Considering that Seattle's coffee scene is notoriously unparalleled, there's little reason to leave town looking for a great cup. But when business or pleasure lures you out of the Emerald City, it's a lovely thing to find some Seattle-grade coffee where you least expect it.
Photo by Amanda Castleman.
Imagine my delight upon finding Bluebeard Coffee Roasters on a recent trip to Tacoma--a city so close geographically and so far when it comes to reputation. Bluebeard's the sort of cafe that could easily succeed among the dozens of hip spots on Capitol Hill, but its cool factor is upped even further by the juxtaposition of its location between a high school and a funeral home on an otherwise uneventful stretch of Tacoma's Sixth Avenue.Bluebeard's light-filled corner spot opened last year, giving other Seattle-worthy spots like Valhalla a run for their money. Owner Kevin McGlocklin knows his way around a roaster--the UW alumnus and former Alpha Delta Phi fraternity member (alongside our editor Mike Seely) then known as "Cubby" worked at Lighthouse Roasters here in Seattle prior to heading south--which you can tell by watching him at the machine. Roasting the carefully sourced beans is a bit of a theatrical affair here thanks to a prominently displayed roaster, like an open kitchen in a restaurant. Sipping coffee in the same room as the roasting takes place is a sensory overload of the best kind.
There's more to take in here, though, than the gentle hum of the roaster and the wafts of freshly toasted beans. Overhead, exposed beams and air ducts lend a minimalist, modern look that echoes the simplicity of the menu. The clientele is a typical mix: moms with tots buying hot chocolate and croissants, telecommuters taking advantage of the WiFi and nursing big cups of coffee, retirees sipping cappuccinos. Service is friendly and warm in a way Seattle frequently isn't. An employee down the street at Tacoma Food Co-Op called Bluebeard "comfortable but studious."
McGlocklin does a good job on the beans, which are predominantly African and Latin American, though he does offer bold options from Sulawesi and Sumatra as well. The café's signature espresso, The Narrows, is rich and chocolatey, and was impossibly smooth in the cappuccino I ordered. I even let it sit a moment too long before taking that long, perfect, velvety first drink--the milk had settled a little too much, but the espresso still stood up well.
Whether or not Bluebeard is worth the hour-long trip south on its own depends on how quickly you need your caffeine in the morning, but if you find yourself in Tacoma, this place deserves a visit.