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.

 

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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.

 

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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.