Either/Or Coffeehouse brings a whole new level of creativity to Portland coffee
This review was updated in 2018 to reflect the opening of their 2nd, much larger location on N. Williams Ave. in Portland.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at Either/Or Books in Hermosa Beach, California. For sentimental reasons, I drove over to Either/Or coffeehouse in Sellwood to check it out. I’m not sure if the name is based on Kierkegaard’s book, but I don’t care. The overall experience – excellent coffee, interesting drinks, good pastries and a passionate staff are the reason I keep coming back.
This is not your ordinary Portland coffee. They tend to push the envelope cycling through multiple roasters, and a selection of house-made sodas, pastries, Chai and thoughtful coffee drink experiments. The menu is Portland simple; great cappuccino, lattes and espresso. For those who want them, house-made vanilla, orgeat (almond) and caramel syrups are available, along with soy, almond and hemp milk. But it is the flights that draw me in – one double espresso, one double espresso with milk, sparkling water, and a “small taste pairing”. Recently the coffees were Rosaline’s Ethiopia Chelechele and Heart Coffee Ethiopia Duromina, paired with a strawberry cream bon-bon ($8). It is a thoughtful match, and I had extra energy for the rest of the day.
After their Ginger Spiced Chai gained a passionate following, Tanglewood – a name that sent me spinning back to warm days on the lawn at the Boston Symphony, was spun off for distribution to local coffeehouses like Barista. It is sold by the growler at Either/Or, and is worth a trip in itself. The seasonal sodas are really good. As of this writing, they are made with ginger and orange zest. “Mocktails,” their “dry cocktails,” are really creative. In January they created a “Salty Russian” using a coffee-based vinegar to emulate vodka, and an alcohol-free Kahlua topped with heavily shaken vanilla cream and finished with a half-rimmed garnish of chocolate coffee salt. Early this year they did a riff on a gin Rickey, a “Café Ricky,” made with coffee “gin”, infused with herbs in palm vinegar with sparkling water and lime. Currently, they have brought back a cold brew “old-fashioned”. These folks are seriously creative, and no matter how improbable, the drinks are mostly great.
The Sellwood shop is quite small, with just three small tables, but for nice days there are picnic tables outside in the patio area, and the neighborhood is a nice place to take a stroll. Even though it is a bit of a drive for me, Either/Or is my favorite SW Portland coffeehouse. The North Williams branch is much larger/hipper, has some outside seating and becomes a full bar late in the day.
One caveat: the Sellwood location isn’t the type of place you want to camp with your laptop – it’s just a few tables, and there are no outlets available to plug-in.