November 21st, 2012 WW Staff | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Klatch of 2012

Our favorite new Portland coffee shops.

lede_seesee_3903BIKES ’N’ BREW: See See Motor Coffee Co. - IMAGE: nataliebehring.com

In the process of putting together this year’s coffee issue, we visited a coffee shop that delivers only by bike, a coffee shop in a bike store, a coffee shop in a motorcycle store, and a coffee shop on top of a bike. The diversity of Portland’s coffee culture continues to excite and innovate. Here are 11 new cafes we think are worth cycling to.


The Accidental Cafe

1847 E Burnside St., No. 105, trailheadcoffeeroasters.com. 

If you’re familiar with Trailhead Coffee Roasters, it’s probably from the distinctive cargo bike that cafe owner Charlie Wicker has been riding to events in and around Portland—including all 450 miles of Cycle Oregon—since he started roasting in 2009. But for the past six months, he has been quietly operating an ad hoc cafe from his roastery, hidden behind a New-Age yoga studio on East Burnside Street. The atmosphere is very old Portland hippie: The walls are adorned with photos of farmers from the all-female fair trade co-op from which it sources its organic beans, world music plays on the stereo, the whole operation is carbon neutral and the prices are “pay what you feel” (though Wicker says he will probably switch to set prices soon, because people don’t feel like paying enough for him to break even). But the coffee is more contemporary, with a focus on lighter and medium roasts, and mostly brewed as pour-overs on a station of slick Hario V60 drippers (there is also a little espresso machine for those so inclined). There’s really nowhere nearby worth carrying your coffee to, so pull up a seat at the lone table and talk bikes and brews with your friendly host—it just doesn’t feel right to leave that earth-mother environment with a disposable cup and lid, anyway, and those yogis out front might go all Dhalsim on you if you try. RUTH BROWN.

The Arbor Lodge

1507 N Rosa Parks Way, 289-1069, thearborlodge.com.

Given Scott Davidson’s extravagant mutton chops, burly physique and penchant for wearing Utilikilts, when the Arbor Lodge owner refers to his coffee shop as “mission-based,” you’d think he was talking about a mission to invade Sellwood and pillage its vast resources of antique furniture. When you overhear him chat with customers, though, it’s clear he only has altruistic goals in mind. Named after the tiny North Portland neighborhood in which it resides, the Arbor Lodge is Davidson’s reaction to what he perceived as a lack of true communal spaces in the area. (What, Fat Cobra Video isn’t good enough?) Literalizing its namesake with an all-wood interior, including a decorative tree ring hanging above the espresso machine, the cafe is indeed cozy, and its tight cluster of tables—augmented by a small “living room” section in the corner—certainly encourages conversation. But that doesn’t mean the actual coffee is an afterthought. It would’ve been easy just to fill the press pot with Stumptown, but the fact that Davidson chose to serve Coava hints at a commitment to serious java consumption as strong as his dedication to bringing the community together. MATTHEW SINGER. 

Barista Downtown

529 SW 3rd Ave., Unit 110, baristapdx.com. 

If the trio of Barista outposts were siblings, the newest location in downtown’s turn-of the-century Hamilton Building would be the middle child, the dignified and reserved aesthete. Where the brick-walled Pearl cafe is the nervy, slightly snobbish firstborn, and the cozy Alberta shop the sociable baby of the family, owner Billy Wilson’s third location dresses in tasteful shades of black and white—black varnished wood, white diner-style mugs, gray marble countertops and black-and-white penny-round tiled floor. But like the rest of its clan, the downtown Barista pulls a premium cup, with beans from a shifting roster of local and guest roasters (on a recent visit, these included Heart, Coava and San Francisco’s Sightglass). The building across the street is mercifully squat, meaning you can gaze at the sky from the wood-and-wicker stools that line the window-side counter, or you can stand at the central bar as you toss back your espresso. Coffee drinkers are bound to play favorites with the Barista sibs, but this sleek sophisticate is unlikely to care. REBECCA JACOBSON. 

