In recent weeks, we imbibed countless cups of caffeinated brew—at cafes early in the morning, at the office all day, and in espresso martinis late at night. We’ve discovered ourselves, awake at 2 am, watching old episodes of Doctor Who with blood vessels pulsing angrily behind our eyes.
It was worth it. In the years since Stumptown Coffee rode by on a skateboard and stole the trophy from Seattle second-wavers Peet’s, Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, Portland has become the best (and certainly the most dedicated) coffee city in the country.
Third-wave micro-roasteries have multiplied into nano-roasteries that make small-batch, single-source roasts with beans bought from a single-mom farmer in Guatemala through a direct-trade consortium (see here). Your grandma does pourover at home through a spiral cone—at least until she learns how she can cold-brew a week’s worth and store it in her thermos—and your neighbor roasts beans in his basement.
There’s a lot to take in. But after weeks of jittery research, we’re sharing with you our favorite new cafes from the past year, below. Maybe it’s the beans they roast, maybe it’s the care they take preparing your cup, or maybe it’s the more ineffable qualities that define a good cafe: the feeling that a place could be your home if it didn’t close at 6 pm.
But we’re not snobs about it. We also sent an intrepid reporter to apply for a job at a bikini barista drive-thru in the far western suburbs—you can see how it panned out here. We offer advice on how to act at different types of Portland cafes, from post-Occupy samizdat press to post-yoga quiche factory.
So go forth, drink good coffee, and please: Learn from our mistakes. Stop at the 12th cup.
The Klatch of 2013: Portland's Best New Cafes
7530 N Willamette Blvd. 6:30 am-7 pm daily.
A vibrant oasis in the subdued residential stretches of St. Johns, Cathedral Coffee is a trendy outlier in “all the way out there” North Portland. It has all the staples of Portland hipness: reclaimed barn doors, a community library, handmade mugs. The spacious cafe is also literally splashed with color by Canadian graffiti artist David Brunning, aka The Kid Belo, a childhood friend of owner Austen Tanner. The cafe is, in fact, a collaboration by Tanner, a former garbage truck driver, and his artsy friends. His buddy Cameron VanLom, for example, procured discarded tree stumps from Lake Oswego and made rolling, whitewashed coffee tables out of them. The coffee, naturally, is from North Portland micro-roasters Tanager and Intent, and the whole building was remodeled from a cubicle-lined real estate office. The cafe is ambitious, too: When it opened in September, it stayed open until 10 pm in hopes University of Portland students would make a late-night spot out of it—something Portland could use more of. That didn’t take, and though the place is now buzzing on weekends, at closing time it feels kind of lonely. Hip, but lonely. AARON SPENCER.
Din Din (above, image by Jerek Hollander)
920 NE Glisan St., 971-544-1350, dindinportland.com. 7:30 am-5:30 pm Monday-Friday; brunch 10 am-3 pm Sunday.
Plenty of Portland coffee shops try to make you feel as if you’re in a friend’s living room. Din Din transports you, quite literally, into the kitchen. By day, this supper club—which recently got its own brick-and-mortar home within smelling distance of Franz Bakery—is a cafe, with chef Courtney Sproule prepping lentils du Puy salad in an exposed corner kitchen that takes up a good quarter of the space’s real estate. In consonance with the surroundings, the coffee is made from the bright, light roasts of Sterling, and you can pair your cappuccino with a dense slab of creme fraiche coffeecake served, at least in late fall, with dried figs soaked in sherry. But the primary reason to return to Din Din is for its ever-morphing décor—on a recent visit, gauzy fabric strips in shades of lilac and ivory hung from the slatted wood ceiling and delicate fernlike plants dotted the long communal tables—and the sense that, like a houseguest who doesn’t overstay her welcome, your presence is always appreciated. REBECCA JACOBSON.
