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The Ultimate Seattle Coffee Glossary for Beginners

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Seattleites are coffee snobs — if you believe how they're portrayed in the popular culture, in films and local newspapers and TV's endless glut of "Frasier" re-runs. In reality, Seattle has a lot to learn when it comes to specialty coffee, having been outpaced in recent years by roasters and retailers in places like San Francisco, London, New York City, Seoul, and Melbourne. Still, this is a city where every strip mall has a coffee joint, and our cultural identity is closely tied to the caffeination ritual of ordering, sipping, and feeling a tad authoritative about the whole thing.

Author Jordan Michelman is the co-founder of, the worldwide leader in specialty coffee news and gossip. The blog was founded in the Stumptown location on Pine.

cafe-allegro-seattle-150.jpgCafe Allegro: Seattle's oldest continually operating espresso bar, serving the University District since 1975. Great people watching, perfect for exam cramming and host to regular live music events in their upstairs lounge.

cafe_besalu.jpegCafé Besalu: This Ballard bakery does a serviceable job with their coffee (roasted by Lighthouse Coffee Roasters), but their pastries are ineffable works of buttery art. They famously do not offer wholesale to Seattle cafes, despite much cajoling and bribery.

Canlis_OpenTable.jpgCanlis: One of the top restaurant coffee experiences in the United States, with a rotating menu of Chemex and espresso service anchored by Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea.

4366758422_5e5e432211_b.jpgChemex: De rigueur for coffee and design enthusiasts, available in cafes like Stumptown and Arabica Lounge. Mia Farrow had one in Rosemary's Baby, and it's on permanent display at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

clover.pngClover: The mermaid's head honcho Howard Schultz was reportedly disappointed in his minions for not bringing this Ballard invention to his attention, before The Economist wrote about it. Clover is now entirely owned by Starbucks, though you'll still find holdouts in the Trabant locations in the U District and Pioneer Square.

cold-brew-toddy-150.jpegCold Brew: More dense, caffeinated, and sweet than iced coffee. Also referred to as toddy. Seattle sells less cold brew annually than any other big coffee city (save Vancouver BC maybe), something you'd be hard-pressed to believe when the temperature cracks 70.

coffee-cupping.jpegCupping: Nothing to do with Gwyneth, this is an internationally accepted method for evaluating roasted coffee, from green coffee buyers in the jungle to roasters and retailers across North America. It's become fashionable to invite the public to sample coffees as well, an experience available daily (for free!) at the Stumptown roastery on 12th Avenue.

2011_duane_sorenson.jpegDuane Sorenson: A Puyallup native and former barista at Tacoma's Shakabrah Java, Mr. Sorenson learned the roasting game at Seattle's Lighthouse Roasters, before going on to found Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Stumptown currently has locations in Portland, New York City, and Seattle, with expansion to Los Angeles currently underway.

Dubsea_Coffee_Seattle-150.jpgDubsea: The best coffee in White Center, serving Stumptown, and chockablock with board games.

vivace-150.jpegEspresso Vivace: Revered around the world for their devotion to espresso and the messianic fervor of owner David Schomer.

2011_french_press.jpegFrench Press: The classic, no-fuss way to brew quality coffee at home.

Good_Coffee_Company_Seattle-150.jpegGood Coffee Company: Seattle's oldest coffee roaster, predating Starbucks. Still open for business, located beneath the Highway 99 viaduct, offering roast profiles unchanged since the 1970's.

herkimer-coffee-seattle-150.jpegHerkimer Coffee: Boutique specialty roaster with headquarters in Phinney Ridge and a satellite cafe in Ravenna. Perhaps best enjoyed at Capitol Hill's standout cafe Analog Coffee.

seattle-i.d.-150.jpegInternational District: Every last one of those bubble tea joints serves coffee, Uwajimaya is a wonderland of imported canned coffee from SE Asia, and make a stop at the revered Fuji Bakery for a shot from their rare lever espresso machine.

jason-prefontaine-150.jpegJason Prefontaine: Calgary transplant behind the Slayer Espresso machine, profiled by everyone from the New York Times to Gizmodo.

kuma-coffee-seattle-150.jpegKuma Coffee Roasting: Owner Mark Barany carefully sources and roasts a select menu of specialty coffees, and has developed a devoted following among Seattle's coffee cognoscenti. Available at Trabant Coffee & Chai or online.

la-marzocco-150.jpegLa Marzocco USA: The gold standard in handmade espresso machine technology, with North American headquarters in Ballard. Offers training courses, an open public cupping lab, and a jaw-dropping collection of historic Italian espresso machines.

milstead_coffee_fremont-150.jpgMilstead & Co.: This Fremont cafe is the first-stop for out-of-town coffee geeks, offering one of the more impressive multiple roaster menus in the United States. Adulation aside, this shop cultivates a relaxed neighborhood vibe, no small feat when the bar for quality is set so high.

neptune-coffee-150.jpegNeptune Cafe: Cute Greenwood cafe serving re-branded Victrola. Home to Seattle's best coffee shop ping pong table.

2011_pour_over_coffee2.jpegPour Over Method: Similar to the single-brew setups seen in college dorms across the country, shops in Seattle use pricier equipment to bring out more subtle notes in coffees.

siphon-seattle-150-2.jpgSiphon: Also known as a vacuum pot, this method involves a torch and flame. For the mad scientist in you.

Starbucks_NewLogo_2011-150.jpgStarbucks: The global megacorp maintains its corporate and spiritual home in Seattle, along with a slew of cafes, from cookie-cutter strip mall jobs to landmark destinations teeming with history. Get a glass of wine at their newly revamped Olive Street location, marvel at the 90's retro "Coffee Passport" map at the quasi-original location in Pike Place Market, or lose yourself to their buzzing hive of 24-hour commerce in University Village, one of the busiest Starbucks on the planet.

Trabant_Coffee_150.jpegTrabant Coffee & Chai: Two locations, one near Pioneer Square, the other on 45th and University in the U District. Home to 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, Kuma Coffee Roasters, and some of Seattle's most accomplished baristas.

university-district-150.jpegUniversity District: A functioning college town within the larger city, the U District plays host to dozens of cafes, many offering late hours for test prep and paper cramming (dearly departed is the 24-hour cream and two sugars oasis of the IHOP on 42nd and Brooklyn) . Top choices for quality are Trabant and Herkimer, profiled elsewhere in this guide, but the student vibe is alive and well at cafes like The Ugly Mug, Solstice, Cafe on the Ave, Bean & Bagel (great cream cheese), or any of the several options on the University of Washington campus itself (the best being Parnassus, in the basement of the Art Building).

generation-x-150.jpegGeneration X: Can be observed drinking coffee in such Seattle period piece films as "Singles" and "Hype", or continuing their legacy at 1990's-era holdovers like Bauhaus Books and Coffee.

yelp-150.jpegYelp: Giver of life, bringer of scorn, the top-rated Seattle cafes on Yelp include Belltown's Street Bean Espresso, Vivace, Monorail Espresso and Milstead & Co.