15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – First Impressions

Ever heard of the saying “Taking one for the team“? The Urban Dictionary defines it as:

The act of someone willingly making a sacrifice for the benefit of others.

On Monday, I took one for the team. I went to the new 15th Avenue Coffee store in Capitol Hill. Yes, this is the new concept store by Starbucks that is getting all the press. My first instinct was to not go at all, but I felt my experience might be valuable to Coffee Hero readers. So far this story has been framed by the Starbucks haters, the Starbucks fans, and those outlets that lap up every press release Starbucks gives to them. I hold no grudge or love for Starbucks. My allegiance is to the espresso.

The store is a nice blend of corporate indie if you believe that is possible. I think it is what an independent coffee shop would look like if they had an unlimited budget to renovate. Right away I noticed a few pour over Melittas, a Clover Coffee machine, and a La Marzocco espresso machine. There is no super-automatic here. Just like other Seattle coffee shops, the coffee is ground at the time of order. On the shelf, they even had a Chemex, but I learned that was just for decoration.

The test for me is always going to be espresso. No matter how cool the store looks, the espresso must taste good. I ordered a double espresso and was immediately asked if I’d like to try the single-origin Ethiopian natural process or the regular espresso blend. Whoa! The last thing I ever expected at Starbucks (oops I mean 15th Ave) was a single-origin option for espresso. Of course, I had to try it, but I expressed reservations that an Ethiopian espresso might taste sour. The staff was extremely friendly and offered to make me the blend if I didn’t like the single origin.

The single-origin was sour, just as I expected. It was lacking all body, so they made me the original blend. I suppose it time to make a confession. I don’t dislike the Starbucks Espresso Blend. To me, it has always been a solid B-/C+ on the espresso report card. I am annoyed how they serve espresso in a tall cup with a plastic lid. Savages!

If the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea barista could work his wonders, then maybe, just maybe Starbucks was onto something here. Would this be the moment that Starbucks turned the corner? I took a sip. It was awful. It was worse than their super-automatics. The shot was over-extracted and stale. It was all over-roasted body with no flavor. It was so bad, I couldn’t finish it. I handed it back and left. Then I walked across the street and had a stellar ristretto from Victrola Coffee.

Maybe their Chemex and Clover were fine. Perhaps I’ll come back another time to try them. I thought the staff there was extremely friendly and helpful. Some indie coffee shops are known for their attitude, which can be intimidating to new customers. There was no attitude here.

Starbucks seems hell-bent to fix the mistakes of the past and create a better coffee experience. Sadly, they aren’t fixing the one thing that needs the most help: the coffee itself. Cool coffee shops and friendly staffs are great, but without great coffee they are meaningless. This is Seattle, we expect a lot more.


Sneak peek of 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – From Coffee City blog by Melissa Allison.


Add yours

  1. Thank you for taking one for the team.

    I’ve only been actively paying attention to Starbucks as a blogger for a short time, but I’ve seen them make a lot of changes – food, undercover coffee shops, etc. But it seems like you’re on to something, only minimal attention has been to the actual coffee.

  2. Exactly what I feared. That’s why I would never go. Plus, it sounded to me like they were tying to steal the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf from down here in So Cal.

  3. Alright, ever say never. It would be a curiosity at best. A bad cup of coffee at worst.

    Say, how can it be that I saw no reference at all to The Devil’s Cup, The history of the world according to Coffee?? Such a book!! I was in love with coffee a long time before we finally tied the knot with that book.

    I’m supposed to come up to Seattle for a visit. How in the world will I know where to go for a great cup?

  4. Michael Allen Smith

    Aug 23, 2009 — 9:10 am

    I consider CBTL to be only slightly better than *$. They do have much better tea though.

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