Keep a flavor diary
Remembering which roasts taste of berry fruit and which of stone fruit was pretty rough until Dave Selden came along. In December, the Portland marketer and beer blogger released “33 Cups of Coffee,” a pocket-sized tasting notebook with space for a coffee’s vital stats (roaster, sample date, price, brewing method), a one-to-five-star rating scale and a tasting wheel on which to mark how sweet, clean, smoky and so on you find a particular cup to be. You can pick one up for $4 at Coava Coffee (1300 SE Grand Ave.) or order them by the three-pack at 33beers.com.
Pick a ratio
Stumptown Coffee’s brewing guide recommends using 2.8 grams of coffee per fluid ounce of water to brew coffee with a Melitta filter. Counter Culture, a Durham, N.C., roaster of similar stature to Stumptown, recommends 1.6 to 2 grams per ounce. Choose a ratio and stick with it. Refuse to drink any coffee brewed to the wrong ratio. Heretics shall be burned.
Revel in obscurity
Yeah, Stumptown’s good, sure, but everybody already knows them, y’know? They’re mainstream. If you’re really going to out-snob your friends at the next ethically raised pig roast, you’ve got to get your beans from a roaster so obscure it doesn’t even have a cafe, man. Nectar Coffee Company, a year-old local roaster headed by Todd Weiler, a former roaster for Intelligentsia (in Chicago) and Flying Goat (in Healdsburg, Calif.), is a good bet. You can pick it up at the Lloyd Center and Hillsdale farmers markets, or order online at nectarcoffeecompany.com. Badbeard’s Microroastery (badbeardscoffee.com), operated by Portland Cello Project co-founder Justin Kagan, is slightly better-known, having entered the game in 2006. But no other roaster has produced a Maker’s Mark-infused blend for Portland band Weinland, and that hipster cred counts for a lot.
Even better, pick a region
One benefit of the proliferation of small roasters in the Portland area is that consumers can taste the same coffees roasted in several different ways. Instead of finding a roaster whose products you like, taste around until you find a specific region to call your own. Say you want to drink beans only from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia: You can get your beans from Clive, Coava, Oblique, Portland Roasting, Ristretto and Water Avenue. The next time someone innocently asks you what your favorite coffee is, answer “Sumatra Gayo Mountain” (Oblique, Water Avenue, Caffe Vita, Eugene Roasters, Wandering Goat) and refuse further explanation. (For those who want to get to know a farm personally, Nossa Familia is running an 11-day tour to owner Augusto Dias Carneiro’s family farm in Brazil in June. See familyroast.com for details.)
Or roast your own
Now that time-stamped, locally roasted coffee is available on every street corner, home roasting is no longer a necessity for those who crave the freshest of fresh coffee. These days it’s all about experimentation, which Mr. Green Beans (3932 N Mississippi Ave., 288-8698, diycoffeeroasting.com), the city’s only brick-and-mortar retailer of green coffee for home roasters, makes more convenient than ever. The 20 or so varieties of green beans on offer come from all over the coffee-growing world and range from $5.75 per pound for Brazil Pico Aguada to $10 for Kenya Fairview Estate AA. Try your hand at roasting a blend in a skillet or take home one of the shop’s selection of countertop electric roasters ($109-$920), slap your own label on a kraft paper storage bag (available for 25 cents apiece) and be the envy of your fellow cubicle drones with your exclusive brew.
Vocabulary test: “fourth wave”
It is common, in the food-snob press, to refer to the current wealth of small-batch roasted single-origin coffee as the “third wave” of American coffee culture; the second and first waves were, respectively, the Starbucks-driven espresso explosion and everything that came before it. According to Erin Hulbert, a New York blogger for Serious Eats, the fourth wave arrived with the debut of the Slayer, an $18,000 espresso machine made in Seattle. The Oregonian used the term before Hulbert, in a 2009 story by Kathleen Bauer on the advent of very small roasters like Courier and Ristretto. Given that all of those roasters are standing on Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson’s shoulders, and that the Slayer, for all its bells and whistles, produces a shot of espresso (to my palate, anyway) not drastically unlike that of any other high-end machine, I’m not convinced that there’s been a great enough shift in the culture or the industry to warrant the naming of a new age. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t refer to whatever you’re drinking at the moment as “fourth-wave” coffee; the best thing about a meaningless phrase is that no one can say you’re using it incorrectly.
Five Signs We May Be Taking This Coffee Thing Too Far
- Chris King of King Precision Components, a manufacturer of high-end bicycle parts, makes a $75 aluminum and stainless-steel espresso tamper, and Portland Design Works makes a coffee-cup holder for bicycles.
- Several Portland cafes, including Fresh Pot and Public Domain, have allegedly refused to sell espresso to go.
- Cloud Seven Cafe serves coffee in cups designed by Chicago roaster Intelligentsia Coffee and L.A. design firm notNeutral. They supposedly “aid the barista in the perfect pour and balance effortlessly in the drinker’s hand” and retail for $18 apiece.
- In a story in The New York Times in July 2010, Paul Sykes, a local maker of wooden bicycle fenders, was quoted as saying, “I don’t even go to Stumptown. I go to a more local place.”
- Here’s the drink Coava barista Sam Purvis devised to win the Northwest Regional Barista Competition: “50g of water was infused with dried raspberries and goji berries. The water was infused for three minutes. And then that water was pressed out over 70 percent dark chocolate to melt it down. Milk was added and it was brought up to temperature and textured and then mixed with the coffee and dusted with dried raspberries.”