We've got more cafes per capita than any city in the country except grimly Starbucked Seattle. Heart, Coava and Stumptown all routinely rank in lists of the best roasters in the country. The Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which determines the year's best roasts, moved its offices here last winter, declaring Portland coffee's "mecca."
And yet, while researching our annual Coffee Guide we're always amazed at what we find—nano-roasts in a Slabtown bike shop, Water Avenue beans appearing everywhere from an antique store to the Whole Foods meat case, and the rise of machines at shops that made their bones by turning Chemex-wielding baristas into rock stars.
The sweep of cafes and coffee roasters in town can be dizzying, but for this year's coffee issue, we have trawled car-dealership cafes, food-cart parking lots and the wilds of Beaverton (page 14) to find our favorite new cafes of the year. In the process, we've discovered a wide array of coffee traditions from around the world being observed here in Portland, whether an Ethiopian coffee ceremony or the Hong Kong staple of coffee mixed with milk tea.
After shopping for local coffee gear and drinking 140 ounces of joe over 24
Still a little loopy on caffeine, we put together a fashion show of Portland coffeeshop couches—the deeply lived-in homes we find away from home. Perhaps your old favorite is inside, or—we hope—you'll find your new one here.
* With apologies to Wu-Tang Clan.
Klatch of 2014
FOURTH ESTATE COFFEEHOUSE
7373 N Burlington St., 384-2756, fourthestatecoffee.com.
The new Fourth Estate Coffeehouse is almost as old school
as the entire notion of the Fourth Estate. Carved into the side of St.
Johns' historic Old Hardware Building, the brunch-and-lunch spot looks
deeply spartan on the outside and sparely domestic within, a boxy little
room with wood tables on a wood floor and plants decorating the bar.
Next to the liquor license that allows for brunchtime bloody marys,
Fourth Estate also proudly displays a sign on the door announcing the
presence of Stumptown Coffee, from which it receives a house blend. It's
a friendly community-centric space with a nice breakfast and lunch menu
that might throw extra card tables into the parking lot on a hot day
for a barbecue. And the coffee is lovingly made: Order an Americano and
get a lovely crema swirl, while your latte might net you a Christmas
tree on top, even in the middle of summer. Sit at the outdoor table,
look out at the sparse Starbucks across the street—and then at the line
for coffee inside Fourth Estate—gently raise your middle finger and
smile. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
GLYPH CAFE & ARTS SPACE
804 NW Couch St., 719-5481, glyphpdx.com.
Hugo Moreno and Sandra Comstock, both scholars of Hispanic
culture and politics, have made Glyph Cafe & Arts Space an oddly
tidy sanctuary for the word. In the back, there's a Jerusalem Wall
stuffed with affirmations and notes to self—sample: "You are a good
person. You are the best person," from an East Coast visitor—and
decidedly more literate prose trapped within display cases that form
each table along one side. The tables house multiple drafts of poems by
poets reading for an upcoming event in the prestigious Mountain Writers
poetry series, which has taken up residence here. Glyph also has its own
literary journal hosting reviews of contemporary poetry. In a short
time, it's also built up a busy event calendar of small press-book
releases and poetry slams. The coffee, like the poetry to which the cafe
is dedicated, is thoughtful and a bit slow to arrive: Ristretto roasts
are made via Chemex, pourover or Tiamo coffee dripper. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
BARISTA ON 23RD AVENUE
823 NW 23rd Ave., baristapdx.com.
Across three quadrants of Portland, Billy Wilson's
pourover-happy Barista has become a deeply cosmopolitan curatorial hub.
While sweet little Either/Or in Sellwood may stock local It-roasters
Roseline and Heart and pair them with figs, Barista is willing to travel
for its luxuries. Sure, there's often Coava, but beside it at the
Northwest 23rd Avenue location that opened this summer you may find
beans roasted by George Howell Coffee of Acton, Mass., that are
purported to taste of graham cracker, peanut butter and raisin. The
description is disturbingly accurate when placed in richly crema-topped
espresso demitasse, though it would seem there's a reason no one ever
tops a graham cracker with peanut butter and raisins. No matter.