8235 SE 13th Ave., No. 2, 235-3474, facebook.com/eitherorcafe. 7 am-3:30 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-4 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Either/Or is a lot like Sellwood itself: small, comforting and a little out of the way. Owners Natasha Miks and contributing WW photographer Ro Tam don’t live in the neighborhood but couldn’t resist when they saw the former Lovecup space up for sale. (What were they doing in Sellwood? Antiquing, of course.) The style is modern deco with splashes of vintage: a record player in the corner, an old Westinghouse fridge behind the counter, a nook area complete with sofa lifted straight from your grandparents’ living room. Heart Roasters is the staple coffee, but it’s served alongside a rotating guest roaster—swapping among locals such as Sterling, Coava and Roseline—which can be combined as a pairing in the seriously on-point espresso flight, presented on a wood tray for maximum quaintness. Chocolaty coffees get chocolate; if they think an espresso tastes like lychee, they might serve it up with a lychee. Why not? With only three tables augmenting the thrift-store couch, it’s not the kind of place you’ll feel comfortable taking up space in for hours at a time, but for a break between shopping for vintage lamps, it’s a pleasant stopover. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the shop takes its name from the Elliott Smith album, which he recorded in Portland. He preferred to hang in dingy dive bars, but even Mr. Misery would find himself catching the warm fuzzies here. MATTHEW SINGER.
Heart Roasters-West End
537 SW 12th Ave., heartroasters.com. 7 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm Saturday-Sunday.
This is actually Heart Roasters’ second excursion into the coffee-dense West End, following a little-remembered outpost inside West End Bikes in 2011. This time the storefront is wholly its own, though the cafe (next door to Grüner) is still hidden from the street, this time by tinted glass. The menu is a carbon copy of the one at Heart’s roastery across the river, the locale itself less so. The many workstations of the eastside locale’s enveloping coffee bar and the front-and-center Probat roaster are absent, replaced by a nook whose tight geometries and clean lines showcase the Scandinavian roots of co-owner and roaster Wille Yli-Luoma. But one thing has not changed. Heart boasts some of the most carefully tended light-roast beans in town, which produce probably Portland’s best drip coffee when served black: sweetly citric, never tipping over into sour. At few cafes in town is one so viscerally reminded that coffee seeds come from berries. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
3713 SE Gladstone St., 954-3490. 7 am-3 pm Monday and Wednesday-Friday, 8 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday.
The only problem with having an old-fashioned black disc spinning in your coffee shop is that someone needs to flip it every 20 minutes. It seems worth the cost of a momentarily unmanned espresso machine at Kenilworth Coffeehouse, where an old green record player that looks like something out of a Peanuts strip plays Van Morrison’s debut LP on a Sunday morning. Kenilworth, which took over this largish, red-and-white checkerboard-tiled space from Neapolitan Chocolate and Co. on New Year’s Day this year, is a curatorial venture, neither roasting its own beans nor making any of the treats on offer at the counter. Coffee comes from Courier—there’s drip from a Bunn and the classic lineup of espresso drinks stuck into the grooves of a black felt letterboard—and baked goods come from some of the town’s best providers, including Lauretta Jean’s pies, Henry Higgins’ boiled bagels, Woodland Bakery’s cinnamon rolls, and Delicious Doughnuts. Also on the counter, we found a furry white protea plant every customer stopped to pet. In the back there’s an upright piano I hope to someday see played by a regular in Chaco Mary Janes—perhaps sometime when the barista is too busy pulling shots to reset the needle. MARTIN CIZMAR.
811 NW 13th Ave., familyroast.com. 7 am-4 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Nossa Familia is Portuguese for “our family,” which sounds like a Mafia euphemism but is, in this case, very literal: The Dias family is a generations-deep Brazilian farming enterprise that branched out as a local micro-roastery in 2006 after a scion of the sixth generation, Augusto Carvalho Dias, decided he’d maybe go to school at the University of Portland for a short-lived career as an engineer. The newly minted cafe, across the street from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, is a bare-bones espresso bar serving up roasts from the family business, with a view onto the busy warehouse and coffee-roasting operation over the shoulder of your barista. Order the espresso without the distraction of milk or water and you’ll be rewarded with a complex little cup, especially if the Ernesto’s roast is one of your two options of the day. The joint’s not much of a hangout, but it’s a nice stopover for a toe-curler in the morning—the Pearl District office worker’s equivalent of a dockworker’s Jäger belt before a swing shift. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1003 SW Alder St., 971-221-6318. 7 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-4 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Todd Edwards’ coffee cart serves up five varieties of Ristretto in pourover, espresso or cold brew, but it’s less a brew-geek station than a place for hot cups and warm feelings, right down to the Suspended Coffees blackboard outside the cart that allows patrons to donate a menu item to those who might not have money to buy it themselves—whether a simple joe or one of the selection of Bakeshop goods delivered daily to the cart. On a recent rainy Monday, the blackboard was absent, a casualty of sopping wet and bitter winds. “Everybody who came by today noticed it was gone,” said the on-staff barista. “It’s kind of great to see that happen.” Local kombuchas, chais and tea blends round out the beverages; a flower arrangement and a lantern filled with display muffins round out the streetside décor. You’re half surprised your own mother isn’t serving the coffee. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Portland Roasting Co.
