Seattle's Best Coffee might be in your shopping basket right now, but the odd thing is that it nearly was Seattle's Best Ice Cream!
Why? Well, Seattle's Best was founded by Jim Stewart not as a coffee store, but as a humble seasonal ice cream shop that also happened to sell coffee. Why it was called "The Wet Whisker, I'll never know, but Seattle's Best's success came largely by accident after a vendor on the California beachfront sold Jim his coffee roaster.
Jim took the 12 pound coffee roaster back to his ice cream shop on Whidbey Island, just a tad north of Seattle, and started roasting coffee. Doubtless, he must have learned the hard way how to roast coffee. By the end of his second summer in business, he'd sold 500 pounds of coffee, all made with green beans he had bought from local roasters.
While Whidbey Island was largely a tourist spot, it soon became obvious that he needed a more stable location. Stewart sold the shop in 1970 to open another one on Seattle's Waterfront and in 1982 installed an espresso machine to supplement the regular coffee he offered. In 1983 he expanded to open a shop in Bellevue.
Stewart renamed his blends Seattle's Best Coffee in 1991 and sold it to investors who owned Torrefazione Italia, a popular Seattle café. Those investors in turn sold to Starbucks in 2003.
Starbucks was looking for a less expensive line of coffee that would appeal to working class people rather then the yuppies that flocked to its well known coffee shops and kiosks. Many coffee lovers say that Seattle's Best is superior to Starbucks, lacking the burnt taste that they say the Starbucks brand has.
Seattle's Best Coffee now has franchise rights in 11 countries and on US military bases. Their kiosks can be found on Royal Caribbean ships and the coffee is now served at 7,000 Burger King restaurants and on all Delta Air Lines flights. There are stores in 20 states and sub-stores on college campuses. You can find kiosks in Borders Bookstores, Subway restaurants and in many J.C. Penney stores.
Fans of Seattle's Best Coffee have seen some changes recently.
The company used to market blends such as Harry's Blend, Breakfast Blend, Columbian, Post Alley Blend, 6th Avenue Bistro and French Roast. The bags have changed from the distinctive red motif to brightly colored bags with numbers from 1 to 5.
Level 1 is crisp, mild and slightly sweet while Level 2 has a brightness, some acidity and an aroma reminiscent of cocoa. Level 3 is smooth and full flavored with a nut-like undertone and a clean finish. Level 4 is a stronger blend with a hint of chocolate and a nutty aroma while Level 5 is dark roasted, full bodied and has a rich aroma. The company still offers flavored coffees like Crème Brulee, Hazelnut, Cinnabon, Vanilla Bean and Almond Roca.
Seattle's Best Coffee publicizes their personal relationships with the coffee farmers they deal with and claim that they care about ethically traded coffee that is responsibly grown. More and more coffee companies are realizing that people care about where and how their coffee is grown and want coffee farmers to prosper with fair prices.
Seattle's Best also has its buyers choose beans carefully with the qualities that they want to infuse into their five levels of blends. They also slow roast the beans to get the best flavor, giving coffee drinkers the best possible flavors.
Wherever you are, remember "Only Great Beans Make Great Coffee"!
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