(This article is a bit dated. You’ll find newer, expanded articles here.)
Portland has so much going for it food wise, that it becomes hard to keep track. A fantastic new restaurant/bar/cart seems to open every other day, and we’re all scrambling to keep up with which places are good and which places are great. Well, let me introduce you to your map of Coffee City, USA. (aka Portland, OR)
Billy Wilson, award-winning former Albina Press barista, imagined a place where multiple coffees from world-renowned roasters would be coaxed into stunningly perfect drinks by expert baristas. He opened Barista in February of this year, and yes, the coffee and the barista take center stage.
Located in the tiny lobby of a condo in the Pearl District, Barista features Stumptown’s Hairbender blend, and puts two other coffees up on an alternating two month rotation. This ensures that each featured coffee will be available for two months and a new coffee will appear every month. What’s most significant in Wilson’s coffeehouse is that it is not just the coffee that is well-respected, it is also the preparation. Even the most perfectly roasted coffee can turn into a horribly prepared drink if the barista is not at the top of their game. The baristas at Wilson’s shop are well-respected and will stand ready to answer any questions you have about coffee.
Do not look for a list of specialty drink concoctions or large selection of juices, smoothies and the like. This is place about the coffee and the coffee-maker. This is a unique and experimental operation, and it is yet to be determined whether it is a tenable way to run a coffee business in a world where people still expect to get flavored syrup-whip creamed 16oz. blended “coffee drinks.” But if Wilson’s model of the coffeehouse of the future can be successful, it will change the way we view the service of coffee.
- Address: 539 NW 13th ave, Portland, OR.
- Hours: Open daily, 7am to 6pm
- Website: BaristaPDX.com
If you are like me and work an 8-5 job that is not located in downtown, then you may live your entire life and never have the chance to experience Caffeè Spella. The three-year old coffee cart located at the corner of SW 9th and Alder in one of Portland’s prized food cart lots, has got to have the worst hours of any coffeehouse in town. Only open from 9am-4pm, Monday through Friday, and taking only cash, it is difficult to get their prized espresso drink.
But even if you have to call in sick, make a date to meet Andrea Spella and his staff down at Caffeè Spella. The coffee here is served with all the Italian authenticity that is lost among the Americanized versions of lattes and mochas that are sold by the thousands every morning in Portland.
Caffeè Spella is both the cart and the coffee. Andrea Spella has been roasting coffee for many years. The coffee is pulled via a lever espresso machine, meaning the barista must know the exact pressure and timing to perform the task of making your coffee.
Caffeè Spella’s lattes are finely balanced to produce a strong meld of coffee and milk. The macchiatos are served in the traditional Italian style, meaning no milk is dropped in the shot below the “mark” of foam that floats the drink. In addition to coffee, Caffe Spella hand crafts a chai that takes a few minutes to prepare but will be far and away better than any store-bought chai you could imagine.
If it’s a post-lunch dessert you are after, the affogato here is amazing. With a few different flavors to choose from, Caffeè Spella will pour an espresso shot over the gelato and the combination will send you into a tailspin. It’s the perfect meld of velvety smooth coffee, cream and sugar for an afternoon pick-me-up.
- Address: SW 9th & Alder, Portland OR.
- Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
- Website: SpellaCaffeè.com
Coffeehouse Northwest/Sterling Coffee
Had your fill of the same old espresso and milk? Well then, perched on the precipice of E. Burnside and Trinity, in a narrow shop beneath an apartment building, Coffeehouse Northwest is tinkering away at the science of coffee extraction.
Like Billy Wilson, owner Adam McGovern believes he can peer into the future of coffee and what he sees may surprise you. While working with Portland’s preeminent-selling coffee roaster, Stumptown Coffee, McGovern has set up his bar to include six different brew methods. Six! You can get the French press, espresso, Chemex, Eva Solo, Melitta, or moka pot. Many of these coffee-brewing methods are best suited for a particular Stumptown roast, but the baristas stand ready to guide you through the process of matching a coffee to an extraction method that will ensure the best of each coffee comes through.
If you go for the traditional espresso shot, then you must try a Coffeehouse Northwest cappuccino. Coffeehouse Northwest is known for pouring their cappuccinos with a milk blend of Organic Valley and Sunshine Dairy milks. The extra smooth and clean organic milk adds a special something to the drink.
