Taking Seattle’s coffee culture to new heights

https://italoamericano.org/story/2019-5-17/seattle-coffee?fbclid=IwAR1rKT5YecGU3th9ocWfp516a9zwVjwr_QsACfOlpPIJ6N-7NVHMiOWoI0Y

Caffe D'arte, a locally owned roastery founded by Italian-born Mauro Cipolla, opened its newest location in February at Sea-Tac International Airport (Port of Seattle/Don Wilson)

Seattle is said to have more coffee shops per capita than any other city in the country― at last count, 43 cafés every 100,000 residents. But even in a city synonymous with coffee behemoth Starbucks, there are still plenty of regional roasters and independent cafés to entice the most discerning coffee-lover.  

Two of these companies offer their customers more than just a great cup of coffee. Read on to see how Caffé d’Arte and La Marzocco are pushing the envelope on Seattle’s coffee narrative. 

Caffé d’Arte was one of Seattle’s first artisan roasters, founded in 1985 by Italian-born Mauro Cipolla. Initially he named the business after himself, Caffé Mauro, but the brand was changed in 1993 to Caffé d’Arte, or “artful coffee” in Italian. After nearly three decades in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, the company moved its headquarters to Federal Way, Wash., in 2014.   

Passengers between flights line up for an authentic espresso drink at Caffe D'arte, located in the N concourse of Sea-Tac International Airport. (Port of Seattle/Don Wilson)

Cipolla learned the craft in Naples under the discerning eye of a fourth-generation master roaster. After moving to Seattle, he put his passion and expertise to work, starting the roasting business where, in the traditional Italian way, he roasted beans from small batches separately and then blended them to make the perfect drink.   

Primarily a wholesale business, Caffé d’Arte flew under the radar for many years. “We don’t want to be on every single street corner,” general manager Joe Mancuso told Sound South Business a few years ago. “We’re very niche-oriented and we’re coffee geeks at heart.”  

La Marzocco Cafe on the Seattle Center campus seamlessly blends an educational, cultural and gustatory experience (La Marzocco)

Now Caffé d’Arte seems poised to make up for lost time. In February it welcomed its fourth and newest café located at a humdinger of a spot: Sea-Tac International Airport. Landing the Sea-Tac concession was a bold move. Air travel has increased at Sea-Tac for eight years in a row, with some 49.8 million passengers passing through its gates last year alone.  

Caffé d’Arte is located near Gate N13 in the North Satellite which is undergoing an expansion. When reviewing applications for new retail and food concessions, airport officials were looking for businesses that could supply a Northwest sense of place. As a locally owned business known for fostering long-term relationships with its customers, Caffé d’Arte fit the bill. 

Coffee chats are a popular feature at La Marzocco Cafe, which also sponsors panel discussions, musical guests and a roaster-in-residence program (La Marzocco)

“We are excited to offer customers more choices for dining and retail at Sea-Tac Airport, to build a platform for local chefs and shop owners who celebrate the Pacific Northwest, and to recognize equity and sustainability practices that passengers can feel good about supporting,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire last year, when announcing the names of the new concessionaires.  

Espresso drinks, pastries, sandwiches and snacks are served in a brightly lit café that blends white subway tiles with reclaimed wood cabinets. A large coastal landscape painted by local artist Cheryl Zahniseranchors the space. It took only a few weeks for the café to welcome its first celebrity customer, actress Jessica Alba, who stopped by on March 2, presumably between flights. 

Sharing the space with KEXP radio and a record shop, La Marzocco Cafe serves carefully curated coffees from around the world in a stylish setting (La Marzocco)

If you’re not traveling by air anytime soon, you can still enjoy a distinctive café experience at La Marzocco Café on the Seattle Center campus. La Marzocco, which opened in 2016, serves as a stage for monthly rotating coffees and coffee service that are designed and curated by leading coffee voices from around the world.  

In a unique partnership, the café shares the space with listener-supported radio station KEXP, one of the most influential independent radio stations in the country, as well as with Light in the Attic Record Store, a record label and distributor. Customers can order an espresso from the bar and then listen to the KEXP play list or see one of the 500 artists who perform live in the space each year.  

An espresso machine manufacturer, La Marzocco is a brand favored by both professional baristas and passionate coffee lovers. The company was founded in Florence in 1927 by brothers Giuseppe and Bruno Bambi. Proud of their Florence roots, the brothers chose the company name to honor Donatello’s famous sculpture of a seated lion, the symbol of Florence. Although the machines are still manufactured in Italy, the company is now headquartered in Seattle. 

Caffe D'arte, a locally owned roastery founded by Italian-born Mauro Cipolla, opened its newest location in February at Sea-Tac International Airport (Port of Seattle/Don Wilson)

The brothers helped revolutionize the coffee industry by redesigning the espresso machine. Before World War II, espresso machines used vertical boilers with big filters. In 1939, the Bambi brothers turned the machine on its side and got a patent for the first horizontal espresso machine.  After the war, the lever machine was invented and espresso went from a long cup to a short, more concentrated draw with the distinctive foam on top.   

La Marzocco Café offers customers an educational and cultural experience through regularly scheduled panel discussions, coffee chats and musical guests. Recently, the café hosted Seattle resident Sam Spillman, winner of the 2019 United States barista championship, who shared her competition signature drink with customers.  

One of La Marzocco’s most creative ideas is its Roaster in Residence program, which showcases the breadth of specialty coffees from around the world. Guest roasters spend a one-month residency at the café, bringing their own distinctive roasts and service philosophies to the city. The most recent list of roasters represents six countries (Denmark, China, New Zealand, Japan, Italy and Germany) and eight states. 

The café’s décor is stylish and industrial-chic, featuring a locally crafted U-shaped pewter bar surrounded by handmade cabinets with bar doors and drawers imported from Italy. A display wall highlights vintage espresso machines and artifacts from the company’s 90-year history.  

With lectures, demonstrations and the Roasters in Residence program, La Marzocco is committed to educating consumers and advancing the coffee culture. As the company’s former CEO Kent Bakke once put it: “We want people to explore, learn and love the art of coffee-making as much as we do.”