It was all smiles and no attitude last night at a party to celebrate the opening this weekend of Public Domain, Portland's newest specialty coffee shop.
The rehabbed café—formerly known as Portland Coffeehouse—on SW Alder and Broadway, is exactly what you'd expect of a carefully, but cautiously designed corporate coffeehouse for high-quality coffee.
The bar is located in an island in the middle of the room, so customers can talk to baristas from all sides, and see what's happening on the machines—including taking a peek at Portland's first Slayer.
The hottest new toy on the coffee market, it's a tricked-out espresso machine with wooden paddles and portafilter handles (“It feels like driving a yacht,” said one dapper barista).
The shop is owned by Portland's largest coffee roaster, Coffee Bean International,
and represents a subtle change of direction for the company, which roasts private label coffee for companies like Target (read all about Portland's microroaster community, here
). Public Domain will be their flagship store and a place to showcase their “top shelf” coffees (which will carry the Public Domain brand).
But what's really intriguing about Public Domain is their model for information exchange and support of baristas. By Portland standards, CBI is a very large coffee company, but they have gone to great lengths to train and support their team, keeping many of the baristas on staff through the café renovation, working on training and roasting. The baristas have done everything from helping develop the espresso blends
(i.e., deciding which coffees to pair together in which proportions to get the best mélange of flavor and body), to actually roasting the coffees themselves.
As seasons change, and the coffees available for different blends changes with them, baristas will continue to be part of the decision-making process for how to adjust blends and roasts. In a super-small café, this kind of back-and-forth may be standard (emphasis on the may), but it's not with larger roasters.
It should mean that the baristas will know quite a bit more about the coffee they are serving.
That's good for coffee drinkers—especially in a place that claims “good coffee is public domain.” I sincerely hope the good cheer and genuine enthusiasm on display last night will be able to withstand the daily grind of operating a downtown café.
Photo of Public Domain's new Slayer espresso machine at the shop's Tuesday, April 27 sneak peek party by Hanna Neuschwander.