From Caffe Vita to Espresso Vivace to Starbucks, Seattle has produced plenty of coffee giants over the decades — and promising mergers, such as Fulcrum, are responsible for some of the best brews around. But it’s important not to forget about the smaller roasters providing some of the most delightful bags of beans the city (and surrounding area) has to offer. During the pandemic, many of these businesses — a few of which have online retail presences only — were able to remain nimble, reaching out to consumers directly over social media and providing subscriptions for people brewing coffee at home.
Even now that cafes are beginning to reopen, it’s worth taking a look at the dynamic roasters pushing Seattle coffee forward. Many emphasize the traceability of coffee, source products from historically underrepresented regions, and partner with sustainable farms. Even when talking about “smaller” roasters, there’s a range of sizes represented, from a longtime company in Fremont to a tiny operation in Hillman City. No matter what one’s palate prefers, though, one thing these roasters all have in common is their coffee produces a damn fine cup. They’re listed below in alphabetical order.
This operation offers what very few Seattle roasters can: Ethiopian coffee sourced from and imported by Ethiopian roasters. Many of its offerings come from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, known for rich chocolatey flavor with explosive berry notes. Co-founder Solomon Dubie has an instinctive feel for taste, as he observed the Ethiopian coffee ceremony at an early age. It’s Brighton location is closed, but Cafe Avole is currently moving to a new outpost in the Central District’s Liberty Bank Building and its Georgetown-based roastery is expanding.
Roasts to try: The Yirgacheffe medium roast is a top notch, easy-drinking selection, but the Paradice Avole Souf (a collaboration with a local designer) has a ton of complexity, and the artistic bag looks fantastic on a counter.
How to get them: Avole’s Central District cafe will eventually sell roasts, but for now customers can order bags online via the official website. (Those passing through Sea-Tac Airport may also want to hit up the Africa Lounge, which partners with Cafe Avole.)
Blossom Coffee Roasters
Formerly Vashon Coffee Roasters, Blossom has been consistently roasting award-winning coffee for almost 20 years. Certified organic, the roaster carefully develops various flavor profiles, thoughtfully enhancing the nuances of each meticulous selection (Blossom says it tastes more than coffees a year to choose a handful).
Roasts to try: Current essentials include the fruit-forward Incuti from Burundi — a country that’s been gaining greater attention as a coffee producer, as well as the Dark Side of the Moon blend, a favorite at restaurants and bakeries (it has a dark chocolate flavor with a caramel finish).
How to get them: For non-locals who don’t want to take the ferry out to Vashon, bags can be purchased for delivery on the official website.
This small-batch, community roaster has grown in popularity over the last 11 years, with locations in Roosevelt and the Central District, along with a new collaboration with Temple Pastries. The light-filled Yesler location serves beer and wine in addition to its popular cup of Joe, while the roasting space on Jackson Street offers free public cuppings every Monday.
Roasts to try: The bright Colombian Tunja is an excellent medium-light roast using the highly coveted Castillo coffee variety, and there are approachable blends, such as the floral Crossfade and the dark-roasted Request Line.
How to get them: In addition to Temple, Broadcast’s bags are available at a variety of cafes and markets around town, plus there are subscriptions available online.
Conor Mahoney, formerly a roaster at Zoka Coffee, launched this company in 2016, originally working out of his Central District home, before it moved to a Georgetown warehouse. Nanoroaster Logbook Coffee eventually joined Mahoney, and the two collaborated on a rebrand, including plans to expand and build a roaster in Mount Vernon. Dorothea’s roasting approach aims to introduce consumers to new varieties that are simultaneously full-bodied and accessible.
Roasts to try: The Rwandan Nyanasheke Kanzu, a coffee with grape and orange peel flavor, is excellent — and don’t overlook Ernesto Perez from Veracruz, Mexico, a rich coffee with hints of cocoa, brown sugar, and citrus.
How to get them: Dorothea’s coffees are available online and served at Damn the Weather in Pioneer Square and Champagne Diner in Interbay.
Elm Coffee Roasters
Established in 2013 by Brendan Mullally who had previously helped launch Joe Pro coffee shop in New York, the philosophy at this roaster is that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to coffee preferences. For those who want to explore a full range of coffee varieties, Elm is an enthusiastic guide on that journey. Production is based out of Pioneer Square, with a terrific cafe near Denny Triangle.
Roasts to try: Farmer Vanessa Quintero makes a classic Columbian coffee with added complexities of stone fruit and honeydew; and Gogogu Bekaka from Ethiopia’s Guji region lives up to the area’s world-class reputation.
How to get them: In addition to Elm’s two locations, there’s a local delivery service, named after Mullally’s terrier Tammy, which includes not just the stellar roasts, but bottled lattes, teas, and even a handful of wines.