Case Study Coffee

808 SW 10th Ave., casestudycoffee.com.

By the time you read this, Case Study will probably have opened its second cafe, a downtown location across from the Central Library. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready by press deadlines. We did, however, get to visit the original Northeast Sandy location and the temporary coffee cart Case Study has operated downtown during construction since May. There, the cafe’s own roasts are accompanied by the soothing sounds of the MAX Blue and Red lines. I enjoyed a rich and balanced espresso made with single-origin Costa Rican beans, consumed al fresco, and look forward to seeing what the Rose City Park neighborhood’s premier roaster will do with a roof, four walls, and the block’s huge population of transients. RUTH BROWN.
UPDATE: We visited the new cafe and wrote a blog post about it.

Half Pint Cafe

537 SE Ash St., No. 108, 236-2326, muddworks.com.

The chalkboard menu inside Mudd Works Roastery’s cozy Half Pint Cafe promises “Stimulants.” The most intriguing and indulgent thereof has to be the Chili Mex, a high-octane blend of espresso, cream and tingly Mexican cocoa that’s about half the viscosity of champurrado and every bit as sating. An inviting case of pastries stuffed with chocolate-mint cookies and other totally inappropriate breakfast foods doubles the danger of starting your morning here. Half Pint’s coffees are roasted in suburban Vancouver, but this little inner-eastside cafe is the only outlet for the beans, most of which are done at the espresso-ready medium roast. With only a few seats in its narrow, brick-walled confines, there’s not much space for lingering inside Half Pint, which is on the ground floor of tony lofts where a freight elevator used to be. So grab your cup to go—and go by foot or cycle if you’ve had a Chili Mex. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Maglia Rosa

1111 SW Stark St.

When the tiny coffee bar inside West End Bikes was vacated by the painfully hip Heart Roasters in April after only five months in business, one wondered whether it was really a viable proposition: a short distance from Stumptown Ace and Courier, little signage, and a 10 am opening hour. Could such a space really ever compete? Phuong Tran is willing to have a crack. The 2005 United States Barista Champion took over the space with little fanfare in July, and she has been slinging high-quality espressos to a lycra-clad clientele ever since. Beans are Stumptown, but the difference, the barista on a sunny fall day informed me, is that Maglia Rosa is highlighting the roaster’s single-origin offerings, while nearby Stumptown Ace serves the ubiquitous Hair Bender blend. I also find the drinks to be of a more consistently higher quality, as Maglia Rosa isn’t dealing with long lines and trying to juggle bagels and bussing at the same time. On one visit, the barista made a flawless macchiato, then joined me on the tiny sidewalk seating to soak in some final rays of vitamin D and shoot the shit for 20 minutes. There weren’t any other customers—but this one was very satisfied. RUTH BROWN. 

Red E EcoTrust

721 NW 9th Ave.

The Pearl District is a far cry from the Red E’s original cafe, which services Portland Community College students on a rough-around-the-edges strip of North Killingsworth Street, but that’s where you’ll find the roaster’s second outlet, nestled in a corner of the hyper-sustainable woodland hub of the EcoTrust building. You’ll see few study groups here, but infinitely more women in designer Pilates pants and guys wearing North Face fleece vests over their business shirts zipping past the counter for a latte to go. There’s little visible indication of just how good the coffee is here: If you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t realize that Red E owner Keith Miller is now roasting the coffee himself (it was previously serving other roasters’ beans), and unless you ask, there’s no way of knowing the provenance of your particular beverage. But if the Red E won’t blow its own horn, we will: One of the city’s best coffee shops is hiding here. RUTH BROWN.

