PDX food writers can be a self-congratulatory lot: quick to tout Portland as a coffee haven on the merits of Stumptown Coffee and the Albina Press while overlooking the fact that lackluster brews—sometimes from the very cafes that use Stumptown beans—are still all too common in this Rose City. But among the multitude of corner cafes serving mediocre cups, we have more than our share of gems—such as a cozy place on gritty Burnside called Coffeehouse NW, which happens to have the best coffee in Northwest Portland.
College friends William Miller and Christopher Crase promised if they weren't satisfied with their stations in life at age 30, they'd open a coffee shop. When the dreaded three-oh arrived, Miller was an artist in Florida and Crase was working as a software engineer in Alaska. The pair descended on Portland, where they teamed with Adam McGovern, whose Coffeehouse NW was starting to gain a neighborhood following since taking over the Portland Coffeehouse space in May. As partners they purchased a really great machine, and with Stumptown beans they've been on a bit of a roll.
McGovern is one of Portland's coffee-obsessed. Ask him almost anything about coffee, and be prepared for a long and thoughtful response. "Loving something means caring about, means paying attention," he says. On the counter, a framed 500-word essay explains why they choose not to serve single shots. (The essence of the diatribe is that the espresso baskets of many quality machines naturally accommodate doubles and most places just end up throwing the rest away, which the essay describes as "stupid.") A self-taught barista, he attributes his product to practice, feedback and re-evaluation. Practice lives up to theory. The coffee here holds its own against that of any place in town.
Espresso is delicious, and if the shot isn't perfect, it's pulled again. Macchiatos ($2.20) are stout and creamy, mochas ($2.80) chocolaty but never sickly sweet, and cappuccinos ($2.40) and lattes ($2.40) rich and full flavored—all replete with highly stylized, attractive foam. I'm unable to find evidence that designer foam affects flavor, but as a shallow human being, I prefer to think that it does. They also serve juices, sodas, tea, sandwiches and baked goods from local purveyors.
Starbucks recently set up shop in a former Blockbuster Video store across the street, but Miller notes it has done absolutely nothing to affect business. "We're really don't attract the same market," he says. Guess not. As Starbucks sat empty one Saturday morning, there wasn't an open seat at Coffeehouse NW.
Coffeehouse NW, 1951 W Burnside St., 248-2133. 6:30 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday, 8 am-9 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive.