Zoka (2200 North 56th Street)
I would have to say that ZOKA Coffee is a definite step above the rest and not just in Seattle. I believe that they set a very high benchmark for great espresso in North America. Their house roast is on a lighter side producing an end product that is like no other.
WORTH THE TRIP. Bus number 13 thatThe shop is located deep in the suburbs among little food joints. It was a bit of a trek to get there, but take my word for it, IT IS stops on 3rd street will take you straight to the doorstep outside ZOKA on 56th. The coffee shop very much employs the whole laptop people culture and overall the shop itself didn’t appeal to me as it wasn’t very social. Too many people isolated by their MACs. Despite that fact ZOKA come up with a superb end product EVERY TIME. I’ve gone twice during my Seattle stay and both times had an amazing experience; friendly staff are always willing to have a chat.
They run a 4 group LaMarzocco FB 70 with a bunch of mazzer grinders. The menu is pretty straightforward without crazy signature drinks. Its good to see a coffee shop like ZOKA educating general public about traditional espresso. They also have a clover, which gets heavily used. Being a green bean buyer they push through a few single origins and always experiment. A real credit would have to go to Tracey, Jeff and Trish for doing what they do.
Ok lets get to the espresso end, as soon as you walk into the shop you get the general impression that the coffee is going to be good. Equipment and a wonderfull aroma really give it away. \ My double shot espresso was served in a ZOKA branded tulip espresso cup. This shot was relatively short with rich dark crema. It smelt amazing. Light toasty nut smelt and tropical, berry fruit like smell was very captivating. The smell very much reflected the taste – sweet, rich full of body with light acidity. The first sip was very flavoursome; distinct caramel notes with light white chocolate profile adding on to that overall sweetness. The mouthfeel was silky smooth resemblant to warm melted chocolate running down your pallet with an explosion of berry sweetness right on the last drop. This espresso blend was truly amazing and well structured with premium grade coffee - complimented by a great extraction pulled with real passion and great knowledge by the barista. ZOKA experience is really something special, an absolute treat!
Sitka and Spruce (2238 eastlake ave)
This is a very small café, not really an espresso bar but more of a fancy lunch with great coffee. Very well established with great equipment, mazorco mazzer combo. It is located opposite ex Hines Public Market espresso brand location in a little shopping mall. I went at the right time when Bronwen was working. The coffee was great. They offer Vashon coffee, which is roasted locally in Seattle, I have very much fallen in love with Vashon there and then.
I recommend checking it out and even better checking it out when Bronwen is there. I was there on Saturday morning so possibly that would be a good time. She is very knowledgeable and has a US barista title under her belt. She also roasts in Vancouver for Origins Coffee and works at Sitka only few times a week.
Seattle Coffee Works (111 Pike Street)
A very interesting place, an absolute must on your list. They employ a new idea of having multiple local micro-roasts for their customers to try. As you can see on the picture there is a wall full of mini mazzer grinders holding a different coffee blend in each one. The house blend is in a mazzer lugi. All the coffee is designed for espresso and as far as I know is blended. Sebastian the owner of the shop employed this idea to support the micro-roasters in seattle and also to be different from every other shop in the area. In theory it is a brilliant idea but the key is freshness and knowing how each coffee extracts and what temperature is best for extraction. They have calibrated their 3 group synesso so all 3 groups are running at a different temperatures. It creates a little chaos as you can only use the middle group for the house blend. I know this first hand because I worked a little rush gap there when they first opened up. I find it so fascinating for a coffee shop to even employ this idea, it just shows how advanced coffee is in Seattle and this idea actually works! I think this shop is one of the first espresso bars in the world to carry that many espresso blends.
The house roast is very dark and overoasted so it was simply not that good. They carry Vashon coffee and I have had some amazing shots pulled at 93.5C. It is a medium roast that is just amazing to work with, it is very sweet smooth and more or less rewarding each time. I was fortunate to try it at Sitka & Spruce as well.
