Coffee Shop Review

Eater.com publishes PDX’s Best Coffeeshops and Roasters each year with an ever-growing and changing list of the newest it places and the long-standing neighborhood fixtures.  I decided to try as many places as I could and judge them all on an arbitrary scale that I, of course, made up just now.

Here’s how it works:
Each category is scored 1-5.  Scores are added and divided by number of categories to give an overall ranking.  And the categories are…

Decor (tables, chairs, lighting, do-dads)
Ambience (is it a place you want to hang out in)
Location (parking, neighborhood)
Ease of ordering / seating (is there a crazy line, plenty of seating, is it hard to figure out who takes your order)
Price (1 being most expensive)
Innovation (stand apartedness)
Food offerings
Taste (double scored out of 10)
Presentation
Pretentiousness (1 being highest)

The obvious ones on the list have also made top coffee shop lists when compared to others in the US.  These are Stumptown, Coava, Barista, and Water Avenue.  The not-so-obvious ones on the list are Extracto, Heart Coffee, Bipartisan, Case Study, Satellite (because I was in New Mexico,) Christopher David, Either/Or, Fresh Pot, and Sterling Roasters.

Coava is the leader in presentation and innovation, being one of the only coffeshops in Portland to brew all coffee through the Chemex slow drip system.  They’ve perfected simplicity, not even bothering to offer additional accoutrements that might dull the flavor of their exceptional cup.  Water Ave Coffee is my pic for taste, presentation, and lack of pretentiousness, offering a beautifully roasted and brewed cup in the southeast industrial area steps from the waterfront.  A gleaming neon sign that reads “COFFEE” lures patrons in like moths to the flame.  Stumptown is a staple, winning almost every category everywhere and being one of the only local Portland Roasts to go mainstream.  The problem is, there are too many Stumptown coffeeshops and too many coffeeshops that serve Stumptown to award them as my pick for best coffeeshop, so I *politely* deny their application.  Bipartisan is my standard, go-to coffeeshop every time, always.  It’s delicious (Stumptown) coffee, they always have the latest Willamette Week, and I like their food.  Extracto and Heart Coffee were my lowest scores.  Heart because my mediocre 12 ounce Hazelnut Mocha was $6.50, making it the most expensive drink I tried.  Extracto because it seemed like it was trying too hard to be hipster and the taste didn’t outweigh the enormous sigh rom the baristas.  I tried the Fluer Noir vanilla latte at Case Study Coffee and was blown away by the rich depth of flavor and the eccentric decor.  Christopher David had similar scores in decor, for much different reasons.  They share their space with an amazing homegoods retailer, which translates into thinking you’re drinking delicious coffee in your cool (rich) friend’s living room.  But my pick, the winning overall score for best coffeeshop in Portland is …. STERLING ROASTERS.

I walked right past Sterling Roasters on my way to find it.  The tiny, 300 square foot space is the smallest coffee shop in Portland, and maybe the world.  There is room for about 10 people total outside of the employees who are dressed in bow ties and aprons.  They look like old-timey barkeeps who are perpetually wiping down the bar and slinging the towel over their shoulder.  You would think this would translate into higher than average pretentiousness, but you’d be wrong.  I asked a couple of questions about the offerings and was treated to a wealth of information about the operation, roasting capacity, bean origin, architectural details, and got to sample a couple different roasts for the day.  I decided to get a cappuccino, which was on the more expensive side, but it was definitely a treat.  If you’re in the mood for delicious coffee, but need more space, they also feature their micro blended roasts at Coffeehouse Northwest.

 

Advertisements

Coffee Month – Battle!

Obviously I know that this battle is not all encompassing of the best coffee each state has to offer. Obviously the odds are stacked in Portland’s favor to win. Obviously I don’t care about journalistic integrity. So here’s the line up!

Representing New York City (because NYC coffee rivals that of Portland and the pound of beans brought as souvenir from Mr. Adventure initiated this rivalry) – Ninth Street Espresso
Representing Albuquerque (because that’s my OG home turf and fills the ghetto hole in my heart) – Satellite Coffee Company. If you visit here, try the Turkish Latte with honey and tarragon or the Mocha En Fuego with ancho chile and cinnamon.
Representing Boise by way of Nampa (because Mr. Adventure visited there last month and for no other reason) – Flying M Coffee
Representing Portland (just because) – Water Avenue Coffee
Representing Portland (because we couldn’t pick just one) – Stumptown Coffee

Before a weekend getaway in a cabin near Mount Hood, I ground and packed up all the contestants offerings and my trusty French Press.

 

20140207-173406.jpg

20140207-173626.jpg

They were all brewed the same way, using the same measurements in the same machine. So it took a long time. One huge mug per roast. By the time they were all ready (about an hour later) we sampled the spread.