When this Little Saigon cafe opened in January, it had lines out the door for its well-crafted Vietnamese coffee, and has started offering whole beans for purchase. Co-owner Yenvy Pham roasts in-house about five days a week in small batches, using mainly robusta, a species of coffee that tends to be bitter, yet higher in caffeine content and more resilient compared to arabica varieties. Other shops around town serve similar Vietnamese coffee, but only two at the moment (Hello Em and Coffeeholic) roast their own beans.
Roast to try: The Em roast is a blend of 100 percent arabica coffees from Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Oaxaca with delicate flavor notes, best enjoyed on its own; the Anh is a single origin Vietnamese robusta that’s great with cream (milk or egg).
How to get them: Bags are available at the cafe itself: 1227 S Weller Street.
This direct-trade micro roaster has an operation based in Interbay, but if coffee fans haven’t heard of them before, that’s partly by design. Owner and head roaster Peter Mark Ingalls and the Kuma team typically eschew public relations, happy instead to hone their singular focus on sourcing the very best coffees they can find and roasting beans with precision on a Loring Kestrel 35k — one of the most energy-efficient roasters in the world. Kuma was one of Seattle’s first companies to roast on the lighter side and snce its 2008 inception in a garage in Bellevue, the roaster won two Good Food awards and took second place in 2013 America’s Best Espresso Competition.
Roasts to try: Single origins are the name of the game here, with offerings that vary by the season. As of September, Kuma had received fresh crop coffees from Honduras, and offers nationwide shipping (free with the purchase of two or more bags).
How to get them: One can purchase Kuma’s seasonal selections or set up a subscription at its website. Roasts are also available at a smattering of Seattle cafes and eateries such as Fremont’s Milstead & Co., Anchored Ship Coffee Bar, and Rachel’s Bagels & Burritos.
This 28-year-old roaster based in Fremont made its bones at the height of Seattle’s burgeoning coffee scene, but never got too big for its britches. There are blends that appeal to a wide-range of palates, as well as specialty roasts geared toward the most discerning palates. Attention to detail has not wavered after all these years, using a vintage cast-iron roaster at its small facility every day.
Roasts to try: Fans of chocolatey coffee creations will likely gravitate to the Indonesian Sumatra Mandheling or the Yirgacheffe offering. And Captain Bert’s breakfast blend is a good way to start any morning, especially with a French press.
How to get them: Lighthouse beans can be found all over the city in various grocery stores, but they’re also available to buy directly from the online store. The company roasts small batches all day long directly in its little shop, and it’s open for pickup daily.
This roaster headquartered in Madrona separates its coffee into three main categories: dark, espresso, and the lighter drip. It also emphasizes a dedication to rigorous quality control (roaster Jake Deome personally pays visits to cafe partners to help them refine brew techniques), as well as transparency, offering to share detailed roasting profiles for anybody who asks.
Roasts to try: There are hints of candy in the Vernal Creation, derived from the hybrid plant Obata (which helps farmers produce higher yields resistant to climate change impacts), and the roaster even offers an instant coffee, which is a lot better than it sounds.
How to get them: Whole beans are available at Union Coffee in the Central District, Form Coffee Bar (a stand near Cal Anderson Park), and at the official website.
This five-year-old South Seattle company has a small roaster and cafe tucked away in Hillman City, and it aims to create more equity for farmers. Founder Scott Tupper says producers aren’t just paid based on their harvest, but get a portion of “every cup of coffee sold,” so it’s almost like they own a share of the shop as a partner (some have even come in to do sales pitches). The coffee also happens to be stellar, available in bags or as single-serve offerings, and Tupper’s team is on hand to advise on home brewing methods.
Roasts to try: There’s a nice nutty finish to the Guatemalan roast made by farmer Ivonne Herrera, and Enrique Navarro’s Costa Rican coffee won a Cup of Excellence award, one of the highest honors in the specialty world.
How to get them: Customers can head down to the cafe on Rainier Avenue S to shop and sip, Individual roasts and subscriptions are also available online.
This small-batch operation from former Seattle barista Andrew Kent (who also founded a coffee company in Singapore) features a variety of specialty roasts, but also mixes in selections that might have broader appeal. Stamp Act’s imprint is slowly growing of late (it recently did a pop-up with the much-heralded Mt Bagel bakery), and finding one of the roaster’s fetching bags with the Revolutionary War-era illustration on the front can be a fun treasure hunt.
Roasts to try: In addition to the fantastic Ecuadorian “Sidra” with deep plummy flavors, there’s an espresso blend called “Old School,” a chocolatey, medium-roasted crowd pleaser that may remind some of Seattle’s coffee days of yore.
How to get them: Squirrel Chops, Central Co-op, Woodland Coffee, Harry’s Fine Foods, Glasswing, and the Whale Wins carry Stamp’s selections.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based freelance journalist who frequently covers local news, LGBTQ+ issues, and specialty coffee. You can find him at markvanstreefkerk.com or on Instagram at @markthewriter.