Comforts must definitely not be usual—otherwise they're vulgar—just as
the best-formed shoes aren't always comfortable. The little dark-wood
cafe next to the Meadow looks like it climbed straight out of a 1928
hotel: art deco wallpaper, plushly deep booths, lonely seats looking out
the window for Edward Hopper refugees who like to play with their
espresso spoons. But why, I wonder, must good taste feel so lonely, even
as the line stretches out the door? MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
CASE STUDY ON ALBERTA STREET
1422 NE Alberta St, 477-8221, casestudycoffee.com.
Wes and Christine Russell's Case Study Coffee
Roasters—first a caterer, then a Stumptown cafe—is now a roastery with a
new, third location in a tiny space next to Tin Shed on Northeast
Alberta. Once the offices of Living Room Realty, which is now located across the street, the new
Case Study—with its laser-etched Synesso Hydra espresso machine,
hardwood trimmings and lights that look like atomic diagrams—resembles
more the atrium for an eco-conscious design company, right down to the
upper-deck conference table that could house the next Alberta Arts
District neighborhood meeting. The patio it shares with Tin Shed means
weekends full of suburban brunch overflow taking advantage of Case
Study's housemade hazelnut syrup in a 16-ounce latte. But really, the
roaster excels at bright cups without a lot of bitterness, so take that
light roast black. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
915 NW 19th Ave., 971-888-5046, commissarycafe.com.
Housed in a building once used by Paramount and Fox for
film distribution and private screenings, this Northwest Portland cafe
has an old-school glamour befitting its ancestry. Sure, there are
rough-hewn ceiling beams and exposed ductwork, but also a monumental
piece of mirror art, beautiful tables made from fir reclaimed during
restoration, and nice emerald green accents. Your barista, moreover,
is less likely to be a mustachioed man than a young woman with soft
curls that look straight out of old Hollywood, and she'll pull your
espresso on a lovely mint-green La Marzocco machine that takes up much
of the counter. The espresso on hand was the same Sisters Coffee roast
you'll find in the Central Oregon roasters' Portland outpost about seven
blocks away; make sure to add a housemade coconut scone, cowboy cookie
or fleur de sel brownie. (There's real food, too: salads, sandwiches, a
sizeable brunch menu.) On warmer days, nab a table out front—this is as
close as Portland gets to a Euro-style sidewalk cafe. REBECCA JACOBSON.
1015 NW 17th Ave., 971-239-4728, westernbikeworks.com.
Portland, to the surprise of precisely no one, has a hardy tie between bikes and coffee. We've got roasteries that deliver by bike (Courier, Trailhead), a business that makes custom cargo bikes with built-in espresso machines (Icicle Tricycles), and plenty of shops (River City, West End) that serve cappuccino to go with your Cannondale. The newest bike-shop coffee bar is Corsa, located in a tangerine-walled corner of Western Bikeworks' sprawling showroom. The beans are from Southeast Portland roastery Oblique, and the décor is sparse: an understated chain-and-sprocket mural, old-school cycling posters, a few geometric panels on one wall made from repurposed, shined-up bike
chains. But the cafe feels more than just an afterthought, and it's a good place to wait while getting your bike serviced, or to meet up before a ride—after all, studies agree that caffeine boosts athletic performance. Additional fuel comes from a panino with peanut butter, banana and honey ($2.50). And after you've hammered those hills? Well, Corsa supplies not just java, Lion Heart kombucha and Sweetpea cupcakes, but also draft beer from the likes of Natian and Green Flash. REBECCA JACOBSON.
DAPPER & WISE
2384 NW Amberbrook Drive, Beaverton, 716-0839, dapperandwise.com.
"People who live on this side of town drink crappy coffee," Evan Aldrete told WW last September before opening Beaverton roastery Dapper & Wise two months later. "I don't know whether it's by choice." Dapper is a self-consciously Portland-style third-wave shop: mismatched-glass chandelier hung from bare red electrical cords, brown-paper coffee bags stamped with the roasting date, a minimalist wood-grain and coffee-tech décor that reads a bit steampunk. Drip coffee and espresso are each available with three different beans—none of which is shared. Woodblock chocolate is available with your cup, and the roasts are light and a bit acidic, which fares a bit better in the South American than Ethiopian varieties so far. Dapper is clearly relishing its role as a pourover pioneer in the wilds of Beaverton, but while the roasts don't yet tease out the complex flavors of Coava, Heart, Roseline, Sterling or Water, Dapper already ranks as one of the finer small-batch roasters in the Portland area. Consider it wholly welcome to cross the county line, should it ever decide to do so. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
DOGBONE FARM CO.
