Seattle’s Only Truly Pro-Choice Cafe

Seattle Coffee Works picks from the finer beans around town.

I've always wondered why local restaurants don't offer a coffee menu as they would a list of teas, giving guests the option to try among several spectacular roasters. As Seattleites, we can brag about our plethora of small coffee roasters, and we all have a favorite. But if you're a tourist visiting our fair hamlet, your only option to taste different coffees is the cafe crawl. Establishments serving coffee seem to obey an unwritten law ruling that they must pledge fealty to one bean provider only. I think that's ridiculous, and so did Sebastian Simsch, owner of Seattle Coffee Works on Pike Street and First Avenue. Open almost a year, the small cafe has carved out a warm little niche in the Newmark building on an otherwise blighted block (it's also hard to find—look for the orange man drinking coffee). An area in the back has just the right balance of clean lines and coffeehouse shabby, transforming what could have been a depressingly too-slick stall into a nook for lazing or sampling coffee with friends. A pleasantly cramped entry puts you face to face with nearly a dozen small- to micro-batch roasted coffees, each teed up in its own grinder. Gaze left and behold a locally built Synesso—the coffee accessory equivalent to a Ferrari. The machine was designed to respond to a barista's specifications, and Sebastian chose the machine because he wanted to be able to make extra adjustments to each boiler for the perfect extraction of each of the roasts he's serving. Right now, his selection includes Borogove's Cremona, roasted by Stickman owner Dismas Smith, and a few types of beans from Lighthouse Roasters, the long-standing Fremont coffee cultists. There are appearances by historic Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie and Bainbridge Island Coffee Roasters, as well as Mukilteo Coffee Roasters' powerful, organic Kayak blend. Seattle Coffee Works also offers its own roasts, including an impeccable Sumatra that could win over any tea-totaler. Being a part-time totaler myself, Simsch's Sumatra has become one of my favorite coffees. I dig it for its rich Belgian chocolate notes, yet it has a clean, refreshing finish, even when it's made in a French press. The cafe always has a few pots of drip ready, but any of its coffees can be made as an individual cup (via Melitta filter) or pot of French press. Sebastian's demeanor is a mixture of easygoing authority and graciousness. Like any good sommelier, all of his nudges are presented as your choice, with no highbrow implied "should"s. After suggesting his Sumatra blend for the first time, he asked me, "Do you want room for cream? I have some fresh steamed cream that brings out a wonderful Nutella flavor in the coffee." Yes, please—oh, was that a choice? Breweries offer samplers. Wine bars offer flights. Ordering "The Works" at the cafe will bring you special servings of your choice of three different espressos. Even though coffee is an everyday drink for most of us, rarely do we taste coffee from different roasters side by side. Seattle Coffee Works does such a service to our city and its beans during tourist season, and its Internet sales should do great business once said visitors return home. However, no one is too local to go play coffee tourist. Abandon your morning brand for one day and choose something—or somethings—new.

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