Seattle’s Best Coffee does not quite live up to its name.
Although the original 1991 product might have been Seattle’s best, the current brand, now a subsidiary of the one-and-only coffee juggernaut Starbucks, proves once again that adding boastful adjectives into the title of a brand often creates a little irony somewhere down the road.
Simply put, the coffee at the University Gateway branch of Seattle’s Best Coffee isn’t the best coffee in Seattle, in Los Angeles or even at USC.
The coffee might not live up to its lofty title, but Seattle’s Best Coffee is still a great option for caffeine-deprived students looking for a calm place to read a textbook and sip on a decent cup of joe.
Inside, Ferrari-red espresso machines sit on the counter tops, like props lifted off an Italian movie set. Authentic or not, they look like they mean business. Behind the cash registers sit multiple large carafes of brewed coffee.
The coffee brews are numbered one through five, with the numbers indicating the coffee’s strength. This numeric system is a newly implemented Seattle’s Best Coffee touch, offering an assortment of roast strengths for customers. Flanking the coffee is a case full of the usual foodstuffs, the likes of sweet and savory pastries.
As for the actual coffee pouring out of these fancy machines? To say they run strong and dark in flavor would be an understatement.
If you enjoy bold, rich coffee blends, you too might make the mistake of ordering a cup of the number five brew.
The number five has the curious condition of both lacking a rich, full body while simultaneously tasting a little like the old coals from a frat-house barbeque.
The flavor of an immediate slurp is fine: toasty, if a bit watery.
But the coals kick in half a second later, leaving an effusive bitterness that simply doesn’t go away. The coffee also refuses to be acidic, like poorly brewed coffee often does.
The blend is confusing, since it is smooth, but not at all flavorful.
Things get better down the line. The number three is decent, with an inviting aroma and hints of chocolate and oak.
Numbers one and two are much fruitier and nuanced, with less of the ashy aftertaste of numbers four and five.
But all the coffees of Seattle’s Best Coffee suffer from a lack of body, that hard-to-describe sense of heft that good coffees offer.
The espresso is similar as well, past the point of being “dark.” At times, it tastes uncomfortably charred.
Knowing the nature of the coffee blends at Seattle’s Best Coffee, it’s hard to say whether that coal flavor is a flaw of the coffee itself or a subtle mistake in espresso extraction.
Either way, the espresso drinks suffer greatly because of it.
Still, some of the flavored espressos are much better than the fare sloshed at Trojan Grounds or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
The Salted Toffee Ultimate Mocha is one drink where the roasted flavor of the espresso works, tempering the sweetness of the chocolate.
The last few sips are a bit too strong, likely from sunken flavorings, however, it’s a tasty drink, particularly if you like the combination of sweet and salty.
Thankfully, the lattes are reasonably good, because of the sweetly steamed milk carefully poured into cups, leaving a thick, generous head of foam.
Still, there are no moments of complete coffee nirvana to be found here. Whereas the simple latte can be a dream come true at, say, the on-campus Shop Café, the drinks of Seattle’s Best Coffee always seem to have flaws.
For the most part, the flaw is fundamental: coffee that simply flaunts its hammer-like strength without the body or nuance to give it well-rounded flavors.
Like the shop’s chic interior, the coffee here is only well done in limited ways.
Some details are adequately polished, such as the elegant roast-level system and the steamed milk, but overall, the drinks simply don’t ascend to the aromatic heights one might expect from a chain called Seattle’s Best Coffee.