The ongoing revitalization of the Seattle specialty coffee scene has a fresh face today, albeit with a familiar name: Cafe Ladro, an old guard chain of 13 independent coffee houses scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, have shucked their longstanding alliance with Bellingham char-merchants Tony’s Coffee in favor of an in-house roasting and sourcing program aimed squarely at the specialty market. (Ed. note: unless you know how to get from the U District to Beacon Hill in less than 20 minutes, you have probably never heard of Tony’s Coffee, and you aren’t missing anything. See tags to your left for driving directions.)

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To implement these changes, Ladro main-man Jack Kelly has hired Jared Linzmeier, formerly of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. Working with head roaster Dismas Smith (2002 North American Barista Champion, charmingly interviewed here 9 years ago on Coffee Geek), Mr. Linzmeier will be tasked with overseeing Ladro’s in-house roasting operations, as well as implementing a wide variety of changes to Ladro’s aesthetic. Improved barista training, renovations inside the company’s 13 cafe spaces, and a “growing level of quality and professionalism” are just some of what we can expect in 2012, according to Mr. Linzmeier. He went on to tell Sprudge:

We’ll be transitioning away from using Tony’s coffee and should be 100% Ladro sourced and roasted at all thirteen locations by the first of the year, January 2012, and will begin offering our coffees wholesale toward the latter half of 2012…One of our primary goals is to show our existing customers that we appreciate their dedication throughout the years and that we are making Ladro a better place for them. Additionally, we hope this will also bring in a new customer base that is attracted by our sourcing of seasonal coffees, tailoring of roasts to suit, increased attentiveness in brewing, and richer hospitality.

The bar for specialty coffee in Seattle – raised high by Stumptown’s expansion in 2007, and currently white-hot thanks to the work being done by Milstead & Co, Canlis, Analog and others – seems to be moving inexorably higher and inspiring change from unlikely sources. It’s fair to say that Ladro’s new direction is delightfully unexpected; even more exciting, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Linzmeier hope to move Ladro towards a Direct Trade sourcing model in the coming years, increasing coffee quality and building relationships at origin using techniques pioneered by Mr. Linzmeier’s former employers. It’s a huge transition for Ladro, and with the right execution, these changes could have a major impact on the Seattle cafe scene. As previously mentioned, Ladro already has 13 flagship cafes, many of which occupy prime real estate throughout the city (particularly their Capitol Hill and Fremont locations). would like to wish Mr. Linzmeier and his family all the luck in the world with their move to Seattle, and look forward to having a chance to enjoy these new coffees in the coming year.

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