Portland Espresso Vacation

Once Mark Prince over at CoffeeGeek published his guide to the best micro roasters and cafes in Portland, all I had to do was book a hotel and drive south. There is a tradition in travel literature where the traveler will try and retrace the steps of the author. Do a regular vacation or you can follow in the footsteps of Hemingway. Well my vacations are about trying great espresso and I had been meaning to visit Portland, Oregon so the CoffeeGeek guide was perfect timing. Lonely Planet for espresso drinkers!

I decided not to read the article until I returned home. Instead I would fill my GPS with all the locations mentioned in the guide, have my own experiences and then see if my espresso vacation was similar to his.

Some Background

Throughout my Portland espresso vacation, I would hear the term single origin over and over. This means that a particular coffee offering comes from a single geographic origin, as opposed to a blend that combines different regions. Espresso is traditionally made from a blend of different coffees. Finding a single origin coffee that can stand on its own as an espresso is difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. Was Portland able to make outstanding espresso using single origin coffees? Let us find out.

Coava Coffee – 1300 SE Grand Ave.

My first stop was Coava Coffee. This was a wide open space inside a warehouse type building. They served two single origin espressos, one single origin decaf espresso and two single origin Chemex brewed coffees. During my two visits here, I tried both espressos, the decaf and a Chemex. The highlight was the Chemex, which is brewed using a metal filter called the KONE, which they designed themselves. No more paper residue. The Chemex was outstanding as was the decaf espresso. The two single origin espressos were also good.

Coava Coffee Menu
Coava Coffee – Coffee Menu

Coava Coffee - Chemex and the KONE
Coava Coffee – Chemex and the KONE

Sterling Coffee Roasters – 2120 Northwest Glisan St.

Sterling is more of a large kiosk than a coffee shop. They have a 1 pound roaster on site and they offered two single origin espressos. I had the Washed Yirgacheffe, which as claimed tasted like peaches. Very good espresso and super friendly baristas.

Upon leaving I noticed that they offer one espresso for $2, but you can get both offerings for $3 (a flight). I love it. I wish Seattle had something similar. I’d sign up for that flight every day! Another thing I love about Sterling Coffee is that they post a photo of their coffee offerings daily on their Facebook page.

Sterling Coffee
Sterling Coffee

Sterling Coffee - Coffee Menu
Sterling Coffee – Coffee Menu

Heart Roasters – 2211 E. Burnside

Heart Roasters is another great neighborhood coffee shop with two single origin espresso offerings. I had one from El Salvador that was very good. Heart also offered pour overs and siphon coffees. The one suggestion I would make here is to post some information on the offerings. Excellent coffee shop.

Heart Roasters - Espresso Machine
Heart Roasters – Espresso Machine

Heart Roasters - Pour Over Station
Heart Roasters – Pour Over Station

Ristretto Roasters – 3520 NE 42nd Ave

By this point I was getting a little tired of the single origins. I desperately wanted an espresso blend. Lucky for me, Ristretto offered both a blend and a single origin. The Beaumont Blend delivered. It gave me just the lift I needed to make it to my next espresso stop.

Ristretto Roasters
Ristretto Roasters

Barista – 1725 NE Alberta St.

This place was not mentioned in the CoffeeGeek article. Instead I got this suggestion from Jason at Caffeinated Conversations. Excellent call Jason. This place was outstanding. They offered three espressos from three different roasters. I love that. This place had a great wide open feel with plenty of outdoor seating. I had a Villalobos, Costa Rican single origin espresso which was good. I also tried their decaf espresso, which was very good.

Barista - Alberta
Barista – Alberta

Barista Espresso Menu
Barista Espresso Menu

Water Avenue Coffee – 1028 SE Water Avenue

If you twisted my arm and said I had to pick a favorite place in Portland it would be Water Avenue Coffee. Absolutely beautiful coffee shop, extremely friendly staff and excellent coffee. I had an espresso and pour over here. This place is closed on the weekends, so plan your trip accordingly.

Water Avenue Coffee
Water Avenue Coffee

Coffeehouse-Five – 740 N Killingsworth Street

My last stop before returning to Seattle was at Coffeehouse-Five. Like Barista, this place had guest roasters. I got to try the Big Truck Espresso Blend from Olympia Coffee Roasting, which was stellar. They also had a single origin option. Their decaf espresso from Peru was also outstanding.

Coffeehouse-Five
Coffeehouse-Five

Missed Places

When I visited Vancouver in 2009, I was able to visit nine places. In Portland, I visited seven. I needed to stay in Portland one more day, because I didn’t get around to visiting Extracto Coffeehouse, Public Domain Coffeehouse and Spella. I am fortunate to live just 3 hours away from Portland, so returning will be easy enough for me. Since Stumptown Coffee has been roasting in Seattle for over two years, I didn’t feel the need to visit them.

Overall Thoughts

I loved the espresso scene in Portland. You can feel the excitement when you go into the coffee shops. Like Mark Prince at CoffeeGeek, I tend to prefer espresso blends over single origins. However, I sort of like the unplugged stripped down approach to coffee. Portland isn’t trying to copy anyone else. They are doing their own thing. I really look forward to returning in the coming years to see how they are progressing.

Resources

Portland Coffee Scene 2010 – by Mark Prince at CoffeeGeek

Coava Coffee Roasters – 1300 SE Grand

Sterling Coffee Roasters on Facebook – 2120 Northwest Glisan St.

Heart Roasters – 2211 E. Burnside

Ristretto Roasters – 3520 NE 42nd Ave

Barista – 1725 NE Alberta St.

Water Avenue Coffee – 1028 SE Water Avenue

Big Truck Espresso Blend – From Olympia Coffee Roasting

Coffeehouse-Five – 740 N Killingsworth Street

Full Photo Gallery – For the INeedCoffee article Portland Espresso Vacation.

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Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website INeedCoffee.com. INeedCoffee.com has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to two hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 600 coffee enthusiants. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and finance.

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