Archive for the ‘Portland’ Category

Civilian Coffee

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Hey folks,


Those of you interested in following my coffee adventures should hop on over to my new site:

More specific to coffee, roasting, and cafes, this new site should provide a great new platform to inform and educate.

Thanks for reading,


Water Avenue Open Sundays

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Being the first time that Water Avenue Coffee Company is open on a Sunday, I just had to swing by.  To set the tone, it’s a cloudy and somewhat rainy day.  As I drove past the shop looking for a parking space, I saw Billy standing outside, so after parking I went to say “Hi,” before heading inside.  After chatting a moment he informed me they were about to get a cupping started, being a coffee geek I of course jumped at the chance.


Following Billy into the shop, I was greeted by Marjake (I’m sure I slaughtered the spelling but it’s pronounced close to Mar-shake-ah), and ordered a macchiato while I waited for the cupping.  It wasn’t long till I realized the cupping was literally a minute away, so I put a hold on the macchiato until later.  Brandon, one of Water Ave’s roasters was running the cupping of two different roasts of each a Columbia and El Salvador.  Water already being poured, we jumped right into it.


The Columbia was smooth and buttery with a bit of sugar and slight acidic bite.  The first of the two taste of Rolos candy and home fries, while the second was similar with a more buttery mouth feel and less acidity.  Both roasts were quite good, and would have made a tasty morning cup, but to me it was mostly a matter of preference.  Talk of a strange bag of green left Brandon wanting to test some more before making conclusions.


Moving on to the El Salvador, with chatter about barbeque sauce, turkey, and molasses on the nose we finally wet those grounds.  Once the grounds were wet, baked beans was added to the list of aromas.  Finally getting to the taste, both roasts were surprisingly light on the tongue, with an air of brightness no one could quite put their finger on.  That acidity lingered well through each taste in the first roast, compared to the second, but neither was so strong as to call out specific notes.  The second roast did have a slight tomato quality, contributing to the barbeque sauce comments earlier.


During my time there , there were as many customers as sun breaks.  Not too surprising considering  it was their first Sunday open.  It will take a while for people to learn their new hours, then it’ll be hopping for sure.  I’ll apologize too for the lack of photos for this post.  Between the clouds, and a burnt out lamp above the cupping table, there wasn’t enough light for quality photos with the film I had on hand.

Stumptown’s Producer Panel

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Thursday, October 8 – Leftbank Project

Stumptown had flown in several coffee growers and exporters for an open panel discussion. The panel consisted of 2 Kenyans, 3 Columbians, and 2 Costa Ricans.

There was an exporter and co-op manager from Kenya, they grew the Gaturiri which Stumptown has been selling. Due to the economic conditions there they can only afford the most traditional methods of processing coffees. The parchment is removed by fermentation; the whole processing method is fairly “natural” using little water. Due to the risk of coffee berry disease they cannot afford to produce any organic coffees. They must also be careful of their use of shade trees because an overabundance increases the risk of the disease affecting their crop. Kenya is also working its way out of a commodity market for coffee and into one which allows differentiation between farms and beans. This allows the growers to be paid more for better quality, as opposed to simply by weight.

The growers and exporter from Columbia are in a similar place as the Kenyans as in they are working towards a market which recognizes and pays for quality coffees. In Columbia they have access to more technologically advanced processing methods, using more water to more quickly remove the fruit and parchment. Because of the higher humidity in the region, and greater use of water, the protein for citric acids can more readily form. The harvest will take place while they are still receiving rains. This means their drying beds need to be covered and have increased air circulation to allow the beans to dry. In order to achieve increases in quality, Stumptown and companies like Viramax (sp?) are on a mission to educate farmers. Once they know the good verse the bad, they are able to recognize if they are being paid appropriately for their crops.

The Costa Rican exporter and grower seemed to have the best access to “high-tech” processing equipment, using only 1000 liters of water to process over 2000 kilo of beans per day. The laws there require they use no more than 1000 liters per 100 kilo, which they come nowhere near. Similar in climate to the Columbians, the terrain of Costa Rica is much more forgiving. In Columbia, because of the limited space the drying beds are stacked where in Costa Rica they are one layer. Because of the humidity though, the beans are stirred and stirred while drying to prevent any fermentation simply from the moisture in the air.

