Coffee Roasters United
The problem: Small specialty coffee roasters can't afford to buy raw beans from growers on other continents by themselves. Sterling Coffee Roasters owner Adam McGovern believes he's found a solution. He has teamed up with four other local roasters—Red E Cafe, Case Study Coffee, Clive Coffee and Seven Virtues—under the banner of Coffee Roasters United, which has been bidding on one type of single-origin beans at a time for about a year. The labels then share the raw beans among themselves, while roasting and brewing them individually. Collective buying is nothing new, of course, but is usually in the form of a co-op rather than a union like CRU. The difference, McGovern says, is "huge because co-ops are run democratically, and unions are administered. Obviously, the union members have a lot of power and sway, but it's at least administered by a central committee. That's our biggest strength, because it's a pain in the ass trying to coordinate six different business owners." That's not all: CRU is "very careful" about the shops it allows to join, and once they're in, McGovern says, he works to "provide as much feedback and training as possible." More training means better roasting without compromising each shop's character, so coffee drinkers ultimately get high-quality coffee that's been roasted and brewed five different ways. CRU has removed a lot of hassle for importers and would-be roasters, which in the end means better products and prices for Portland customers.
Able's Kone Brewing System
For more than two years, coffee nerds have been geeking out over Keith Gehrke's brainchild: a reusable steel coffee filter he dubbed the Kone. Gehrke, a co-founder of Coava Coffee Roasters, created the filter as the inner-Southeast Portland cafe's signature in-house brewing method. But the orders and press attention started pouring in, and the Kone has since become a popular brewing method with baristas and home enthusiasts across the country, spinning off into an entire brewing-equipment company, Able Brewing. Gehrke used the momentum to fund his real dream: a self-contained system called the Kone Brewing System, which doesn't need additional brewing equipment, as the standalone Kone filter does. He created a fundraiser on Kickstarter hoping to raise $5,000 to help complete the project, but got over $150,000 from fans around the world. The beauty and simplicity of the product is clear with one glance, but getting it right was far from simple. Gehrke was committed to "working on every element to make it perfect," and that's no platitude. "We spent two full days just working on handle shape," he says. The all-ceramic brewing system features a pour spout that allows brewers to see the level of coffee, a perfectly aligned kettle and filter holster, and accompanying mugs. The entire thing is made in America, and much of it in Portland. The $120 brewer ($160 with the Kone filter) is still in pre-order, and is expected to ship in February 2013.
Coffee Cherry Tea
The dried husks of coffee berries usually end up in the compost pile. But, as has been done in Ethiopia and Yemen for centuries, they can also be used to make a fruity, low-caffeine tea called cascara, which has been quietly making its way into cafes across the U.S. in recent years. "It's something totally new for us," says Joel Domreis of downtown's Courier Coffee Roasters, which has been brewing the tea since July. Domreis thinks it could be the breakout hit of 2013. But there's a ways to go before cascara is the next cold-brewed stubbie. When Laurelwood Brewing Company decided to brew a limited-edition dubbel beer with cascara this year, it chose an appropriate name: Cascara Obscura. Cascara is so unknown to most American baristas that experiments involving brew time, weight and brew method vary wildly. Courier is currently serving three variants: a four-minute brew that is extremely light with only a hint of sweetness; a more powerfully acidic and flowery cup steeped for six minutes; and a syrupy, smoky cold brew. Even arguments about caffeine content abound, though Domreis claims cascara is on the green-tea end of the spectrum. We hope to see cascara come into its own as a contradiction in terms: a coffee alternative made from coffee berries.