The mug that came out on top was the Stumptown roast. Delicious, smooth flavor. Very little bitterness. Rich and bold. This is why Stumptown is Portland’s favorite roaster.
Coming in a close second was New York’s Ninth Street Espresso. Slight bitterness. Sweet undertones. Okay, NYC is pretty good.
Coming in third was Albuquerque’s finest, Satellite Coffee’s darkest roast. These beans were so dark, they were oily in my fingers. The smell and the taste is unique and interesting. The coffee tastes dirty (in a good way) and leaves dark rings around the mug. Albuquerque also specializes in pinon roasted beans, which weren’t represented in the battle but are equally delicious and unique.
A begrudging fourth place award goes to Water Avenue Coffee. This is my absolute favorite everyday coffee. It is so rich with flavor and aroma that it becomes frothy in the French Press and the genuine coffee flavor is irresistible. It is how you imagine coffee tastes, but better. I was absolutely positive Water Avenue would come out on top. Unfortunately, the beans we used for the contest had been ground and then frozen for over two months. This is a method I have often used to make my beans last longer, but a side by side comparison proves that it’s not a good method for storing. The cup was lackluster and dull next to the others. If this were a fresh ground being compared to the others, it would most definitely be #1, and all the others would move down a slot.
I think you can imagine that Idahoan coffee is not was Idahoan’s are known for. This Christmas blend was spicy and herbal with notes of anise. It was good, but couldn’t stand up next to the others. But keep your head up, Idaho. You’ve still got potatoes.

Coffee Month – How to Make the Perfect Cup

There are several different ways to make a great cup at home.  The most popular types are a Keurig-type single serve, French Press,  drip, and the artisinal coffee drinker favorite, Chemex.

Easy-Peezy Award: Keurig
Keurigs boast the perfect cup every time.  With exacting measurements at the push of a button, it is the busy (read: lazy) man’s cup.  With the bare minimum of clean up required and one perfectly brewed cup in front of you, who would complain.  The only drawbacks would be the amount of plastic you’re throwing away each and every day, the limited options and mainly big-name coffee conglomerates.  Now, I know that Keurig makes a metal, reusable cup that you can add your own coffee grounds to.  But this metal cup does not perform as well as the plastic ones, making more of a mess, and making the easy machine a little less easy.  Perfect applications would be office or shared settings, or for a busy professional who likes Starbucks coffee at home.

Seriously.  Stop Award: Automatic Drip
Walk down the aisles of Goodwill and you’ll see how often people give up on this lost cause.  There are so many better ways to brew.  But I get it.  It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.  I know they make a lot of really fancy, really expensive automatic drip coffee makers and they probably work just fine.  But the fact remains, you can easily burn your coffee, it’s harder to get the portions right, it requires a lot of electricity, and it doesn’t save you any time (unless you have the ones you can set on a timer, those are pretty cool.) Save yourself $200 and buy a French Press.

The Bill Nye Would Drink Coffee Like This Award: Chemex
I got a Chemex for Christmas from Mr. Adventure and had absolutely no idea what it was.  Thank you?  Upon further review, I realized it was pretty freaking cool.  It’s a large vessel designed for drip coffee, the precise, scientific kind.  Weighing the ingredients and adding them slowly and methodically, this is a process that takes time and patience, and practice.  So much practice, that I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  I’ve had a cup brewed in Chemex at places like Coava, who specialize in the method.  It’s amazing!  But I require a few more pieces of equipment to make it work as good at my house like a goose neck tea pot, a bigger flat-bottom scale, and a better coffee grinder. Watch this video and get inspired.

The This is My Favorite Award: French Press
Okay.  I’m bias.  Duh-doy.  This is my blog, of course.  I’ve been using a French Press and only a French Press for years.  I refuse to make coffee in an automatic drip machine and whenever I visit my mom, I look at her coffee maker like it’s an alien: scared, confused, and unsure how to initiate engagement.  I’m so pumped about my French Press that I will order a French Press coffee and restaurants if I see it on the menu.  It tastes better than other coffee.  It is easy to make, easy to clean, and it’s adorable.  Do you want a quaint little glass vessel on your kitchen counter or a bulky machine?  Man up and drink coffee like Dexter.

January – Coffee Month

It feels like I have a beverage related month about once a year… Wine, cider, and now coffee. It’s cold and rainy this January and I want to curl up with a warm cup of joe. Good thing I live in a town filled with some of the best local roasters – Stumptown and Water Ave are the current favorites, but there are so many more to try! I hope to use some new brewing techniques (Chemex and the trusty French press) to brew some amazing cups. Then, I’ll pin Portland’s best against other cities in a (completely biased) death match. May the best (Portland) win!

20140107-190231.jpg