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Seattle Travel Guide

The 10 Best Cafes in Seattle That Aren’t Starbucks

There might be a Starbucks on every other corner of Seattle, but locals only go to the mermaid-adorned corporate coffee shop out of convenience.

If time allows, Seattleites prefer to get their cup of Joe from one of the many amazing small cafes in the city. We are lucky to have some of (if not THE) best coffee culture in the country. So, please don’t waste your visit on watery Starbucks lattes or over-sweetened macchiatos. If you need a recommendation, we’ve rounded up the ten best cafes in Seattle.

1 OF 10

Espresso Vivace

WHERE: Capitol Hill & South Lake Union

A Seattle institution, Espresso Vivace is, true to its name, the place to go for strong Italian espresso. Inspired by Northern Italy roasting traditions, the owners, David and Geneva, wanted to bring that same quality and espresso bar vibe to the U.S.

Vivace began as a coffee cart in the late 80s and was an early pioneer of modern Seattle coffee culture. Back then, few places in the city served high-quality espresso. Vivace baristas also crafted latte art way before the current trend. The cart’s reputation quickly grew, and it wasn’t long before a full-blown cafe opened in Capitol Hill and, later, South Lake Union.

The flagship Cap Hill location has old windowed garage doors that flood midday light into the cafe. Although it still maintains a cozy and not too pretentious feel, at any given time, you’ll find numerous students and remote workers on laptops as well as friends catching up sans screen. No ultra-forced hipster vibes here, just good company and beans, fluffy lattes, and a seat for everyone.

2 OF 10

Cafe Solstice

WHERE: U District

This University District (or U District as locals know it) institution has been brewing some of the best cups in the city since 1993. Solstice began as so many classic Seattle cafes do, as a cart on Capitol Hill’s Broadway Street. As word spread, the uniquely smooth blends and high-quality espresso became so popular that a true shop was opened.

Solstice has moved around a bit over the years, but currently, the flagship cafe on the Ave (the nickname for University Avenue NE, which runs along the University of Washington’s campus) is the last one standing.

An unpretentious student hangout, the large wooden tables, and low lighting ensure no glare on screens. However, if you’re up for more of a social visit, don’t worry. The few seats out front on the small terrace and a small patio in the back provide plenty of space. All pastries and tasty sandwiches are made in-house. You’ll find all sorts of UW personnel—students, staff, faculty, and visitors lined up here for the morning caffeine rush and mid-day for the Seattle lunch combo—coffee and a sandwich.

3 OF 10

Fonté Coffee Roaster’s

WHERE: Downtown, Capitol Hill & Bellevue

Fonté entered the game right in the early 90s, around the same time as Starbucks. The founder, Paul Odom, partnered up with one of Starbucks’ OG Master Roasters (back when the company’s ethos was to bring high-quality coffee to the PNW, not just make money) to create not only a cafe but a sustainable fair-trade roastery, quite an “out of the box” idea at the time.

Make sure to check out the new Fonté Coffee Bar in Rainier Square. The menu serves one of the best espresso martinis in Seattle as well as signature coffees like the maple cinnamon latte or rose water latte.

INSIDER TIPAs of 2018, all Uptown Espressos in Seattle are owned by Fonté, although they retain their unique brand and famous velvet foam.


4 OF 10


WHERE: Kirkland, Greenlake, U District & South Lake Union

Zoka produces some of the creamiest lattes and cappuccinos in the Emerald City, as well as espresso shots that will jolt the sleep right out of you. However, the brand is best identified for its’ cafe design. The cozy yet lively atmosphere is found throughout all locations.

The open-concept plan is filled with plants, giving the allure that you’re out in verdant Seattle, even on rainy days. Combined with reliable Wi-Fi and wood accents, Zoka is a great co-working or remote work spot. However, it’s warm enough and lively enough that you won’t feel out of place catching up with a friend or hosting a book club here.

