In the past year, Portland's coffee scene has exploded with small coffee roasters and new shops—a windfall for thirsty locals craving more varied ways to caffeinate themselves. And the trend isn't losing any momentum. Of the excellent shops reviewed below, three of them opened in the past six weeks. So, waste no time: There's plenty to taste out there.
This relative newcomer across the street from the PCC Cascade campus features coffee from little-known Olympia Roasters. During a full year of taste-testing beans from across the region, the owners kept returning to this gem from the north. Gorgeous glass lanterns dangle over a snaking bar, while ample seating and outlets for laptops make this an obvious choice for study breaks between classes—but be warned that it can feel crowded and noisy at times. Pastries from Nuvrei (for a light lunch, try the thickly layered ham-and-cheese croissant, $3.75) and vegan goods from Black Sheep Bakery are the frontrunners on a menu that also includes light sandwiches and soups.
In only a few short years, Coffeehouse NW has become a coffee institution in Portland. The light-filled shop on West Burnside Street has continued to innovate from one year to the next. This year? A revamped food menu featuring pastries from baker Adam Kennedy (calling himself Broken Frame), including a fabulously simple European-style sandwich of prosciutto and butter on baguette ($4) and whimsical kumquat brioche ($3). Another innovation: Drip coffee four ways. You choose among French press, Eva Solo, Melitta or Chemex—four different kinds of filters that strain out different amounts of sediment and oil from the shop's Stumptown coffee, leaving you with as clean or dirty a cup as you like.
Extracto is one of a handful of small roasting companies cementing their success by expanding to second locations and turning up the volume on Portland's coffee scene in the process. This brand-new cafe features the same excellent coffee we've come to know and love at the original Extracto on Northeast Killingsworth Street in a smaller, simpler setting, presided over by a massive canvas dragon with a contemplative green monkey on its back. Once the new space is running at full tilt, it will feature a drip bar crafted by local sculptor Brian Borello, where you can taste a custom cup of single-origin coffee (try the beautiful Michicoy micro-lot from Finca Vista Hermosa) or Extracto's signature espresso blend, Eleven (as in, "turn it up to").
Heart Coffee and Roasting
One of the most touted of 2009's new micro-roasters. Owner, roaster and pro snowboarder Wille Yli-Luoma made a serious investment in the interior of this cafe that almost makes you forget you're on a dreary stretch of East Burnside Street. The vibe: European subway station meets 19th-century curio cabinet. The tentacled, fire-breathing roasting machine in the middle of the shop makes you feel like a guest in a science experiment gone right. In perfect sync with the technological dreamscape, the end of the coffee bar is dominated by a siphon setup, where you can drop $6 on coffee that tastes distinctly like tea (its a good thing). Heart's focus on single-origin coffees turns up a tendency for astringent flavors, but the overall experience is—pardon the pun—heartening. Pastries and perfect pies from Random Order are available.
I didn't understand the name until owners John and Heather Chandler explained the meticulous three-year restoration of this historic building on Stark: The former general store was 20 inches off center when they bought it. After correcting the lean, they moved their attention to a custom-built bar constructed from wood found in the basement. The shop is charmingly strewn with antique items from the original store. Six weeks after opening, the Chandlers are hitting their stride. The small-batch-roasted beans have been good from the get-go and promise to get better with time.
The Red E Cafe
Only three blocks from neighboring Coffeehouse Five, this stunning space is a study in the beauty of reclaimed wood. It serves Coava Coffee, a deservedly celebrated local roaster which came onto the scene last year, as well as beans from Chicago-based Intelligentsia. The cafe scores points for attention to detail: A luscious double-espresso is served with a palate-cleansing half-glass of Pellegrino bubbly, and at $2, its one of the cheapest—and best—demitasses in town. Try the pastries from Crema or Florio bakeries. The Red E is supremely laptop-friendly, with outlets embedded in long, cushioned benches and next to nearly every table. Stand at the counter, sip your espresso and marvel.
The new permanent downtown location of coffee-carter Andrea Spella is nearly as small as his beloved cart. This shop is simplicity itself: an espresso machine, a counter, and you. European in attitude, its also the only place in town that uses a lever espresso machine. This method requires the most human involvement of any espresso-making process, and it does justice to Mr. Spellas hand-roasted coffee. In addition to coffee and espresso, youll find affogato (espresso over ice cream). Its the only high-end cafe in town that will offer you sugar with your macchiato without a hint of snobbery.
Sterling Coffee Roasters
Portland's newest and craziest cafe is the micro-est micro-roaster in town—and perhaps in the country. In addition to a minimalist space—a mere 50 square feet—partners Adam McGovern (of Coffeehouse NW) and Aric Miller are roasting a changing selection of coffees in inconceivably tiny batches: one pound at a time. They'll operate the on-site roaster 10 to 12 hours a day to produce enough beans for the tiny shop. Like any heedless pronouncement of love, the scheme is so insane it might just work. Grab espresso ($2), cappuccino ($3), or drip coffee to go ($2.50)—or a changing selection of whole beans presented in a tony glass cylinder ($15 per pound).