Everyone knows that Seattle is the capital of coffee--espresso stands at the Mukilteo ferry terminal, "Oil, Lube, Espresso" signs at the corner gas station, that sort of thing. For a couple of years now, while the rest of the country has been slowly waking up to "gourmet" coffees, what passed for a reasonable debate there was whether Starbucks roasted its beans too dark. Now that Starbucks has hit it big nationally, paved those latte trails, it's considered, well, a little mainstream, a little uncool. A chain. And so begins the post-Starbucks period.
Cafe Ladro, a new mom-and-pop business with a hipster's comfortable edge, is a case in point. Not only is the under-30 couple who opened it unfazed by direct competition by the country's hottest coffee chain, they actually like being just two doors down from a busy Starbucks corner shop on Queen Anne hill. "Being next door gives us the opportunity to highlight our differences," says Jack Kelly who, with wife Keri d'Angelo, also offers bakery goods from Ladro's ovens. "Starbucks has a to-go atmosphere. We don't."
If Cafe Ladro shows up Starbucks' corporate mainstream nature, Zio Ricco, a beautiful new downtown "European coffeehouse" looks down its faux-Roman nose at the big chain's intentionally sterile, cookie-cutter nature. Here you get Italian slate flooring, marble countertops, cherry woods, custom-woven carpeting, leather wingback chairs and a mural copied from Paolo Uccello's "The Rout of San Ramona." And competitive prices, to boot ($2.60 for a grande latte ). In a further Pacific Northwest twist, Zio Ricco is owned by the Turnipseed brothers, Puyallup Indians who noticed how well espresso sold in their reservation smoke shop near Tacoma. To run the place, they hired, you guessed it, a Starbucks alum.
The visitor who'd like to observe the true coffee nuts (and have an espresso in the process) might want to stop by Jo Anne Lowery's Home Espresso Repair--or just plain HER. Yet another Starbucks alum, who bought out the company's parts inventory when it decided not to pursue repairing, Lowery sells coffee beans, grinds them to fit the individual coffee maker and serves one of the best cups of espresso (or latte ) in Seattle. She offers a few tables, some stools, the newspaper of the day, and some magazines about, well, coffee.
Cafe Ladro, 2205 Queen Anne Ave. North, (206) 282-5313. Zio Ricco, 1415 4th Ave., (206) 467-8616, fax (206) 467-8626. Home Espresso Repair, 6200 Phinney Ave. North, (206) 789-9513.