable before 11 a.m. is Peet's prompt, cheerful delivery of whole bean coffee. Specifically, in my case, the Major Dickason blend.

          1. re: j gold

            I wont drink ANY mass market coffee at home, especially starbucks or peets.

            I drink 100 percent dark roast Kona Peaberry from Bayview Farms, in Honanau, Hawaii. Not a Kona blend, 100 percent Kona. Its expensive (25 bucks a pound from Bayview on mail order) but not nearly as rediculous as you would pay on the mainland. Ray and I went to this place on our honeymoon and we've been ordering from them ever since. They are the second largest producer on the island, many other larger coffee companies buy green berries from them, japanese coffee shops send couriers there to pick up beans where they sell it for like 50 bucks an ounce back home...

            If any of you want to know what the real epitome of coffee is, call up Roz at Bayview and order a few pounds. And their Macadamia nuts, which they also grow on the plantation, are by far the best in all hawaii. You've never seen such HUGE macadamias. They are roasted with a special dehydradtion process, not oil-roasted like commercial macs.

            P.O. Box 680 Honaunau, HI 96726
            Toll Free: 1 800 662-5880 | Local: 1 808 328-9658

            1. re: Jason Perlow

              Theres a particularly good web site called Coffee Times which is kinda like the Village Voice of Kona, Its got a lot of political articles by the publisher, a coffee-roasting surfer dude named Les Drent, that explains the problems that Kona coffee farmers have with the coffee industry (apparently according to Hawaiian law anything that is 10 percent Kona can be called Kona and much of the stuff we get mainland branded as Kona is just blended junk). Its also got a lot of good articles about Hawaii, including surfing and nature. Pretty cool.

              They also sell 100 percent Kona there as well as Maui coffee. If you dont want to go whole hog for their Kona (a good amount of which comes from Bay View Farm) their Maui and Kauai is pretty darn good.


              1. re: Jason Perlow

                There was a scandal here in the Bay Area about a year back involving other coffee being passed off as Kona. Most of the local coffee retailers were burned in this one, having been sold pseudo-Kona beans at Kona prices.

                The fraud apparently went undetected by Kona drinkers--which brings up the eternal question: why is there a premium for Kona coffee? I confess that as far as I'm concerned, Kona is an inferior bean; and for me, the definitive quote is from the Peet's buyer who said (and I paraphrase) the [counterfeit] coffee tasted dull and flat like Kona, so he figured it really was Kona.

                1. re: Tom Hilton

                  If you've ever been to the Kona ``plantations'' you'd know in a second: coffee is supposed to be grown at altitude, but there the coffee trees stretch down almost to (the devestatingly beautiful) Keleakekua Bay; much of the coffee is grown a few trees at a time in back yards rather than by dedicated agriculturists--and the law allows coffee to be called Kona when the Kona content is just ten percent or so. Kona, as the only coffee producer in a ``developed'' country is, however, rightfully expensive: ag workers in what is after all the U.S. earn 10-20 times as much as workers in places like Guatemala and Sumatra. Some Kona is actually worth the cost: Honolulu chef Alan Wong features a half dozen excellent estate coffees on his menu, and sells them in his wonderful shop in the Ala Moana Liberty House.

          2. re: Jim Leff

            PEETS(!!) rules. McStarbucks drools. Graffeo's dark roast is also good, but you need to use a good healthy amount -- don't know if it's sold or served in Seattle but it's available by mail order like PEETS(!!).

            Tom, travel with your own coffee! (Uh, that wouldn't be PEETS!! would it?) I never travel without my coffee, heating coil, cup, mini-mellita and filters (and my own pillow). Whether I had to spend the night sleeping on the floor in a third world airport or sit on my bag all night in the aisle on the express train to Bombay, as long as I found a way to make my coffee all would be right with the world...

            1. re: Bob

              I once hit the road with Bob(TM) (see results at link below), and can confirm this. The trick is to GET OUT OF HIS WAY when he's brewing and drinking his beloved Peet's coffee. He can lash out like a wombat mother protecting her offspring. Even talking to him during Coffee is verboten...sort of like trying to chat up a nun while she's receiving just don't DO that.


