How Seattle Became A Hot Spot Of Coffee Innovation

By now, it's a pretty widely known fact that Starbucks — easily the most notable coffee chain in the world — got its start in Seattle, Washington. In the 1970s, Starbucks opened its first doors, marking the start of the company's coffee domination. Today, the city is still associated with the beginning of Starbucks, as plenty of tourists still flock to the original location to experience the first-ever Starbucks.

But what you may not know is that Seattle was already a hot spot of coffee innovation prior to Starbucks opening its original cafe — and continues to be to this day. So, before there was a first Starbucks for tourists to visit or for coffee addicts to get their daily brew, there were already plenty of successful coffee businesses in the city. In fact, the history of coffee in Seattle is a long one, dating all the way back to the late 1800s.

Coffee in Seattle dates back over a century

The first coffee roasting business in Seattle was D. Davies & Co., operated by Dan Davies, which opened in 1887. But the coffee scene in Seattle truly changed in 1895 when Oscar Delaloyes opened up Seattle Tea and Coffee in what would soon become Pike Place Market. As the story goes, Delaloyes found coffee beans on the ground and decided to roast them, which soon led to the beginning of his coffee business.

A little over a decade later, in 1907, Pike Place Market officially opened. It would become home to many key coffee spots (including, of course, the first Starbucks years later). One key spot was Manning's Coffee, which was opened in 1908 by Edward and William Manning, brothers who moved to Seattle from Boston. Manning's became quite successful, with loads of customers streaming in to buy a cup of coffee for just two cents; they later began offering food service as well. Manning's expanded to several locations in Seattle and even opened locations in other states, but, unfortunately, none of the locations remain today.

It took another few decades for the city's coffee culture to really take off. Specifically, the 1970s proved to be an exciting time to be a coffee lover in Seattle. In 1975, the city's oldest coffeehouse, Cafe Allegro opened in the University District. Still around today, Cafe Allegro is a prime spot to experience Seattle's coffee history. Another coffee company that opened in the '70s? Starbucks.

Starbucks got its start in 1971 selling whole beans

In 1971, the first Starbucks opened – but it wasn't at the Pike Place Market location, nor was it a coffeehouse. Starbucks was founded by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegel, and the first store opened near Seattle's Pike Place Market, but it wasn't a coffeehouse. Rather, it only sold beans in bulk (plus tea and spices). At first, they sold beans from another major coffee chain, Peet's, whose founder, Alfred Peet, acted as a mentor to the three founders of Starbucks but soon began roasting their own. Around 1976, the store moved to the famous location of 1912 Pike Place at Pike Place Market, considered the "original" location (since the first location didn't sell brewed coffee, it's technically true).

In 1982, the company debuted its fifth store, also in Seattle, featuring their first coffee bar selling pre-made drinks. In 1987, Howard Schultz bought the company and decided to focus on becoming a coffeehouse, making way for specialty drinks. The frappuccino, for example, came out in 1995 thanks to Starbucks buying Boston's The Coffee Connection – which owned the trademark on a frosty, blended drink called the frappuccino.

With Schultz at the helm, Starbucks began a rapid expansion in Seattle and beyond, opening 53 stores in 1992 alone. Starbucks continued to buy out competition within Seattle, such as Seattle's Best Coffee, and focused on acquiring the city's most trafficked spots, which made it harder for any competition to crop up.

Coffee in Seattle continues to thrive

Despite Starbucks running other coffee shops out of business, Seattle managed to remain a coffee hub full of non-Starbucks coffee locations. This is due in part to some coffee drinkers seeking out independent shops as a response to the growth of chain coffee stores, including Starbucks. One notable coffee spot in Seattle is Uptown Espresso, which was owned for a time by Dow Lucurell, the great-grandson of Oscar Delaloyes — one of the aforementioned first roasters of Seattle coffee. Other noteworthy coffee spots include both traditional and more modern spots. For the former, try Monorail Espresso, a coffee window that evolved from a mere coffee cart and has been around since 1980. For the latter, there's Hood Famous Cafe and Bar, with its Filipino-inspired menu (including an ube latte).

Further, just two years ago, Seattle was named the most caffeinated city in the country by Roasty Coffee, proving that the city still holds the reins when it comes to coffee culture. Further, the strong connection to coffee is something that the city is proud of.

Seattle-based psychologist Nancy Goldov spoke to the Seattle Times about how Seattle residents take so much pride in being identified with their coffee association. Goldov said, "[It] reinforces our heritage and affirms the role that Seattle has had in being the city of origin in the U.S. for creating community on a café scale. And it feels good to identify with the status of a good-coffee-city as a collective success."