Maybe it’s the jazz music that sneaks every now and then out of the doorway and into the thoroughfare. Maybe it’s the comfy couches and the industrial-chic vibe inside. Maybe it’s the allure of the friendly ghost that’s rumored to wander the building. Whatever draws you to it, there’s something bewitching about B Sharp Coffee House.
Located in Tacoma’s Opera Alley, this coffee house is a gathering place for people of all ages that really captures the essence of Tacoma’s Antique District. Exposed brick and beams betray the shop’s first life as a warehouse for the Tacoma News Tribune. Today, instead of stacks of bundled newsprint and the whir of machines, visitors can expect to hear the buzz, hiss and grind of artisan coffee brewing or being poured.
Because the brightly colored buildings in the Opera District sit squarely, shoulder to shoulder with one another, it would be easy to mistake the space for a small coffee shop from the outside. Once visitors cross the threshold, however, they’re often surprised to find that the cafe is very spacious inside. The venue can accommodate roughly 90 people, as fans of B Sharp’s live music scene can personally attest. Exposed brick and beams create an atmosphere of gritty ambiance that’s softened by couches, wide tables and benches and plush pillows made from the upcycled burlap of coffee bean bags.
Music is a big part of the what makes B Sharp such a special spot. Owners Dennis and Maryann Ellis have a lifelong affinity for jazz and blues; Dennis in particular. He’s played a venerable part in the South Sound jazz scene, and has been the saxophonist in the band the T-Town Aces for ages. If Ellis’s favorite songs aren’t playing over the stereo, it’s likely that it is just on hold to accommodate one of the many musical acts that have performed live at the shop since it’s opening in 2013.
Musical acts that perform here vary in style, but all acts must meet the owner’s approval. “I listen to every artist that wants a gig. They have to meet a certain level of quality to perform here,” says Dennis. Special events are held at B Sharp frequently. Schools host shows here and special interest groups also use the space. When musical acts aren’t taking the stage, Dennis hosts other creative acts. “We do a lot of different types of shows – spoken word, dance, storytelling – in addition to music.”
Creating a spot for local musicians to share their passion was always part of the plan for Dennis. Other acts perform as well; there are poetry readings and comedy shows held regularly as well. But his grand plan has always been to provide patrons with a good cup of coffee. Serving what the Ellises call “slow coffee” is really where this cafe stands apart from other local shops.
Slow coffee is part and parcel to the B Sharp experience. Patrons settle down in one of the comfy mismatched armchairs, maybe find a table outfitted with electric outlets to plug in a laptop or tablet, and take their time enjoying coffee brewed with care. Different slow or pour-over brewing techniques bring out different flavors in coffee beans, and Dennis Ellis is partial to a few in particular.
Chemex brewing, which involves small-batch brewing inside a pretty-to-behold glass decanter, is a slow brew method that highlights the higher and brighter notes of a bean. Vacuum brewing is another, and this can be just as fun to watch as its name suggests. This method results in bright, sweet and clarified cup of coffee and involves a pretty high-tech looking apparatus and vacuum system. And, of course, the French press is another tried and true favorite designed to lend coffee what could crudely be called an oily quality, creating a robust and flavorful brew that embodies the heart and soul of the bean.
If you’re looking for a plain cup of coffee, you won’t find it here. That’s not to say that there aren’t more traditional drinks: there’s a latte and cappuccino, and these come complete with a skilled barista who might just be practicing his or her foam art with your hot cup. You’ll also find a sustainable operation with plenty of locally sourced offerings. Tacoma-based roaster Bluebeard Coffee Roasters provides B Sharp with its high-grown Arabica beans, the tea comes to this coffee house courtesy of Mad Hat Tea Company and Corina Bakery is responsible for the beautiful pastries on hand.
Hungry? The menu is a savory affair with breakfast and lunch fare. Appetizers include artisanal antipasti that ranges from bread and olives to meat and cheese. There are decadent paninis and sandwiches designed to pair well with slow coffee or craft beer (also available on the B Sharp drink menu) along with salads, soups and flatbread pizza.
Sustainability, along with roots music and quality coffee, is another pride point at this Opera Alley spot. Maryann and Dennis had a helping hand from their daughter and shop manager, Angeleena, in reducing their business’s carbon footprint. She has a degree in environmental science from Pacific Lutheran University. With her input, the Ellis family happily spent a little extra on material and equipment in order to use as many compostable items as possible. B Sharp donates any compostable waste and coffee grounds to a berry farm in Puyallup.
If it isn’t one of the shop’s weekly live acts, the sit-and-stay-awhile atmosphere or the expertly brewed cup of slow coffee that brings you to this jazzy joint, it might just be the spot’s haunted history. Remember, this building was once home to the Tacoma News Tribune. Where the present-day restrooms are located, the story goes that there was a printing press in its place many years ago. One terrible day a printing press exploded here, killing an employee who had been with the paper for 55 years. It is his spirit that is said to linger at B Sharp today, although patrons and staff alike report that any presence they may have encountered here seems to be a friendly one.
Whatever draws you to this modern space with the its café savvy menu, stop in, kick your feet up and stay awhile at B Sharp to see for yourself what slow coffee is all about.
B Sharp Coffee House
706 Opera Alley
Tacoma, WA 98402