What’s in a cup of coffee? Conversation, energizing caffeine, the epitome of the Northwest. It pairs well with rain, and brings people together like few other rituals in our busy modern lives.
But coffee, good coffee, is also a science. And no one knows this better than A.J. Anderson, owner of Valhalla Coffee Co. Nestled on Sixth Avenue, Valhalla (named for a Viking heaven) has been Tacoma’s holy grail for true coffee lovers since 2004.
Once you enter their charming flagship store on Sixth, you won’t want to leave. Trust me. From the local art on the walls to the roaster right in the shop (the beans are hand-roasted), to the pleasant hum of surrounding conversation, everything is just so inviting. Just right – like a smooth pour over. It’s the kind of place you’d want to meet for a date, bring a good book or just find any excuse to linger for another cup.
And the coffee is good. I mean really good. Every cup is brewed fresh to order. All the baristas are trained in Valhalla’s methods and the whole team embraces the most exacting standards of quality. Valhalla uses the highest quality beans, sourced directly from the growers. Whether it’s their Ethiopian Harrar or Valkyrie Blend, you know that a lot of thought went into your cup.
It’s a diverse and fun crowd at Valhalla: couples, singles, families and people from all ages and walks of life hang out here.
I talked to a family who meets here every time they are together in Tacoma. Local friends Bill Walkup and Thomas Constanza are devout regulars, and they’re not even coffee drinkers. “A.J. runs a good ship…He really cares about what he does,” says Walkup, who comes faithfully for his steamed soy milk and the atmosphere.
Says Costanza, “You don’t need to be a coffee drinker to come here. It’s a social occasion, and Valhalla fills that need. You meet all kinds of people here.” And local Shady Bauer has been buying coffee from A.J. for 15 years. When I asked various café-goers if they were enjoying their time at Valhalla, it was a resounding yes.
So how did Valhalla get started? A.J. has over 25 years in the coffee business. A Tacoma native, A.J. started out with Starbucks then apprenticed himself to a master roaster for six years before starting out on his own. To give you an idea of his ingenuity, he fixed up and sold a 1969 Volkswagen Karmen Ghia to raise funds for his first roaster. It’s a life-long love affair with coffee that has remained intact as his business has grown. He still eschews trends in favor of pure, good product and customer service.
“At first, it was just me doing everything,” remembers A.J. “I still work seven days a week, but now I have 14 employees at two locations, as well as a general manager, head roaster and maintenance service manager to help out.”
Valhalla recently branched out into servicing and selling commercial coffee equipment, with a full-time technician on staff. And A.J. got married four years ago, with his wife Alice now on board to help. He laments that he is “less” hands-on with the coffee now, but on the day of my visit, I see him manning the roaster deftly as he chats with customers, looking quite happy.
A.J. Anderson is a man with a singular vision: to bring good coffee to Tacoma residents. People have doubted him at times for serving only coffee (no tea or food is served at Valhalla). His dedicated, simple approach has clearly worked. When asked about Valhalla’s staying power, A.J. says reflectively, “I know people, and I know coffee.”
Intrigued by Valhalla? You should be.
To experience Valhalla Coffee Co., stop by their flagship store at 3918 6th Avenue (open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.) or find them at 7 Seas Brewery at 2101 Jefferson Avenue (open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.). You will also find their beans served up at spots around town from Viva Tacoma to the Pantages Theater to Top of Tacoma Bar and Café.