The methods used to encourage farmers to only pick the cherries in their prime or ripeness each region has their own methods. Kenya will pay differing amounts for ripe verses unripe cherries, requiring the farmers to sort the two themselves. This is a huge inconvenience for the farmers and means they are paid less, encouraging them to be more selective and only bring the perfectly ripe fruit to the mill. In Costa Rica and Columbia family run farms do help with this problem to start with, but some will pay pickers by the day as opposed to volume picked. Essentially saying “Take your time and a smaller quantity of the high quality fruit rather than a lot of the mediocre”

Other issues raised were the drought in Kenya, and Ethiopia’s conversion to a commodity market. The Kenyans don’t believe they will be hit hard by the drought, as thanks to Stumptown they have already doubled their production and expect it to double again. There was not much to say about Ethiopia except that we all must wait and see what affects it has.

One over-arching theme heard again and again from all on the panel was education. Educating everyone through the whole chain will only lead to better quality, conditions, everything. Teach the farmer how to tell that their coffee is good/bad and what to do to improve it. Teach the millers and exporters that it is worth paying up for quality as it leads to more loyalty among their growers and clients. Teach the consumer to recognize and appreciate the quality so they will be willing to pay the increased prices necessary to “pass the buck” all the way down the chain.

It will require global changes to really alter the way the industry works. Personally, I think it deserves as much respect as wine and could easily go the same direction. Who knows, within a few years people could be clamoring to go on trips through Columbia or Kenya stopping at a dozen farms and visiting their posh cupping labs. They will buy memberships for exclusive early access to beans which they will put in their living-room “coffee coolers.” There is a lot of potential here; people just need to realize it.

Coffeehouse 5

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Coffeehouse 5 lies on the corner of N Albina and Killingsworth, near Jefferson High and PCC Cascade. Furnished with dark woods, a well trod wood floor, chalkboard menus, and (currently) paintings of dogs. As mentioned in my little tidbit a few weeks ago, the coffee is fantastic! They carry Nuvrei pastries too, so you know they care about quality. My second visit included another machiatto, it again was quite delicious. Sweet with a hint of fruit (I forget what beans were used).

The neighborhood is not like the trendy Pearl, or even hipster 23rd. It shares much more in common with Belmont and Hawthorne. A family friend recently had her wedding at the park just a few blocks from Coffeehouse 5, it was gorgeous. The Acadian ballroom is near by and where the reception was held, it’s a great area though it does pretty clearly is missing that those higher tax bracket citizens.

Plus, I just learned they do occasional cuppings, so I’ll need to hang around for that.  Anyway, if you like the feel of places like Fresh Pot, Stumptown, or Vivace, you’ll like Coffeehouse 5. Check it out.

Rocking Frog Cafe

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The Rocking Frog Cafe

In a renovated house on the corner of Belmont and 25th a frog sits in a rocking chair, sipping a cup of coffee. Not really, but that’s is the image on the shop’s sign. Inside this house has been turn into a café, similarly to Vivace, but in this case I almost feel it was done better. The bookshelves are packed with books, knick-knacks, or items for purchase. The dining room looks out into the street. The backyard was even preserved and turned into a wonderful patio. But of course there’s the coffee. On my visit I had a double macchiato. The shots seemed decent, but there was simply too much milk, it was like a mini-latte. Using Ristretto Roasters, for the non-snob coffee drinker it would be fantastic.

Being in a renovated old house, they have a kitchen, which means they serve food. Their menu includes breakfast and lunch items such as:

Waffles, pancakes such as the Elvis with peanut butter and banana

B.L.A.T. – Bacon Lettuce Avocado Tomato sandwhich

Pink Mohawk – Cucumber, avocado, tomato, lettuce, red onion, and cream cheese

BBQ pulled pork paniniThe bar @ Rocking Frog

Soups and salads

Build your own bagel

And more!

They even have their own donut shop in the back-yard! Donuts are $1 each (or $5 for 6) and made on demand. They are only served on Saturdays and Sundays and in my opinion were quite good (I had the cinnamon and sugar).

So that’s the Rock Frog Café. They’re good, they’re not Barista or Coffee House NW, but has much more character. I would visit again, if for nothing else but to try their food as it did sound good.

Sydney’s Cafe – Portland

Saturday, April 18th, 2009


An amazing ¾ view of the Fremont bridge greets you when arriving at Sydney’s. A loading-bay door serves as a window, and is opened on nice days for an open-air feel. Clean wooden tables and white chairs contrast with the brick walls leading up from hardwood floors. The overhead lights at most tables provide plenty of electrical outlets for laptops, and of course they have free wi-fi. They even have a little area for kids to play around in, and a few toys to keep them busy. They have very cool looking cups and saucers too.

This is a great place for those web 2.0 entrepreneurs, people that want to go to a Portland café without the grunge or hipsters, or want a neat place to meet for work. Personally I think the hard-core coffee drinker may be left wanting more. Their drinks are more of a café style, rather than coffee shop or brewpub. That is, their mochas are very sweet with plenty of whipped cream and chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, they taste great, but I wouldn’t have one every day. I did try their shots too. They come out smooth and creamy, they’re really not bad. I’m not sure if it is manual or the machine timing the shots. Personally, if I wanted Café Umbria coffee, I would go to Sydney’s not Umbria.