Southeast 28th Place and Division Street.
John Lemon took his German shepherd Talon to Maryland this summer to pick up a 1934 fire-engine-red Divco Twin Coach bread delivery truck. He then drove it on a rented trailer all the way back to Portland, where it now sits parked in the new Tidbit Food Farm and Garden cart pod, serving Coava coffee to sidewalk passersby. The big ol' fluffy-furred namesake of Dogbone hangs close as well, spending the last dog days of summer hunkered in the shade of the cart. The cart's iced coffee is welcome on such days, roasted fresh and cleaner than
bitter, but the prettily hand-lettered cart also offers the light roasts in pourover and espresso form, with drip coffee served out of a canister that sits on a hand trolley parked out front. The Portland Streetcar might be almost as quaint, but Dogbone Farm manages to be a charming anachronism while also serving its intended function with aplomb: It pours a good cup of joe. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
4262 SE Belmont St., facebook.com/KindCoffeeCart.
Portlanders rarely see beans from Caffe Umbria, a roaster that specializes in out-of-vogue Italian dark roasts made by blending multi-origin beans. Actually, it's an affront to the city's coffee culture, built around the bright, fruity first-crack roasts Portland rode to the top of the third wave. But that's exactly what the crew at Kind was looking to use for its espresso. And it's hard to argue with the two New Yorkers of Southern Italian descent who run this coffee cart in the Good Food Here pod on Southeast Belmont Street. Those deep, nutty, dark-roast flavors make a damn fine $2 shot, especially when paired with boiled Bowery bagels and miniature cannoli filled with thick, mildly sweet cream. MARTIN CIZMAR.
OVATION COFFEE & TEA
941 NW Overton St., 719-7716, ovationpdx.com.
Ovation is a pleasantly odd little spot. Sitting on the ground floor of a tony Pearl condo building, the vibe is modern thanks to slick concrete floors, bungee-based seating, a towering ceiling and glass walls. But it's also influenced by the owner's Moroccan roots, which is why there's a basic cup of coffee roasted by Hillsboro's
Longbottom that's spiced with aromatic cardamom and clove to take on a chai-like quality, and why you can get a breakfast biscuit with gyro meat. The staff is friendly and attentive, the menu is large for a cafe, and through those big, clean panes there's a great view of the Fremont Bridge and people-watching at neighboring Fields Park. MARTIN CIZMAR.
SAINT SIMON COFFEE CO.
2005 NE Broadway, saintsimoncoffee.com.
In terms of scale, Saint Simon is like a diorama of a Portland coffee shop. A real-estate agent might refer to the storefront as "cozy": It's about the size of a bank vault. But even in miniature, it checks all the typical boxes: modernist wood design; taxidermy-and-terrarium décor; pleasant, tattooed baristas; indie-pop soundtrack (the name comes from a Shins song, even though the mascot is 18th-century French theorist Henri de Saint-Simon). Oh, and the owners are three brothers who used to play in a band together. It's the kind of place that might cause the twee-averse to grind their teeth, but it's exactly what this part of town needed. Irvington is utterly bereft of the usual Portland signposts; before Saint Simon, the only real alternative to Starbucks java was the piddle at Einstein Bros. Bagels. Now, you can get a cup of Coava and a pastry from the Sugar Cube, then cross the street for a bacon-infused vodka drink at Swift Lounge. Though
too tiny to serve as a true neighborhood cornerstone—between the bench and the counter along the window, it can seat maybe eight patrons—Saint Simon's very existence is helping bring this glorified suburb up to date with Portland circa 2014. In this case, that's a good thing. MATTHEW SINGER.