The Mouthful: Entering the Capitol Hill Coffee Shop Battleground


Capitol Hill is renowned for its coffee culture, but it’s hard to know which places are worth their weight in beans and which are overhyped. Here, a seasoned coffee expert with three years of Cap Hill latte consumption under her belt rolls up her cup sleeves for the real scoop on the neighborhood’s cafes.


Caffe Vita vs. Kaladi Bros

Caffe Vita is nothing short of a Capitol Hill institution, so I may make some enemies with this, but I’ll just come out and say it: I hate their coffee. It’s aggressively toasty and a little sludgy. Kaladi, on the other hand, has all of the cozy trappings of its competitor but offers a better brew. This one’s a wash.
WINNER: Kaladi Bros

Cafe Pettirosso vs. Kafe Berlin

Kafe Berlin, a little-known First Hill gem, offers a pretty standard cup of coffee, but it’s worth a visit if only for its authentic apple strudel. It holds up even after a recent trip to Deutschland for the real thing. I hate to kill it in the first round, but Pettirosso’s just that good. Skilled baristas, inspired seasonal drinks, and a more-than-solid selection of baked goods–try the cherry almond scone or the pumpkin tart.
WINNER: Pettirosso

Espresso Vivace vs The Bistro

Such wildly different options that it’s hard to make a call, but when the going gets tough, the tough get caffeinated. Vivace offers one of the best classic lattes on the hill, and their hot chocolate is downright awesome. They also get added points for having two locations, one of which is a cute cart on Broadway and Thomas. But is it really worthy of the trek down Broadway? Not really. The Bistro wins this one for convenience factor and for being the only Bon Appetite cafe on campus to offer the surprisingly tasty lavender latte.
WINNER: The Bistro

Elliot Bay Cafe vs. The Byte

Both these cafes offer their coffee with a side of literary merit, but which one deserves to be a bestseller? The Byte quickly became a Seattle U fixture after the completion of the new library, but it tends to be noisy and crowded, and I, for one, hate running into endless acquaintances in pursuit of a coffee fix. Elliot Bay Cafe wins for its comparatively tranquil atmosphere and the simple, minimalist genius of including fresh bread with butter on their menu.
WINNER: Elliot Bay Cafe

Eltana vs. Top Pot Doughnuts

The coffee is a bit of an afterthought at both of these joints. Eltana’s main attraction is their artisan bagels, which are tasty but sometimes feel a bit too precious. I will vouch for Top Pot as the best doughnuts in Seattle, particularly the blueberry cake. It’s more worth your time.
WINNER: Top Pot Doughnuts

Cafe Presse vs. Bauhaus

Bauhaus is a staple, but its pastry selection is paltry and it’s soon to temporarily relocate for renovations so its much-loved building can be turned into a frankly rather soulless complex. Cafe Presse’s charm, on the other hand, isn’t endangered, and I love the inexpensive small plates that are offered all day (though they do serve Caffe Vita coffee – hugely disappointing).
WINNER: Cafe Presse

The Sidebar vs. Cherry Street Coffee House

The Sidebar has a reputation for being the best Bon Appetite location on campus, and it’s well-deserved. It’s the least crowded and offers the most consistently decent drink. Cherry Street Coffee House is solid, not outstanding. I’ve just never been able to get too excited about this place, and the prepackaged pastries in particular are a huge turn-off.
WINNER: The Sidebar

Stumptown vs. Arabica Lounge

Both of these locations offer a sleek yet warm atmosphere that’s hugely inviting. Arabica Lounge wins points for its outstanding pastries and desserts, but if you’re coming from campus, the trek, price and pretension are a lot to overcome. Stumptown’s culinary offerings are not nearly so refined, but for location and skilled baristas it can’t be beat.
WINNER: Stumptown


Kaladi Bros vs. Cafe Pettirosso

This one hurts. I love both of these places so much. However, when it comes to the coffee shop experience, Kaladi Bros prevails – Pettirosso is really more of a restaurant, and those who are looking to sit and settle in will be disappointed.
WINNER: Kaladi Bros

The Bistro vs. Elliot Bay Cafe

Lavender lattes were enough to bring the Bistro through the first round, but that won’t cut it here. Cheese-loaded entrees don’t pair too well with a cup of joe, and that’s simply what the Bistro does best.
WINNER: Elliot Bay Cafe

Top Pot Doughnuts vs. Cafe Presse

These two places simply fill different voids, but when it comes down to it, which is more worth your scrimped-for dollar? You should have thought of this before you decided to serve Caffe Vita coffee, Presse. You’re out.
WINNER: Top Pot Doughnuts

The Sidebar vs. Stumptown

They’re so close together that this is a decision that you may actually find yourself having to make from time to time. The Sidebar holds up well for a campus cafe, but it just can’t match Stumptown’s artistry.
WINNER: Stumptown


Kaladi Bros vs. Elliot Bay Cafe

Elliot Bay Cafe is pretty great, but you may feel awkward and unwelcome if you haven’t at least browsed their selection of books. It’s great for what it is, but it doesn’t hold up to an endlessly inviting standalone coffee shop.
WINNER: Kaladi Bros

Top Pot Doughnuts vs. Stumptown

Top Pot faced some pretty easy competition early on, but their main focus is doughnuts. It doesn’t necessarily deserve to make it to the final two in a coffeeshop standoff. Stumptown’s attention to coffee pays off here.
WINNER: Stumptown


Kaladi Bros vs. Stumptown

While these two locations both epitomize the classic Seattle cafe with their focus on quality drip coffee and artisan espresso drinks, they offer a vastly different experience. Stumptown is beautiful, to be sure–all white walls, quirky chandeliers and cold wooden furniture. Kaladi Bros is darker and cozier, filled with mismatched tables and chairs. It’s the kind of place to retreat to for hours on end, drinking cup after cup of coffee, tea, microbrews (hey, even when it’s 8 a.m. here it’s still five o’clock somewhere). They’re also notable for their utterly perfect biscotti and delectable scones, either of which makes a perfect light breakfast paired with a cappuccino, one of the best in the city. Stumptown is never disappointing, but it’s also rarely fulfilling. What, after all, is a coffee shop when you can’t get comfortable? Kaladi Bros knows this, and for that I give them the crown.


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