Where Innovators Meet Up: The Greater Seattle Coffee Cluster

Xconomy Seattle — 

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.

Caffe Migliore
1215 4th Ave, Seattle, WA
Rebecca Lovell from Alliance of Angels calls this her personal favorite downtown, citing the great coffee and “very tasteful atmosphere.”

Caffe D’Arte
125 Stewart St, Seattle, WA
Jodie Cadieux says this joint is popular with people from nearby Verdiem.

Caffe Senso Unico
622 Olive Way, Seattle, WA
Kevin Pedraja and the folks from Sterling Communications refuel here.

Caffe Umbria
320 Occidental Ave South, Seattle, WA
Frequented by Kevin Merritt of Blist, Tony Wright of RescueTime, and Kelly Smith of Pressplane and Curious Office. Good for meetings, but Wi-Fi reportedly “sucks.”

Caffe Vita
1005 E. Pike St, Seattle, WA
Located near Josh Petersen and the Robot Co-op folks.

Cherry Street Coffee House
103 Cherry St, Seattle, WA
Favored by Ben Elowitz of Wetpaint, though he sticks to Starbucks’ Vivanno drinks these days.

Downtown Cups
65 Marion St, Seattle, WA
Nathan Kaiser of nPost has sipped an iced chai or two here, at least in summertime.

Espresso Vivace
321 Broadway Ave East, Seattle, WA
Formerly on Denny Way in Capitol Hill, this is a Nathan Myhrvold favorite.

Essential Baking Company
1604 N. 34th St, Seattle, WA
Staff from Leroy Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology (across the street) have been spotted here.

Fremont Coffee Company
459 N. 36th St, Seattle, WA
The staff of Tableau Software cite this joint’s double-tall Americanos and quiet privacy.

Grand Central Bakery & Cafe
1616 Eastlake Avenue East, Seattle, WA
A hotspot for the M.D./Ph.D. crowd, as it’s downstairs from the biotech Accelerator and researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Kahili Coffee
105 South Lake St, Kirkland, WA
Techies praise the coffee beans and the atmosphere for working on the next Google. Bill Bryant of Draper Fisher Jurvetson calls it “the place where people meet in Kirkland.”

Le Fournil
3230 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle, WA
Ethan Lowry of Urbanspoon cites “some delicious pastries” and says he goes often because it’s across the street, but notes “it isn’t as good as we would like.” (Food critics.)

Louisa’s Bakery & Cafe
2379 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle, WA
Andy Sack of Founder’s Co-op hosts open-coffee hour every Tuesday morning. He recommends the blueberry scones, and favors a 12-oz single-shot nonfat latte.

Mandolin Cafe
3923 South 12th St., Tacoma, WA
A favorite of Jim Crabbe from Konnects.

Miro Tea
5405 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle, WA
VCs and techies drop by for meetings at this place in a fashionable slice of Ballard. Co-owned by Thong Le of WRF Capital.

Motore Coffee
1904 9th Ave, Seattle, WA
Dave Schappell of TeachStreet recommends this cafe, which is the home of John Musser, founder of ProgrammableWeb.

Noah’s Bagels
7808 SE 28th St, Mercer Island, WA
Recommended by investor and entrepreneur Nikesh Parekh as one of his favorite spots for coffee/breakfast.

Online Coffee Company (Capitol Hill)
1404 E Pine St, Seattle, WA
Casey Muratori of Molly Rocket calls this one of “the best laptop working locations in the city,” citing its task chairs and ethernet jacks.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea
3401 Fremont Ave North, Seattle, WA
A favorite of Christian Chabot of Tableau Software. Folks rave about the English Breakfast tea and the hidden upper deck, perfect for private meetings.

7012 Woodlawn Ave NE, Seattle, WA
Recommended by Jeff Lawson of Twilio, who praises the coffee, Wi-Fi, and lots of outlets and entrepreneurs.

Starbucks (2nd and Seneca)
1191 Second Ave, Seattle, WA
Frequented by Geoff Entress and Madrona Venture Group staff.

Starbucks (Pacific Place)
600 Pine St, Seattle, WA
Marcelo Calbucci of Sampa and Seattle 2.0 has been known to have coffee at the Barnes & Noble.

Starbucks (One Union Square)
600 University St, Seattle, WA
Scott Darling of Frazier Technology Ventures goes here (it’s in his building).

Starbucks (Columbia Tower, 40th Floor)
701 5th Ave, Seattle, WA
Frequented by downtown lawyers and high-powered execs.

Starbucks (Lake Union)
1200 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA
Matt Hulett of WidgetBucks favors this Lake Union branch.

Starbucks (Madison Park)
4000 E. Madison St, Seattle, WA
A legendary haunt for VCs, tech executives, and biotechies.

Starbucks (University Village)
4634 26th Ave NE, Seattle, WA
Carl Weissman of Accelerator and OVP Venture Partners has often taken meetings here.

Starbucks (Bellevue)
10214 NE 8th, Bellevue, WA
Brent Frei of Smartsheet says he meets other business folks a lot at this Eastside branch.

Starbucks (Redmond Town Center)
7301 164th Ave NE, Redmond, WA
Populated by AT&T folks, and wireless startups looking for an audience with the carrier.

Starbucks (First Hill)
1301 Madison St, Seattle, WA
No great shakes, but close enough to Xconomy Seattle headquarters when we journalists need a break.