Ristretto Roasters Nicolai

2181 NW Nicolai St., 227-2866, ristrettoroasters.com.

Located in a onetime steel mill and sharing space with upscale lighting-and-furniture company Schoolhouse Electric, Ristretto Roasters’ third location is industrial-academic chic. But outfitted with an inviting mix of Herculean timber beams, bank-vault-style metal doors and antique clocks and globes, this outpost isn’t just for suspendered savants in work boots. Ristretto roasts its own beans and specializes in single-origin medium roasts, which it describes with big-shouldered élan: The Guatemalan Trapichitos has notes of “rum, butter, currants” and the Ugandan Kabum “malt, melon, sweet tamari.” The baristas, though, are unpretentious and happy to advise patrons. Whether antique light bulbs or other matters of business have brought you into the bowels of the Northwest Industrial District, this is an airy and appealing spot for an expertly brewed cup and one of Bakeshop’s delightfully complex whole-grain pastries. REBECCA JACOBSON. 

See See Motor Coffee Co.

1642 NE Sandy Blvd., 894-95666, seeseemotorcycles.com.

Motorcycles and coffee? Sure, why not? In a city overrun with theater pubs, record bars and cocktail delis, the notion of connecting “adrenaline rush” with “caffeine buzz” actually makes some level of sense. Besides, See See Motor Coffee Co. deftly intertwines its twin interests while simultaneously keeping them separated. Housed in what appears to be a converted garage, the actual cafe—a large, airy room with concrete floors, a skylight and a huge mural of a rattlesnake on the wall—is adjacent to the store selling motorcycle parts and apparel, allowing the coffee shop to exist autonomously from the gimmick, albeit as a kind of de facto motorcycle museum, decorated with shelves of vintage helmets and other memorabilia. Despite the grease-monkey aesthetic, See See’s coffee program is refined, with grungy baristas manning a pour-over station and pulling Stumptown-bean espressos from a machine airbrushed like the side of a 1970s hesher conversion van (there are also pots of French press if you’re after something a little more blue-collar). Likewise, the menu lists both ham-and-swiss croissants and a “hot dog happy hour” from 4 to 7 pm, offering a frank, chips and a PBR tall boy for $5. MATTHEW SINGER. 

Sterling Coffee Roasters

417 NW 21st Ave., 248-2133, sterlingcoffeeroasters.com.

After the excellent coffee, the delightfully absurd aesthetics of Sterling’s original Northwest Glisan Street outlet was always its biggest selling point: dapper baristas in pinstripe waistcoats, ties and furs, art deco décor, fancy wallpaper and candles, all tucked into a little walk-up kiosk between a Trader Joes and a fondue restaurant. After being booted out of the space in June, owner Adam McGovern moved the operation onto Northwest 21st, as the daytime proprietor of M Bar. Following some renovations, it’s basically the same vision writ large. Well, larger: The cafe is still tiny, but now you can sit at an inside table—dressed with white tablecloths and fresh flowers, of course—and sip your espresso from a Glencairn Whisky Glass. The roastery also recently released its own line of neck ties. The whole thing feels a bit like LARPing for the Etsy crowd. RUTH BROWN.

Torque Coffee Roasters

501 Columbia St., Vancouver, Wash., 360-771-2474, torquecoffeeroasters.com. 

Vancouver’s Torque seems to relish its sense of place. The name is a reference to the cavernous coffee house’s space in an old auto shop across from the city’s Convention Centre. With a rack full of ironic T-shirts bearing the mulleted vestige of a Joe Dirt type and the words “The ’Couve: It Ain’t Portland,” the shop has appointed itself clubhouse and chief merchandiser for hipsters trapped on the other side of our totally sufficient bridge across the Columbia. The space is large and a little cold, with utilitarian neon lights, church pews, midcentury modern chairs topped with Pendleton-style pillows and matrixes of square warehouse windows like the ones always getting blown apart in action movies. Despite having “Roasters” in its name and a vintage roaster in the corner, the coffee still comes from Portland. The plan is that the bags of Coava lining the shelves will disappear and the showpiece roaster will fire to life. The staff recommended an espresso drink, and made my Americano by dumping two shots into a cup of hot water, instantly dissolving the crema. Like the shirt says, this ain’t Portland. MARTIN CIZMAR. 

 
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