5 OF 10

Ugly Mug Café

WHERE: U District & Interbay

Another UW-area and student favorite is on a side street just off the Ave. There is also a smaller location in Interbay. The Ugly Mug is another early-Seattle-cafe-culture institution that opened its doors in 1995. Since then, there have been a few changes in ownership, and the current owners started as student baristas, the main employment pipeline for those brewing your cup.

Today, the baristas are always friendly (sometimes hard to come by in the hipster-fair-trade-barista-is-a-serious-job-I-know more than you about coffee” cafes), reflecting the cafe’s history. The Ugly Mug is also a small roastery, ensuring the quality of the beans, which are well-balanced and not too light or heavy. Light snacks with funky twists are also on offer.

INSIDER TIPTry a flavored cream cheese with your bagel or rosemary aioli on a turkey club.


6 OF 10

Caffè Fiorè

WHERE: Queen Anne & Sunset Hill (Ballard)

Caffè Fiorè has long been a Seattleite favorite, thanks to its full-bodied and smooth Caffe Vita organic coffee. You can also buy these celebrated beans or have them delivered back home, the perfect souvenir from your Emerald City visit.

The Queen Anne location is next to another Seattle favorite—Molly Moon’s Ice Cream (should you want a sweet treat to precede or follow your coffee.) It’s also just a 5-minute walk from Kerry Park, an iconic sunrise location in Seattle. Watch the sun come up over Mount Rainier and then wander over to Fiorè for a smooth start to the day.

The Ballard location is at the top of Sunset Hill, just steps from the stairs that lead down to Golden Gardens. Grab a hot drink and then stroll down to the beach to catch sunrise or sunset over the Olympic Mountains.

7 OF 10

Elm Coffee Roasters

WHERE: Downtown

Elm is an amazing little workspace in Pioneer Square that serves some of the best coffee in Seattle. The interior feel is a bizarre mix of industrial openness and warm conviviality. The giant windows that make up most of the front wall flood light into the warehouse-like building. However, the light tones and homey seating prevent it from feeling sterile. The cafe is popular for coworking thanks to the never-fail Wi-Fi. The menu offers amusing (and practical) combos like “one and one,” an espresso and either a macchiato or brewed coffee, or “one of each,” which is all of the above. Beyond the atmosphere, it’s also a fantastic place to enjoy fair trade beans. Elm Coffee Roasters source beans from small farms in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

8 OF 10


WHERE: Fremont

This little Fremont oasis is like something out of an HGTV catalog. The massive wall-length windows allow for maximum natural light, while the hanging globes in other nooks of the space light up where it might otherwise be dark. However, this “open concept” design doesn’t feel like an open office plan from Hell. Most locals find it quite nice to work from or to enjoy a coffee with a friend.

Oh, and the “interesting” aspect doesn’t end there. Aroom’s menu isn’t your typical espresso, flat white, and cold brew make-up. Vietnamese eggy and condensed milk coffees dominate. Try a coconut affogato (Vietnamese coffee and in-house made coconut affogato), a sesame latte (sesame creme, Vietnamese coffee, and condensed milk), or an avocado coffee (Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk and smashed avo.)

9 OF 10

Boon Boona

WHERE: Renton, First Hill & U-District

Created by an Eritrean American, Boon Boona is a fantastic place to enjoy African blends. The beans are sourced exclusively from the continent. It’s also a place to experience coffee.

Instead of the grab-and-go or drink-with-a-laptop-remote worker vibe that permeates most of the city, Boon Boona is all about sitting and enjoying. This stems from the East African influence of the owner’s life, which the cafe wishes to maintain.

INSIDER TIPIf you want a fun cultural experience, visit the Renton flagship, just south of the city, for an Eritrean coffee ceremony.


10 OF 10

Broadcast Coffee Roasters

WHERE: Central District

This Central District favorite with a relaxed deli feel. The coffee is bold but not too strong of a roast for those needing a balanced brew. There are a variety of roasts, from light to medium to dark, unlike many cafes in the city that mainly serve one. Per the Broadcast Coffee Roasters’ website, “like a great bar, there’s something for everyone.” Take it from a local; the scones are to die for!