This September, Duvall-based roaster Anchorhead launched its first cafe in the northwest corner of CenturyLink Plaza in Downtown Seattle, an arrival that prompted a positive—if not overwhelming—reception. Cut to a month later, though, and it turns out Anchorhead isn't just another new specialty coffee shop in a busy location, but an exciting sign of things to come.
Starting in the 1990s, the Northwest led the country in a shift away from "Folgers in Your Cup" to "who's your roaster?" This seachange is generally known as the Third Wave, and these days boutique roasters like Slate and Elm, and pro barista havens like Milstead and Co. and Analog embody that intentionality, both in wares and service. Every aspect—from the sourcing to the roasting to the physical space—is designed to showcase the coffee.
Anchorhead embodies this same ethos. You could swap the coffee menu with one from any number of Third Wave-y establishments in the city: limited offerings, brewing to order, cold brew on tap (with or without nitro), expressive blends and single-origins. Where Anchorhead—and a few other shops, more on that later—differs: It extends that intentionality to the rest of its food and drinks, creating a space that's more inclusive than a coffee temple, but more restrained than a full-menu cafe. It's something new. Call it Wave 3.5.
Take the pastry case, for instance. A necessary afterthought in many craft coffee shops, usually populated with Macrina squash bread and some Mighty-O donuts. At Anchorhead, local baker Salmonberry Goods provides the pastries, which the shop bakes in house. It's a small touch that no doubt requires extra logistical planning, but biting into a quaffle (think croissant waffle) that has been baked to order is an enlightened pairing to a dialed-in espresso drink.
Same goes for the beer and wine selection—a rotating chalk menu currently listing a local IPA, porter, a red and a white, and Prosecco. Again, many other shops have something like Manny's on tap, or keep a fridge full of Dry Soda and Rainier tallboys, but the level of curation at Anchorhead attempts to make the space a viable happy hour destination in a addition to morning pick-me-up spot, a space that can rub shoulders with nearby Starbucks and Mr. West.
And it's the physical space that ties this all together. The dark wood and tile is cozy, clean and yet in stark contrast to the minimal light wood and marble of other popular cafes. A traditional table setup mixes with bar seating and a pair of couches to encourage morning bites, hours-long laptop sessions, some lounging, or an afterwork meet up—all without losing the sense that this is, in fact, still a specialty coffee shop. But just a little bit more.
Anchorhead might be the newest but others are moving in similar directions. Capitol Hill's Métier manages to succeed as both a coffee stop, a legit brunch spot, and a bar, all in equal measure. And the forthcoming Cherry Street Public House aims to resemble something near a European cafe without losing the chain's functional and commuter-friendly appeal.
Call it Wave 3.5, or the Third-and-a-Half Wave of Coffee, or just a joint evolution of Seattle's coffee and dining scenes. Whatever Anchorhead is, we welcome it.