Ever since those Stumptown nitro-bubbled coffee machines started moving into industry fairs and local cafes, baristas have talked about "mouthfeel" as a thing in coffee. Capitalizing on carbonation technology known to beer brewers and European water drinkers for centuries, the espresso tonic blew up in New York this past summer: It involved espresso and tonic water. But as summer receded, so did much of the sparkling coffee. Stumptown still has nitro, but the fancy fruit syrups have surrendered the specialty tap to winter spice cold brew. You deserve better than New York sparkling coffee, Portland. And you will get your caffeine in bubble form, year-round.
Party Time ($5) at Barista
Various locations, baristapdx.com.
As the boilermaker exists to help grizzled service-industry folks wash down a shitty day of running tables, the off-menu Party Time is the perfect drink to energize the downtime between a double or hasten the daily chore of waking at the crack of noon. Cold-brew concentrate is cut with Coke (Mexican, not Colombian) for a pleasant mingling of smoky coffee notes offset by the syrupy sweetness of that Mexican brown. If you order it in a Borat accent, you'll likely get the same in response.
Ca Phe Cola ($4) at Luc Lac
835 SW 2nd Ave., 222-0047, luclackitchen.com.
Though it's more of a "mocktail" than a coffee drink, Luc Lac's Ca Phe Cola is the perfect compliment to that bowl of pho you just ordered at 3 am to soak up all the booze you ingested to tolerate being on the westside on a Saturday night. The drink is at its best when the bits of smoked salt can be slurped off the frothy crema that floats on top. But the orange zest that lingers in the bottom half more than makes up for any carbonation that's diffused by the time you get there.
Coffee Soda ($3.50) at Either/Or
8235 SE 13th Ave., No. 2, 235-3474.
The gentleman behind the counter was rather coy when fielding questions about the coffee used in Either/Or's coffee soda. But it was still mighty tasty, even if it's just the leavins from larger batches of cold brew made from that day's Heart coffee. Like this twee shop itself, the drink was simple, thoughtful and just sweet enough for syrup-averse palates.
Coffee Soda Commissary Syrup ($5) at Good Coffee
4747 SE Division St.; 1150 SE 12th Ave., 971-254-6599, goodcoffeepdx.com.
The third-waver devotee who bristles at the idea of flavored syrup will find a safe port of entry with Good Coffee's rotation of seasonal infusions, which featured an apple-ginger reduction at the time of our visit. The citrus notes in the cold brew—a batch from Kenya roasted by Roseline—paired well with the tart apple flavors while still tasting a lot like an actual cup of cold brew.
Couch Classic with Vanilla Syrup ($3.75) at Ristretto Roasters
555 NE Couch St., 284-6767, ristrettoroasters.com.
We were sad to learn Ristretto's "Couch Classic"—a mix of sparkling water, espresso and an orange-zest-and-bitters reduction—was a one-time offering. But the barista was happy to replicate the drink with in-house vanilla syrup. The results were just as magical, with the early sips being effervescent and tangy, and the final sips taking on a malty, smoky flavor eerily familiar to that of Coca-Cola Blak. Coke's unpopular attempt at coffee-flavored soda is sorely missed in these parts, so this one was a home run for us.
Coffee Cocktail ($4) at Cup & Bar
118 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 388-7701, cupandbar.com.
Having cold brew on nitro makes coffee cocktails a no-brainer, but we expected something a little more adventurous than a simple Old Fashioned with coffee instead of whiskey. The muddled bits of cherries at the bottom gave the concoction a sweet and sour finish, but not having the smoky burn of the booze was disappointing, even with the high quality of Cup & Bar's subtly carbonated cold brew.