Reaching Out to the 3 Types of Seattle Coffee Drinkers

I consider myself to be the self appointed Coffee Ambassador for Seattle. Having lived in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South Florida and Southern California, I realize how much better the coffee is in Seattle than the rest of the country. Because of this, I am excited to share my love for Seattle coffee. During the past two years, I have noticed Seattle coffee drinkers fall into three categories. Below are the three groups along with my method for reaching out to them.

1 – True Coffee Fans

The True Coffee Fans are those in Seattle that understand that they are surrounded by outstanding coffee and are excited to visit the local cafes and roasters. It may be the latte art, Clover brewed coffee or just the cafe culture itself. They love Seattle coffee. This is where I’ve been since the plane landed on my first visit.

Reaching out to this group is what the Coffee Club of Seattle does. We have over 600 members as of this writing. In addition to visiting a wide variety of cafes, we also take part in coffee cuppings and roasting tours. This year many of our members were introduced to the Aeropress and Vac-Pot brewing methods. A common thing overheard at any given meeting is “I never knew this coffee shop was here“.

Photo Latte Art Etching Makeda 1 by INeedCoffee / CoffeeHero

2 – The Starbucks / Tullys / Seattles Best Group

I’m still surprised when I see Seattle citizens patronizing Starbucks, Tullys or SBC. Would you eat McDonalds in Paris or Pizza Hut in Manhattan? To me Starbucks is a fall back place to go for coffee when you aren’t surrounded by the good stuff. It is for the airport or for road trips.

When I reach out to this group, I understand that they are most likely going to the big coffee shops out of habit. Maybe they moved here from a town where Starbucks really was the best coffee in town. Maybe they just aren’t that adventurous in seeking out new coffee experiences. My strategy with this group is to find out where they live and where they work. Since I usually know at least one outstanding coffee shop in each neighborhood, I am able to give them a single caffeinated homework assignment. This works pretty well and I’ve found that once this group gets a taste for the independents, they are eager to try more.

3 – The European Coffee Is So Much Better Group

This group used to annoy me. They went to Europe five years ago and during their vacation glow had a cup of coffee that they projected all their happy holiday feelings on and now they believe Seattle coffee sucks. Of course this is nonsense. What I usually find when I peel back the layers of this coffee drinker is that they have closed themselves off to trying many local places. They almost seem to enjoy spitting on Seattle’s treasured coffee culture as a way to talk about the trip they took five years ago.

I used to get defensive when reaching out to this group. That doesn’t work. For this group, I simply ask them if they have been to Zeitgeist, Caffe D’Arte, Stella or Espresso Vivace. I already know the answer and it is no. Caffe D’Arte was started by an Italian family and has 5 espresso blends designed around different regions of Italy and Sicily. Stella and Espresso Vivace also have strong Italian inspiration.

Earlier this year I met a girl from this group. She trash talked Seattle coffee. Italy was soo muuch bettter. I took her to Zeitgeist, where she was certain she would hate it. She loved it. She later went to Caffe D’Arte and Espresso Vivace. From there is was off to Caffe Vita. She no longer attacks Seattle coffee. She is now part of Group 1 – the True Coffee Fans.


Coffee Club of Seattle – Our Seattle coffee fan group.

Zeitgeist Coffee – Pioneer Square coffee house.

An Espresso Journey Through Italy – Caffe D’Arte – Blog post on Caffe D’Arte and their regional espressos.

Learning From the Espresso Master – Book review of Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques by Espresso Vivace founder David Schomer. This book tells how he went through Italy learning about espresso, taking the best ideas back to Seattle with him and then improving on them.

Stella – Seattle coffee roaster with a classic Italian espresso.

Caffe Vita – Seattle coffee roaster.


Add yours

  1. Great post, Michael, I can totally relate.

    I still remember what triggered me to move from group 2 to group 1: Sean Nelson ( saying “With so many great coffee shops in Seattle, I only go to Starbucks when I’m out of town and need a decent cup of coffee.”

    I know people in group 3, not Americans who went to Europe, but Brazilians and Europeans visiting Seattle. I’ll certainly take the next complaining visitor to Espresso Vivace.

    I used to think they had only tried coffee in hotels and offices, but they have a valid point I can’t explain: the aroma of coffee being brewed is almost as important as the taste of the coffee. In coffee shops, homes and even offices in Brazil and Germany (where I lived 29 and 14 years respectively) I could feel this aroma. In my 4 years in the US I only felt it once – when I visited Camano Island Coffee Roasters and they were roasting.


  2. Michael Allen Smith

    Oct 9, 2009 — 9:11 am

    Aroma is most pronounced during roasting. Those rare coffee shops that can roast on the floor where they brew coffee have an edge on aroma.

    Seattle has laws that require after burners to burn up the exhaust produced by coffee roasting. These after burners are much hotter than the roasting itself and this could be why we don’t see roasting in the cafes themselves. Maybe there are other laws?

    Stumptown roasts in the basement on 12th. Vita is in a separate room away from the cafe on Pike. Seattle Coffee Works is also in a side room.

    The next time I talk to a local roaster, I will ask this question.

  3. I mean aroma from brewing, not from roasting. I’m not aware of any coffee shop abroad roasting on the floor. Do different brewing methods / equipments produce different aromas? I’m ignorant because I never brewed my own coffee. Maybe those big metal boxes used for brewing have also filters. Sorry if I’m giving inaccurate information / impression.

  4. Michael Allen Smith

    Oct 9, 2009 — 2:55 pm

    I actually get more aroma from grinding than brewing. A shop that is selling a lot of whole beans and grinding them for their customers will have more aroma.

    Staufs in Columbus, Ohio has a roaster just steps away from the cafe. They do a robust whole bean business and are grinding for customers all day long. It has more coffee aroma than any place I have ever been.

  5. Hi, I know this is an older post, but am hoping you can help me. What can I order in Seattle to get the “un cafe” I would get in Paris, Rome, Madrid or Buenos Aires? If I order an espresso here, I typically get a muddy, bitter undrinkable goo, and a long-pour espresso is watery. I’m looking for the tiny cup of sweetly bitter, rich, foamy coffee that you get at any corner cafe in southwestern Europe. The closest I’ve found was one guy that worked at Caffe Umbria, and the Bulgarian guy who works at Monorail on weekends – but neither place is really convenient for me. I’m wondering if there’s some sort of code word or preparation I’m supposed to be ordering. Any advice?

  6. Michael Allen Smith

    Mar 19, 2010 — 7:50 am

    @rb –
    I’ve been to Buenos Aires and I know what your talking about. I would try Stella on 1st Ave. That espresso blend is one of my favorites. Stays on the palate.

    Of course this place is between Umbria and Monorail, so it may still be out of the way for you. Kitanda in Redmond uses Caffe D’Arte beans, which like Stella has a robusta component.

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