Where Innovators Meet Up: The Greater Seattle Coffee Cluster

Map and list updated Dec. 19: Want to know where your favorite VC gets his or her morning latte? How about where tech and life sciences entrepreneurs gather to network and discuss ideas? If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the technological elite—or if you’re just looking for a quiet cafe to have a meeting or get some work done—you’ve come to the right place.

Here at Xconomy Seattle, we’ve been keeping track of the coffee hotspots around town favored by the tech-business leaders we talk to and write about every day. We thought it would be fun to share what we’ve found, both as a list and as an interactive map you can click around on (see below). In many cases, we’ve met the innovators or investors in their favorite haunts and sampled the local beverages. In other cases, we’ve gone by what they told us. But this is in no way a comprehensive list. We’d love to hear from you about where you like to go, where plans get hatched, and where tomorrow’s deals are being discussed. We’ll update the list as we go.

It may be cliché to say the Seattle innovation scene runs on coffee, but it seems to be true. One of the amazing things about the region is the sheer number of great cafes and places to gather, talk, refuel, and recharge. There’s something for everyone, from the quiet elegance of Caffe Fiore on Queen Anne Hill to the casual charm of Louisa’s on Eastlake to the hustle and bustle of Espresso Vivace near downtown. Not to mention the old reliables, Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and Tully’s (especially on the Eastside—what’s with the dearth of independent cafes over there?).

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And behind every great cafe is a great story. Take Trabant Coffee & Chai, known for its strong espresso, tasty drip coffee, and spicy teas. The Pioneer Square branch is a personal favorite of Dan Shapiro, the co-founder and CEO of Ontela—and there’s an interesting reason why. In early 2006, Shapiro says, he was one of several entrepreneurs pitching their companies at a Keiretsu Forum angel investor meeting downtown. “We were singing for our supper,” he says. The guy in front of him was pitching a $12,000 drip-coffee maker, and he had coffee samples for everyone (Shapiro was too wired to try any). The panel asked the coffee guy questions like, Aren’t you just going to compete with Starbucks? Why wouldn’t Starbucks just do this? He replied that Starbucks’ leaders were too set in their ways, and the only way they’d do it is if they saw it in action.

The guy was Zander Nosler of the Ballard-based Coffee Equipment Company. His machine was called the Clover, and sure enough, he was right. His 11-person startup was bought last March by Starbucks, which now has Clover machines in several-dozen stores in the Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Boston metro areas. So what does this have to do with Trabant? The local coffee shop was a key early customer of the Clover, buying the machine in the spring of 2007. “Every time I go there, I feel like I’m supporting the local startup scene,” says Shapiro.

There are many more stories, but we won’t get to them today. Instead, we present our first pass of the Greater Seattle Coffee Cluster: an alphabetical list of cafes (50 and counting), and some of the notable people you might run into there. If you’ve got a favorite spot, or a story to pass along, please do comment below or drop us a note at editors@xconomy.com. Then again, you might want to keep your local treasures to yourself…

Belle Epicurean

1206 4th Ave, Seattle, WA
Recommended by Megan Muir of DLA Piper for its pastries, good coffee, and confidentiality.

Caffe Fiore
224 W. Galer St, Seattle, WA
Martin Tobias of Kashless is known to arrive for meetings here on his Segway. Also the favorite of Paul Thelen of Big Fish Games and Bill Bryant of Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Caffe Ladro
600 Queen Anne Ave North, Seattle, WA
Paul Thelen of Big Fish Games also lists this institution as one of his likes. … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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