Anyway, to sum it up. Sydney’s is a classier coffee shop, more modern and clean feeling than many in Portland. While not a hipster hangout, it is definitely a Portland café. I don’t feel the coffee alone is worth the trip, I would recommend going for the atmosphere, the view, the people, or as a great place to meet-up and chat.

The Lowdown:

Location: 1800 NW 16th Ave, Portland, OR

Roaster: Café Umbria

Shots: Smooth, creamy mouth feel, very drinkable

Other drinks: Café style, the mochas are almost a dessert

Food: In addition to the normal café pastries they have soups, salads, and sandwiches. A little expensive but good.

View: Fantastic view as long as you don’t mind the occasional train (they’re not bad at all)

Music: Calm and classy, but not jazz, it stays in the background

El Grito Del Bronx

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Drama @ Milagro Theater, Miracle Theater Group – Portland, Oregon

Want a cheery tale about a young woman overcoming adversity to achieve all her dreams? Then go elsewhere. El Grito Del Bronx is a drama laden with emotional baggage, and insights into the twisted mind.  The play portrays Lulu, a young woman, and her brother’s life having grown up with an abusive father. She does alright, has a relatively happy ending for herself. The route there is not happy however, an abusive father, her brother… let’s say he gets into trouble. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the troubles of their lives, their mother visits her son brother often and relies on religion. Lulu on the other hand tries to ignore the past and prevent the dark miasma inside her from affecting those she loves.

The characters memories come and go. The mental effects of prison are made very clear. Both the victim and attacker have the chance to explain themselves. We all learn that death is needed for life to continue.

Not the type of play to see for a night of entertainment, though it does have moments where a chuckle is called for and necessary. At other times, you would be horribly embarrassed to break the silence even by a shift in your seat.

For more about the play’s fascinating director Antonio Sonera check out Ryan Fish TV.

The awesome cast and great writing made it well worth the evening spent. If you’re interested in seeing it you only have till April 25th, 2009. Tickets are $14.

If it were coffee

It would be a very dark, bold, roast. Straight black for sure, not from a French press, but brewed from an old rickety 1970’s coffee maker. A deliciously fine coffee made rough.

Barista Exchange

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Love coffee as much as I do?  Check out the Barista Exchange!  It’s a great new social networking site for baristas, those in the industry, and those that love the bean.  I’m there, are you?

Barista – Portland brewpub and coffee shop

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

In Portland, a simple black-and-white sign hangs from the side of a building at 13th and Hoyt. Inside are a few stout wooden tables, stools, and laboratory beakers bubbling away. In those beakers, delicious coffee brews using light, vacuums, and funnels to siphon the liquid gold through a fine cloth filter. The sign above the door reads simply, Barista.

The first thing one notices is of course the vacuum pots, a set of three beakers with funnels to top them off. Halogen lamps heat the water in the base to a boil, once sealed then water then is forced up the funnel. With water holding at the perfect brewing temperature, coffee is added and stirred to ensure perfectly even brewing. When taken off the heat, the brewed coffee is pulled through the cloth filter into the base. What is served can best be described as a clean, tea like, cup of coffee.  In all my years of loving coffee, and even being a barista myself, I have never seen coffee made this way, it’s fascinating.

The perfection doesn’t end with the vacuum pots, it continues even down to the “regular brewed coffee” in the air pot. It is not your “regular” coffee by any means, it is French pressed, all of it. The mochas? They’re made with real chocolate melted on the spot right before adding it to your drink, not some syrup from a pump.

Who would be so crazy as to open such a shop? Why, Billy of course! A two time winner of the NW regional barista championships, Billy Wilson’s Barista offers a variety of coffees from multiple roasters. Of those of Billy’s crew that I’ve met, Peter, Christine, and one other guy whose name I forget (Sorry!), they’re all great.  They love their coffee, know it very well, and are a pleasure to chat with.

From my experience, and seeing others come and go, everyone has a great time. It’s a fantastic neighborhood coffee shop! This is the type of coffee experience that I love, baristas that know and love their coffee, are happy to talk with you, and where you feel comfortable just sitting and playing Scrabble or reading (you have to bring your own board or book).

If you’re ever in the area or want to make an outing of it, be sure to stop by Barista at least once during your Portland life. Just don’t ask for a Grande Frappucino.

What I’ve had there – All of them were fantastic

The Beloya in a vac pot

Straight up French press

Stumptown Capp