In 2010, Adamn McGovern started Sterling Coffee Roasters, on the side of Trader Joe’s Market in NW Portland. Sterling specializes in micro-roasting, which is done on site. This allows them tight control, and lots of room for experimentation in roasting. Outdoor seating only.
- Address: 1951 W. Burnside, Portland, OR. Sterling Coffee Roasters is at 2120 NW Glisan, Portland.
- Hours: Mon-Fri 6:30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 7am-8pm
- Website: CoffeehouseNorthwest.com
You don’t have to travel to the west-side of Portland to enjoy a premium coffee drink. The east-side is home to some fantastic coffee and outstanding roasters, starting with Coffeehouse-Five. Serving Coava Coffee Roasters, Coffeehouse-Five is a young business that has taken to the art of making coffee very quickly. Both Coffeehouse-Five and Coava are new to the trade of coffee, but both have shown extreme promise at producing high quality coffee.
Matt Higgins, formerly of Albina Press, has been putting a lot of heart and soul into his coffee roasting. Higgins is all about the details of where the coffee is coming from and where he can take it. You really can taste the artistry in the drink.
What’s most exciting about Coffeehouse-Five is their weekend cuppings. Once on Saturday and Sunday, Coffeehouse-Five hosts free cuppings on their large wooden table. Baristas will take you through the sniffing and slurping of several different roasts and really open your eyes to the nuances of flavor and aroma.
Taking a cue from Coffeehouse Northwest and BARISTA, Coffeehouse-Five is open to having many different local roasters visit their shop and set up a cupping. Look for all of Portland’s best beans to be showcased at Coffeehouse-Five in the future.
- Address: 740 N Killingsworth st, Portland, OR
- Mon-Fri: 9am-4pm
- Website: Coffeehouse-Five.com
Roasting a little outside of the box, Ristretto Roasters’ coffee is an acquired taste for some. Seven varietals of mostly single-origin coffee beans are roasted on-site by owner Din Johnson. While most roasters in Portland churn out a lot of milk-chocolatey or balanced citrus-type flavors, Ristretto’s coffees tend more toward the very dark cherry, raisin and almost smoky aromas and flavors.
Serving espresso, French press and Melitta coffee at their original Fremont location, (no Melitta at the N. Williams spot), Ristretto Roasters serves their house blend or a featured single origin for your choosing. Pushing the traditional boundaries of how you should enjoy coffee, Ristretto once tried out a coffee and cheese pairing event. Nothing is off limits for this business so keep your eye on them for more interesting developments in coffee. Ristretto also focuses on education, with twice monthly events on the first and last Sunday of the month. Recent classes have included cuppings, pairing chocolate and coffee with Elizabeth Montes of Sahagun, cheese pairing with Tami Parr of the Northwest Cheese Blog, how to use french press at home, how to use home espresso makers, talks by coffee farmers from Brazil, etc.
- Address: 3520 NE 42nd Ave, Portland, OR and 3807 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR.
- Hours: 6am-6pm, and 6:30am-7pm respectively
- Website: RistrettoRoasters.com
Albina Press & The Fresh Pot:
If you’re in NE Portland, you can’t do much better for Stumptown coffee than Albina Press and The Fresh Pot. Located within a few blocks of each other on N. Albina and N. Mississippi, these two shops occasionally get a bad rap for being a little stuck-up, but when you make excellent coffee for as many years as they have, can you help it if people are little jealous of you?
Both of these businesses are pioneers of the Portland coffee scene, and have been known to churn out many Barista Championship finalists. You can be sure that the drinks they serve are of an elite caliber, and worth a trip across town to experience.
If you are not in NE Portland, do not worry; both of these coffeehouses have second locations on SE Hawthorne as well.
- Address: 4637 North Albina Ave, Portland, Or. & 5012 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland.
- Hours: Daily 6am-8pm
- Website: none
The Fresh Pot:
- Address: 3729 SE Hawthorne blvd & 4001 n Mississippi ave.
- Hawthorne: Mon-Thurs 6:30am-10pm, Fri 6:30am-11pm, Sat 7am-11pm, Sun 7am-9pm.
- Mississippi: Mon-Fri 6:30am-7pm, Sat-Sun 7am-7pm
- Website: TheFreshPot.com