              1. re: Jim Leff

                I'm definitely addicted to Peet's French Roast. Nice to know I'm in good company. At work, I have two Peet's within 2 blocks, so I'm spoiled.

                Looks like there are two basic Seattle options: 1) Bring With; and 2) Torrefazione.

                The problem with 1) is that I'm fanatical about packing light; I don't want to have to check luggage, and I don't want to test the carry-on limits.

                Torrefazione recently appeared here in SF, and they're pretty good...waaaay better then Starbuck's that's a good tip. Thanks.

          3. Peet's may not yet have the global ambitions of Starbuck's, but they opened a branch (one of the very first not-in-the-bay-area Peet's, I believe) in my neighborhood in NE Portland. With the exception of a few former Berkeley-ites, residents here were not initially thrilled...the new Peet's occupies a prime corner where we all hoped a breakfast cafe would be located (something we could really use), but instead we got yet another coffee bar to join the Starbucks, Coffee People (local chain), and Torrefazione Italia all within 100 about market saturation!

            Torrefazione, though, is the best purveyor in the NW. You should be able to find an outlet in Seattle, since that's where the Italian-style roaster first started. If you like your beans really dark, though, you might not like Torrefazione. They roast a bit lighter (more like the coffee you get in Italy...the very dark so-called "Italian Roast" is pure marketing drivel)...the baristas at Torrefazione, many of them Italian, also make the best cappucini west of Napoli.


            1. Recipe for a decent cup while on the road:
              1. Take your own equipment. In our case, that's a small press-pot.

              2. Take your own grounds. Peet's French Roast. Grind exceedingly fine, & use plenty.

              This for Elise. Actually, I'm a dilettante who prefers Caffe latte.

              7 Replies
              1. re: george osner

                I'm as much into fanaticism as the next guy, but even to me, taking your own coffee to Seattle seems a bit like bringing your own knishes to Brooklyn. BTW, nix on the French Roast. Make it Vienna. Or better yet, Major Dickason.

                1. re: j gold

                  Allow me to amend that last impetuous outburst. There are in fact a substantial number of places in Seattle to get a "decent cup of coffee"--unless you are a Peet's French Roast addict (Elise is, and actually even she can be somewhat satisfied in Seattle in the right spot, usually with an Americano, which I can't abide). When traveling in much of the rest of the country, "bring yer own" is wise, nay, essential.

                  Of course, personally, I can be quite content with a cuppa tea...

                  1. re: george osner

                    My favorite dark roast is TORREFAZIONE Roma blend. My very favorite is a mix of 1/3 Torrefazione Roma blend and 2/3 Torrefazione Venezia blend - this produces a slightly lighter coffee with wonderful flavors. If you are interested in tasting a little coffee history, (a favorite northwest coffee before the advent of dark roasts in the north west), you can try MJB coffee (available in most grocery stores) it is a west coast coffee and has been a favorite in the Seattle area for decades but it is not a dark coffee. My all time favorite coffee is no longer available (so why am I talking about it - because it was sooo good) is was a restaraunt blend produced by the Crescent spice company (it used to be served in several of the better restaraunts in the Seattle area).

                    1. re: Dan

                      They roast their own arabica beans. I have been buying this coffee from my home here in NJ for about 5 years now. I have family in Seattle, they think this is the best you can buy in Seattle. (just my opinion, of course!)
                      They do NOT over-roast and BURN their wares like $tarbucks... No burnt coffee for me, no sir.
                      The Tullys that you get out in Seattle at their coffee shops is PRIMO STUFF!
                      What I can order here is fine as well, just 3-4 days out of the roaster, (not really an advertisement, sorry...)

                      1. re: Dan

                        Can you still buy MJB European Roast Decaf? The regular is still in Seattle area stores but I cannot find the decaf. Also what company makes MJB?

                        1. re: Fred

                          MJB used to be owned by Nestle. I believe they sold it a year or so ago to Sara Lee

                      2. re: george osner

                        you know i cant taste the difference in peets. am i a houseboat hick or are all the southerners around here just being fooled by a little home town pride.

                  2. n
                    Neil Anderson

                    I can attest to the excellence of torrefazione, circa 1993-4. Does anyone have particulars about their eastward expansion? I have heard they have been sighted in manhattan.
                    Due to testimonials here, I will be checking out Peet's. Thanks.