When you go there be sure to order the Vashon and nothing else is worthy as almost all the beans are overoasted and are very dark. The other blend that might come close is the Lighthouse, it is still on the darker side but does pull a good shot.
Lighthouse (400 North 43rd Street)
Lighthouse is a quiet neighborhood, a really appealing shop both inside and outside. Equipped with a roaster this coffee shop means serious business! La Marzocco, mazzer combination add nicely to the overall picture. The guys behind the counter were very excited and in a way playful among each other. This shop is a perfect place to hang out with your mates and just kick back and enjoy suburban life.
The espresso itself wasn’t very good, very much on a longer side and slight bitterness was coming through due to overextraction. I’ve heard from few people that their roasting is not very consistent, but I cannot claim that, as I haven’t worked with it. They are well established among the coffee community but don’t stand out above the rest.
Zoka uni (2901 NE Blakeley Street)
I had very high expectations for this store as they are still ZOKA and for me that means best in Seattle. The store itself was amazingly big with lots of students punching away on their laptops. Once again not very social at all. A 4 group FB70 was getting a heavy work out and baristi were very rushed. My double espresso was clearly not the same as that on 56th street. It was overextracted and possibly overdosed so the really fine delicate features of this coffee were not at all apparent. Despite inconsistency in coffee I really liked their store design overall. It is a high volume shop for people in and around the university. Once again ZOKA set the education commitment out to younger crowds.
Café d’Arte (1625 2nd Ave.)
They are located in an awesome location and have a true feel of a quality coffee shop. They choose to use Simonelli machine and grinder and it works pretty well for them. I’ve been there twice and both times had a very different experience. The very first time that I went it didn’t really impress me. Their house blend is a very dark side and is designed to be drunk with milk. As espresso it was too harsh me. The 2nd time around the girl that made the coffee knew the right extraction to get the best sweetness out of it. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it as it had a very distinct dark chocolate coco dusty feel and taste. It was more in a form of a ristretto with only the sweetest drops, I very much liked that, a very traditional Italian shot of espresso. No real complexity and flavoursome aftertaste due to its roast profile.
Espresso Vivace (901 East Denny Way)
There are few locations that Vivace have. This particular might not be there for very much longer. I heard that city council is planing to break it down as there is going to be a new monorail terminal or something like that on that spot. This shop is the original Vivache store and it really feels that way too. With a huge bar holding two 3 group synesso’s with a back room that looks like a roasting facility. The walls are decorated with latte art photos and beautiful boutique coffee gear. Among the decorations are David Schomer’s books.
This espresso was very qnique in its own style. At first glance it was very appealing with dark rich crema and slightly gassy. On the smell it was fantastic very rich dark toasty notes; roast nuts and coco. On the taste however it was very different from its present smell. I found it to be very harsh and gripping at the start with distinct liquorice and dried plums coming through creating this really strange mouthfeel that I wasn’t a big fan of. Towards the end the coffee sweetened and quickly changed to rich dark chocolate on last few sips. The finish was far from clean. You can definitely sense a heavy portion of rabusta in the blend. The coffee itself is very unique and people do like Vivace, but for me it was a little overkill on the flavour although the shot was as good as it could have been extraction wise.
I definitely recommend going there to try it out, they offer a very unique experience.
Zeitgeist (171 S. Jackson St)
This one is right next to china town in a strange neighbourhood, you will know what I mean when you get there. It’s a designer coffee shop with real weird but in a way cool atmosphere. A massive space - with high sealing, amazing teapots and kettles all along the walls. Great shop from a design point of view but unfortunately they don’t keep up with the better espresso bars. Go and see it it’s a real eye candy!
Ladro (801 Pine St)
This shop had nothing going for it. That particular location is in a busy lunchtime spot. I think they hold their business on regular customers. They did however have a marzocco in there, which was working overtime. Coffee was terrible, I don’t recommend it but if you run out of things to do, might be a place to go.