The Sixth Avenue district is a neighborhood that buzzes late into the night. There’s always a show to see, a meal to savor, a game to watch, a tattoo to get, a cocktail to swill.
But the action isn’t just relegated to night. What you may not know is that Sixth Avenue is the go-to place for coffee in Tacoma. Nowhere in Tacoma will a diner find a more diverse concentration of coffeehouses. Five independent coffee shops span Proctor to Fife streets, and I’ve spent time sipping and Wi-Fi-ing in all of them.
It’s an evolving coffee culture on Sixth. Two newcomers have opened in the last few months – Beyond the Bridge Café, which transplanted from its downtown Sumner location, and Caffe Dei, a vegan/vegetarian focused cafe that serves some of the most flavorful and imaginative coffee in town.
And a sign just went up at Sixth and Union, at the former location for Origin 23, promising more coffee. I’ll keep my eye on the space.
Here is a glimpse of the two new coffee shops, Caffe Dei and Beyond the Bridge Cafe, and a few words about three others I enjoy along Sixth Avenue:
Where: 2607 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-2550
Caffe Dei has quickly become my favorite coffeehouse in Tacoma, if not for the deeply interesting coffee concoctions, but because it’s one of few restaurants here that caters to vegetarians, an eating style I enjoy when I’m not writing about bar burgers and fair food. (Gotta give the arteries a break from time to time). And good news for vegans: some menu items are just for you.
When I interviewed owners Shane Siegfried and Shuanna Holt shortly after their opening in July, Holt told me by e-mail, “Our food items will always be at least vegetarian. …We chose to keep our menu this way because it is what best represents who we are. I could in theory sell meat products, but we wouldn’t be passionate about it and our hearts wouldn’t be there.”
And the coffee? It’s as delicious as it is varied. It’s the only coffeehouse I’ve visited in Tacoma that offers conceptual coffee that extends beyond the typical cappuccino, latte or Americano (although they do offer those).
The Picante Mocha is bold espresso tempered with steamed milk, flavored with Mexican chocolate and spiked with a tongue sting of chile. The Sasquatch is the love child of the cappuccino and Americano. The Arancione Moka is a shot of espresso gussied up with dark chocolate, a shot of steamed milk and a curl of orange rind, sans the bitter pith, divinely infusing the drink from the bottom of the cup. The Abominus is four espresso shots poured over sweetened condensed milk. And speaking of condensed milk, they also serve Thai coffee, and Vietnamese, too.
There’s Ahimsa, chrysanthemum flowers steeped in honey soy milk, and Karma, loose Jasmine tea also steeped in honey soy milk. Curious about how they compose their drinks? Loose coffee and tea in small containers invite diners to sniff and inspect. I like that.
From pastries to daily soup specials to a core menu of really interesting sandwiches – the food at Caffe Dei is all vegetarian or vegan. I really dislike when anyone says a vegetarian sandwich is so delicious, you won’t miss the meat.
I’m of the mind that a sandwich can be delicious whether it’s full of meat or vegetables, just so long as it’s composed with good bread and offers interest in texture and flavor.
Vegetarian does not mean inferior in the sandwich realm, and Caffe Dei proves that with thoughtfully composed layers of hearty bread, gooey cheese, flavorful spreads and tasty layers of unctuous protein at the center. The field roast sandwich ($9) was a flavor cacophony that started with a sturdy base of Macrina Bakery focaccia bread, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, fresh greens, sautéed onions and a tasty, savory spread that glued the sandwich flavors together. The tofurkey ($10) came on herb-crusted bread with layers of roasted red peppers, sweet onions, fresh greens, smoked tofurkey, gooey cheddar cheese and a smear of hummus on one side, a spread of basil on the other.
The menu offers a few other sandwiches and daily soup specials, as well as breakfast offerings.
Beyond the Bridge Café
Where: 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-9199; http://beyondthebridgecafe.com
Ben and Trish Rubke relocated their community-minded Sumner coffeehouse to Sixth Avenue in August in the space that formerly was home to Il Fiasco.
Their cafe in Sumner developed a reputation for supporting local musicians with open mike shows for emerging artists. That tradition on Sixth continues with Friday night open mikes. They’ll host shows by established artists, too. Assorted artists, along with Vicci Martinez, perform at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow.
In addition to their focus on music, the cafe serves Caffe D’arte coffee, as well as sandwiches using bagels from Puyallup’s Bagel Boyz bakery.
Beyond bagel sandwiches, I highly recommend the house-made chicken noodle soup ($3.99) thick with handmade noodles that were rustically cut ribbons of chewy goodness. A bowl of the soup went harmoniously with the Benny sandwich ($5.50), a jalapeno cheddar bagel with layers of ham, Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato, a smear of cream cheese and a roasted red pepper sauce on the side. The Swanny ($5.50) started with a toasted garlic bagel and was topped with turkey, melted provolone, lettuce, tomato and pesto. Six other bagel sandwiches are on the menu, or order one plain.
Where: 2618 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-2787
Shakabrah is so much like a diner, I hesitate to call it a coffeehouse, but Java is in the name, after all.
Shakabrah has the funky vibe of a coffeehouse – mismatched chairs, battered wooden tables interspersed with retro diner tables and an order-at-the-counter-and-seat-yourself mission.
The menu, shuttled to your table by a staffer, is all diner – breakfast served all day (they serve lunch on weekdays, too). Scrambles, omelets, biscuits and gravy are all produced in a tiny kitchen partially open to the dining room. Quick bagels and grab-and-go pastries are available for those on the move. Hot drinks include the gamut of espresso and they offer a really nice selection of loose tea that’s on display at the counter.
Where: 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; www.myspace.com/satellitecoffeeco
Hipster hangout? Coffeehouse within a restaurant? It’s difficult to classify Satellite Coffee, just off the lobby of the Mexican restaurant Masa.
A small seating nook next to the coffee counter offers a mod vibe (minus the shag carpet) and it’s a quiet space in the morning for lounging and talking before Masa’s dining room opens.
Satellite serves coffee roasted by Stumptown Coffee, an Oregon-based company run by Puyallup native Duane Sorenson. Satellite also operates two other locations in Tacoma – one on Division and another on Market Street.
Where: 3918 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-761-5116; www.valhallacoffee.net
This is more coffee roaster than sit-and-sip coffeehouse. A few seats offer a view of the coffee action. Coffee geeks in search of technical descriptions and brewing advice should head immediately to Valhalla.
If you recognize the coffeehouse’s name, it might be because it formerly operated inside Mandolin Café on Twelfth. The coffee menu is low-tech, but perfectly executed.
I can blame my addiction to Ethiopian coffee on Valhalla. Buy a bag of Valhalla’s Ethiopian Harar. It could change the entire tone of your mornings, it’s that delicious.