Barista, a new cafe in the Pearl, is a wink to those who toil in coffee's working class, where owner and well-known local barista Billy Wilson has deep roots. The cafe is a naked expression of the love of coffee that has defined the beverage's curates—Wilson among them—for the past few decades. The opening of the shop in March solidifies a slow trend in the high-geek priesthood of coffee, the professionalization of the industry's underclass of servers. The premise is: Excellent coffee doesn't make itself. Knowledgeable, engaged, thoughtful baristas do—and at Barista they do.
Here, you can order coffee prepared three ways: french press (8 ounces for $1.50), espresso (this includes lattes, Americanos and cappuccinos, $2.50-$3.50) and vacuum pot. The latter is an overly fashionable brewing method that leans heavily on glass beakers and the science of thermal expansion. It produces a "clean" cup (like a clear bell to the gong of french press) and is particularly good with coffees that have wild, fruity flavors, such as Yirgacheffes. It's not clear, however, that it's worth the astounding $8-$10 price tag (more than most beers or wines, mind you). Regardless of method, every drink is meticulously prepared and well above average, even for Portland's high standards.
The cafe's decor is spare in the way you might imagine a hipster temple in the Pearl to be: Exposed brick, thick slabs of wood for furniture, loading dock entrance. It negotiates a careful understanding of the word "linger": you're invited to linger over your coffee, but you can do your Spanish homework elsewhere.
Barista is special for more than the care that's taken with preparation. Here, Stumptown coffees sit in an unprecedented détente next to roasts from Chicago-based Intelligentsia. A rotating selection from a third exceptional purveyor (so far, this has tended to be Ecco Cafe from Santa Rosa, Calif.) rounds out the alliance. This makes Barista a supreme exception to the norm—the fiercely competitive business of high-end coffee roasting and the difficulties of the supply chain normally preclude it. It's finally possible to taste some of the best available coffees side by side. And finally, finally, Portlanders interested in expanding their palates can sample something other than Stumptown.
Yes, the shop serves pastries (from the never-fail Nuvrei), but that's beside the point. At Barista, coffee is mistress, and she carries an exquisite whip. If you love the bitch's brew, go to Barista, and remember to tip.
Barista, 539 NW 13th Ave., baristapdx.com. 7 am-6 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.