10 Years

By Sebastian Simsch | |

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we started our pop-up café in a t-shirt shop near the Pike Place Market. So much has changed. Seattle’s a lot less gritty now than it was back then. But we are still happily roasting and serving coffee to both visitors and people who call this city their home. Not to mention the guys who throw the fish and our many other friends in the Pike Place Market!

Thinking back on the past decade, we’re most proud of a few accomplishments:

Our Team – first and foremost, we are proud and humbled to be able to work with an incredible team of dedicated people. Day in and day out, they deal with some of the highest highs and lowest lows in our industry, always with a smile, a kind word and a delicious cup of coffee for every person who walks through our doors. For all the team members, past and present, and also the many customers, and colleagues who contributed amazing amounts of time and expertise to this journey – thank you! We could never have made it this far without you!

Independent and without third-party investors: Bringing independent local coffee back to the downtown core was tough. By 2004, most local cafes had been pushed out to the neighborhoods, but the tide is turning and downtown Seattle is looking a bit more independent these days. Hurray!

From multi-roaster … We had a blast propelling third wave innovations like multi-roaster. Remember The Works: our tasting flight of up to six espresso shots from different Seattle roasters, served on silver tray? For you equipment geeks, that’s one of the reasons Synesso created the 3-pump Hydra, to be able to maintain stable pressure on all three group heads while pulling three shots at once.

… to Slow Bar … And the Slow Bar, where we pioneered manual brew methods tailored to each single-origin coffee. To this day, it’s about the only place in Seattle you can get a vac pot and actually talk with a knowledgeable barista about where the coffee comes from and why that particular method suits the coffee.

… and Roasting. We started roasting in 2008, with the help of many local mentors and friends. This was a great way to experiment with light-to-medium roasting that brings out way more character in the beans.

Direct Trade – roasting led us to want to get better acquainted with green coffee beans and the people who grow them. Starting in Guatemala, Honduras and Brazil, we spent some serious time on the coffee trail, and were humbled to be allowed into the inner circle of some proud and principled people. We asked them what they wanted and needed to improve their lives, and got some very frank answers about some of the hardships and abuses they had suffered, even at the hands of well-known independent coffee brands. This was the beginning of partnering to find a way of making coffee better for the people who grow it.

As a result of these relationships, we moved beyond feel-good labels like “fair trade” and “organic” coffee, and instead resolved to pay farmers and pickers what they need to sustain a good life and produce a product they can be thoroughly proud of. While we are now sourcing more than 80% of our coffee directly from farmers, there is so much more work to be done to make sure the pickers’ lives are improved alongside everyone else’s in the coffee chain.

Lab and Barista Exchange – we built a coffee lab, and started offering extensive, on-going training to our barista and roasting team. In the spirit of learning more about coffee, we started a barista-exchange program. So far three coffee pros from Guatemala have joined us in Seattle for six months or more, to study the coffee culture here and share their knowledge. A dozen Seattle baristi have gotten the chance to go to Guatemala and delve into the harvest season alongside our farmer partners. Team members have traveled to Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, Nicaragua, Panama and Rwanda.

Coffee Museum – we serve as an ad hoc coffee museum, with artifacts like Torrefazzione tables, Lighthouse chairs, Bauhaus/Top Pot shelves and more for the hundreds of people who come to Seattle on a coffee pilgrimage. Starbucks Reserve Roastery has taken on some of this function, but we really wish Seattle would get a public museum dedicated to coffee!

Community – we love getting developers, working class people, techies, and people who live on the streets in downtown to sit down in one café, with respect and dignity for all.

Walk- and bike-ability – we helped improve the Pike Street corridor with an outdoor seating patio, plants, its first bike racks, and its first outdoor tables and chairs. Now there’s a dedicated bike lane, patios are sprouting up all over, and flower baskets are hanging from lampposts. Beautiful!

The Future

We’re hopeful about the future of Seattle’s coffee scene. It’s great to see more independent cafes starting up and moving into the downtown core, now that the winner-take-all attitude has subsided. That attitude stymied the evolution of the city’s coffee culture for years. We’re looking forward to a healthier, more vibrant and creative scene emerging so our town can finally throw off the shroud of dark-roast, drowned-in-milk coffee that has dominated Seattle for so long. Let’s see 100 flowers bloom!

For Seattle Coffee Works, this means we can let go of the paen to Seattle’s coffee past and take a fresh look to the future! We’ve been spending a lot of time with coffee farmers, and the fruits of these relationships are really starting to show in our fresh crop of 2016 coffees. Lots more to come!