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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

May 11, 2010 at 5:50 PM

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Seattle's Best Coffee getting new logo, expanding

Posted by Melissa Allison

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for WetWhisker.jpgAfter years as Starbucks' little-mentioned shadow brand, Seattle's Best Coffee is stepping into the light with redesigned cups and signage, and a Facebook page to underscore its rapidly expanding presence in fast-food restaurants.

One of Seattle's oldest coffee brands, Seattle's Best -- known for a smoother, lighter roast than Starbucks -- has seen change before.

When Jim and Dave Stewart started the shop on Whidbey Island in 1969, it was called the Wet Whisker and sold only ice cream. They quickly added coffee and moved to the Seattle waterfront, where it became Stewart Brothers Coffee.

After a couple of name and ownership changes, Starbucks bought the aspirationally named Seattle's Best Coffee chain of 129 stores in 2003 and mostly ignored it.

It was so independent of Starbucks that Seattle's Best employees bragged about not sharing their recipes with Starbucks workers, especially for popular drinks like Red Cane Kola, a cold drink of sugar and cola nuts with creamy froth on top.

Thumbnail image for SeattlesBest.jpgEarly last year, Seattle's Best had 550 stores, about 480 of them in Borders bookstores.

Then the changes began.

To squeeze higher sales from areas that once took a back seat to its breakneck U.S. store growth, Starbucks started juicing Seattle's Best.

Read the rest of the story about SBC's expansion and new logo. Cup photos courtesy of Starbucks.

Like many bitten by the coffee bug, the Stewart brothers are still in the business. Jim and his wife own coffee plantations in Costa Rica, and he sells his coffee through the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. Dave roasts at Vista Clara Coffee in Snohomish.

Update 5/12/10:
Here's the Wall Street Journal's take on Seattle's Best, which says, "Perhaps the most radical feature of the Starbucks strategy calls for selling Seattle's Best from vending machines." Seattle's Best machines have been made for years by Concordia Coffee Systems in Bellevue.

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