Stumptown by the Bay
On Oct. 6, news broke of Portland-based Stumptown Coffee's sale to Peet's Coffee. The only people surprised were the ones not paying attention.
Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson—who stays on as Stumptown's CEO, alongside company president Joth Ricci—had already sold a majority stake in 2011 to San Francisco equity fund TSG Consumer Partners, a venture-capital firm known for providing enough resources to let a company expand, and then flipping it like a fixed-up house. The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2015 that TSG had been shopping Stumptown.
Peet's, based in Berkeley, is the most outwardly benign of coffee giants, a '60s-founded, hippie-tinged brand whose aficionados sometimes still call themselves Peetniks, despite the company's sale in 2012 to Luxembourg investment behemoth JAB Holding Company.
In comments on our Facebook page and website after the sale, some readers were pretty sure they could taste VC money in Stumptown coffee even back in 2011. "In the Northwest, there's a lot of stuff in the business and cultural ethos that comes from that early Gen-X-indie-record-label, don't-sell-out ethos that started in music," says Sprudge coffee blog editor Jordan Michelman. "It seems it's crept out into a lot of other aspects of life."
"My reaction is, if people are going to believe in the idea of third-wave coffee making headway, this is the opportunity to do it," says Stumptown vice president Matt Lounsbury, who says that most of the rest of the country still has no access to a lot of the coffee practices and culture that Portland takes for granted. Stumptown continues to expand, planning to open a new cafe Feb. 1 at the new Ace Hotel in New Orleans.
While Stumptown expands nationally, two newer third-wave roasters seem to be vying for the Portland throne.
On Oct. 5, the day before news broke of Stumptown's sale, Water Avenue Coffee cut the ribbon on a huge new roastery, training facility and cupping lab by White Owl Social Club in the industrial eastside.
The roasters it's adding will more than double Water Avenue's previous capacity, says co-owner Matt Milletto. Water Avenue is also extending its pinot-barrel-aged coffee bean program in partnership with Dundee winery Sokol Blosser—Milletto even had coffee farmers from El Salvador taste the wines, and plans to step on Stumptown's cold-brew turf with premium coffee concentrates made for the mixology set, in collaboration with bartender brand Bull in China. The concentrate is already in use at Portland bars Bit House and Interurban, among others.
Coava, meanwhile, is building its own huge roastery, cupping room and training facility to house a 130-pound roaster that could theoretically quintuple its production capacity, says Coava's Jonathan Felix-Lund. Its already booming wholesale and Internet sales business were boosted lately, oddly, by a visit from Jerry Seinfeld in the Web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
"Since day one," says Felix-Lund, "Coava sells quite a bit outside Portland. We try to keep our presence in Portland small enough that people still think it's a special thing to go get." Nonetheless, after opening a second, neighborhoody location on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard in 2014 (see page 17), Coava will expand again by summer 2016 with a third, downtown location near the PSU district. Construction will begin in February.
The Art of Cooking Roasters
A lot of the coffee roasted in Portland—more than 30 different brands and house roasts—has been quietly made in the same Probat L12 roaster. Trevin Miller, owner of Mr. Green Beans coffee home-roastery store, started letting would-be coffeemakers use his 25-pound roaster back in 2011, and the informal club grew into a roaster-share collective called Aspect that's allowed roasters from Tanager to Red E to Case Study to book time on Miller's roaster instead of having to buy their own.
This year, Miller separated Aspect Coffee Collective from Mr. Green Beans, and partnered with Emily and Michael McIntyre of Catalyst Coffee Consulting to form a full-service company. Anchor Grounds, a coffee roaster that donates 40 percent of its profits to help sex-trafficking victims in India, joined the collective this June.
"It's a fantastic setup that Trevin has, helping a ton of roasters," says Anchor co-owner Josh Cherian. Before this, Anchor Grounds had relied on the goodwill of Vancouver's Paper Tiger to roast its beans, but Cherian says the Aspect roaster vastly increased his roasting capacity. "We went from being able to roast 7 pounds per batch to up to 30."
Ever stood dumbfounded in front of a cold-brew coffee selection that included Indonesian, Ethiopian and Salvadoran coffees and thought, "How could I choose?" Irvington's too-cute-for-words cafe Saint Simon has instated—as far as we know—the city's first and only cold brew coffee flight program served outside the backroom of a coffee roaster. The $6.50 flight comes in a series of four tiny sample jars slotted into the same woodwork used to keep test tubes upright in a lab. Three of the mini-jars are filled with different-origin Coava coffees, hand-labeled with country of origin, name and tasting notes. The fourth is filled with water. All have about a centimeter of ice welded to their chilled bottoms, so that the cold brew stays cold.
Getting Some 'Tail
Sparkling coffees may have taken over much of the city this summer (see page 24), but Sellwood's Either/Or has taken the lid lifter in a whole different direction this year with monthly rotating "dry coffee cocktails" that extend from mixology to weird science, replicating flavors of classic cocktails using coffee and unlikely spice, going so far as to replicate gin in a coffee Negroni by using juniper-and-pine-spiced cold brew. The current dry cocktail is a $6 chai cold-brew flip that arrives buried in foam. September's mocktail was a deep-red coffee bloody mary made with mostly coffee, mixed with a coffee-cherry tea called cascara meant to add vodka's bite, plus a mess of tomato juice, horseradish, jalapeño, carrot juice and the usual celery-olive salad. It was more impressive than most bloody marys in town.