Not Starbucks: Inside 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea


At 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, there are no Frappuccinos, nor any other blended coffee drinks festooned with made-up Italianate names. Given the ceramic drip cones at the ready to make your drip-to-order brew, the daily 10 a.m. "cuppings" (kind of like wine tastings, but with coffee and no spitting), the stunning copper-detailed La Marzocco espresso machines, and the community table hewed of wood reclaimed from an old barn, blended coffee drinks would be the last thing you'd expect.

But this is "inspired by Starbucks." More accurately, this is Starbucks, but in stealth mode. And a first look at the new store concept -- which will be expanded in Seattle and then, perhaps, launched in other cities, each with their own local brand -- shows that in its search for authenticity, Starbucks borrowed heavily from its neighbors. Wooden theater seats lining the walls are reminiscent of those at The Red Chair Salon a few doors down. The brown façade is nearly the same shade as neighborly restaurant Smith. The hand-lettered chalkboard signs evoke southern neighbor Stumptown Coffee. Because it's the green modus operandi of Northwest cafes and coffee shops, customers are instructed to ask for their beverage in a mug.