St. James Espresso
355 Kirkland Ave, Kirkland, WA
Max Ciccotosto of Wishpot lists this cafe as one where he regularly meets with folks on the Eastside.

Stumptown Coffee
1115 12th Ave, Seattle, WA
The Robot Co-op folks like this place too.

Top Pot Doughnuts
2124 5th Ave, Seattle, WA
Kelly Smith of Curious Office and Pressplane says this “under the monorail” spot is quiet upstairs, has good wireless, and there’s “always a place to sit.”

Tougo Coffee
1410 18th Ave, Seattle, WA
Jude O’Reilley of Trusera gives a shout-out to this joint’s coffee, tea, Wi-Fi, and “good vibe for meetings of the mind.”

Trabant Coffee & Chai
602 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA
Dan Shapiro of Ontela likes this Pioneer Square joint because it’s close, and it has a Clover drip-coffee machine.

Tully’s (Downtown)
1401 4th Ave, Seattle, WA
Bryce Baril of MarketOutsider and others have been known to get work done at this flagship store.

Tully’s (Fremont)
101 Nickerson St, Seattle, WA
Steve McCracken of CultureMob has been known to take meetings here. It’s close to his office, and the wireless access sure beats Starbucks.

Tully’s (Bellevue)
10812 Main St, Bellevue, WA
Sunny Gupta of Apptio has frequented this branch on the Eastside. Marcelo Calbucci says if you sit here long enough, you’ll see many meetings.

Tully’s (Clyde Hill)
8805 Points Dr NE, Clyde Hill, WA
Steve Ballmer of Microsoft is reportedly a regular at this swanky Eastside branch.

Uptown Espresso (Belltown)
2504 4th Ave, Seattle, WA
Ken Myer of the Washington Technology Industry Association used to work in here before he got his office on Alaskan Way. Generally popular with techies.

Uptown Espresso (South Lake Union)
500 Westlake Ave North, Seattle, WA
Frequented by folks from Rosetta Inpharmatics, VLST, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, and the UW’s South Lake Union labs.

Uptown Espresso (West Seattle)
3845 Delridge Way SW, Seattle, WA
This bustling West Seattle branch is favored by local entrepreneurs and residents for meetings.

Victor’s Coffee
7993 Gilman St, Redmond, WA
Frequented by Max Ciccotosto of Wishpot and Dan Shapiro of Ontela for meetings on the Eastside. Also populated by Microsoft and AT&T folks. Randy Schatzman of Alder BioPharmaceuticals says the coffee is very good, but warns of the “Coffee Nazi.”

Victrola Coffee
413 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA
A favorite of many techies, including Dave Schappell and Richard Braun. It has ample seating and roasts its own beans. Another nearby branch is on Pike St.

171 S. Jackson St, Seattle, WA
Recommended by Max Ciccotosto of Wishpot, for meetings that require demos (wireless). Kelly Smith of Curious Office also praises the wireless.

2200 N 56th St, Seattle, WA
Techies cite the good working environment filled with college students, but Dan Shapiro of Ontela says “there’s a few deals getting done between the term papers.”

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  • Hans

    Some of the independents on the Eastside… Cafe Ladro, Kahili Coffee, Lyons Den, and my personal favorite Spotted Cow Cream & Bean.

  • I’ll second Hans’ recommendation of Kahili Coffee in Kirkland. They use Zoka beans and have a really nice atmosphere for working on the next Google.

  • Thanks guys — I’m getting a bunch of places coming in from the Eastside. Will update later today or this weekend.

  • Hey Greg,

    Some others I’d recommend:

    Motore – at 9th & Stewart — home of John Musser (founder of http://www.programmableweb.com)

    Fuel (on 19th)

    Victroa (on 15th)

    Verite / Cupcake Royale (on 34th)

  • I’m a Greek Lake man myself, so Revolutions (http://www.thecoffeerevolution.com/) is the place to be. Great (Cafe Vita) coffee, lots of outlets, decent wifi, and fellow entrepreneurs abound.


  • Jeff, I never would have taken you for a fraternity type…

  • Doug Mahugh

    There was a Ballmer sighting at the Overlake Village Starbucks in Redmond a few months ago.

  • Gosh, we’re not entirely innovator-free over here on the peninsula. We mentioned this to our crowd and got some suggestions.

  • Well, you got me Greg, yes I do like to go on the Segway. I have interviewed all my employees there and had many meetings. It is especially great when the sun is out to sit outside in the Cape Cod Adirondacks facing south. On the consumption side, I can tell alot about someone by the coffee shop they ask to meet at.

  • Stu Wiley

    Chain stores used because of easy logistics – Tullys preferred over ‘bucks.

    Tully’s on Main Bellevue –
    Tully’s Clyde Hill – Ballmer is a regular, not exactly private
    Tully’s Eastgate – to catch I-90 commuters/Eastside angels and Telco hill.

    *Lyons Den – Bothell
    *Cafe Ladro-Bothell (not as good of coffee as on Queen Anne – how can that be?)
    *Spotted Cow – Mill Creek

  • Greg, the 2 best coffee shops in Seattle have not been mentioned yet. Victrola Coffee on Capital Hill is a favorite of mine as well as other Seattle entrepreneurs and the famous Zoka south of Greenlake (more of a working environment, than a meet-up hotbed)–both have ample seating and roast their own beans..