340 SE 7th Ave., 236-7378, portlandroasting.com. 7 am-5 pm Monday-Friday.
Though not the best-known roaster in its namesake city, Portland Roasting has designs on national fame, perhaps best displayed when it cut a deal to provide beans backstage at the Oscars this year. The roaster’s slick new eastside cupping room is a monument to those ambitions, though nonetheless located across from a warehouse storing refrigeration equipment. Follow the sandwich-board signs into a small cafe with a window looking onto conference rooms filled with shiny silver equipment and designer office chairs. Everything is made of heavy wood—all the way up to the ceiling, which looks like an upside-down deck. A small selection of pastries comes from Pearl Bakery. Espresso shots are served in tiny ceramic mugs with child-sized finger holes and a short glass of sparkling water. I favored the brightly acidic Sorano blend, a worthy ambassador for Portland coffee. MARTIN CIZMAR.
555 NE Couch St., 284-6767, ristrettoroasters.com. 6:30 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday, 7 am-6 pm Sunday.
This newest Ristretto is modern Portland’s version of the erstwhile invading Starbucks of the ’90s: a dog whistle for the creative class. In six years, Southeast Grand Avenue went from degenerate artist slum to nighttime overflow valve for sloppy Old Town. But as the newly rebranded Produce Row finalizes its transition from artists to “creatives,” this craft-forward corner coffee spot—architecturally a compact version of Grand Avenue’s more southerly Coava, complete with those same hyphen-holed chairs—is poised as the before-and-after-work spot for the ’hood’s future developers of websites and condos. Ristretto’s Couch Street location hosts a wine selection that manages to outpace its nonetheless admirable variety of blends and single-source coffees, but for now everyone still orders coffee. Cups come in the usual Italian variations as well as in single servings made with the city’s only Steampunk siphon machine, French press, Chemex pourover (market price, just like swordfish) and cold brew. The well-groomed baristas are nothing if not attuned to presentation; they spent their off moments on a recent visit debating what to put on Ristretto’s Instagram. It’s all perfectly charming, if a bit overdetermined. Pro tip for those who like relaxing with a java-enabled New Yorker or New York Times on Sundays: The neighborhood’s mostly nonresidential, leaving the place agreeably spacious on weekends. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Rose City Coffee
6720 SE 16th Ave., 236-8234, rosecitycoffeeco.com. 7:30 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-2 pm Saturday.
An elderly woman wants to pass on her coffee business but has no next of kin to inherit the company. Two upstart micro-roasters operating out of a carport in North Portland get in touch with her and offer to move into the creaky old converted house she’s been in for decades, fix it up and turn it into something new. It sounds like the plot to an ABC Family Original Movie, but that’s the story of Rose City Coffee Co. Earlier this year, owners Steven Morrison and Joe Provencher became the adopted sons of Schondecken, one of Portland’s oldest micro-roasters, taking over both the 90-year-old Westmoreland home that’s housed the business since the late ’80s and its Corvallis-built air roaster. A very small percentage of the world’s coffee beans are air roasted, but the technique lends Rose City’s product a uniquely smooth, almost buttery quality. As for the fixing-up part, Morrison and Provencher recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $16,000 to fund a renovation of the squeaky-floored home-cum-storefront, scheduled to open in January. MATTHEW SINGER.
100 SE Salmon St., stumptowncoffee.com. 10 am-4 pm Monday-Saturday.
The former Stumptown Annex location—next to the Belmont Street cafe—never made much sense. Why have two separate operations right next to each other? With its limited seating and emphasis on coffee brewed by the cup, it was always more of a Stumptown showcase than a cafe. Now, in its new location at Stumptown’s Central Eastside headquarters, the Annex rightly doubles as Stumptown’s front lobby. The space is larger but familiar. Jars of coffee beans available for purchase line the wall behind the barista. Next to them, various pieces of brewing equipment, also for sale, is displayed on chairless hardwood floors. On the opposite wall is a museum of founder Duane Sorenson’s vintage coffee equipment—grinders and espresso machines, as well as wooden bicycles Sorenson saw coffee farmers using in Africa. All 22 of Stumptown’s bean varieties are available, and the barista will brew your coffee methodically with fancy Chemex and Melitta coffeemakers (also for sale). The best draw remains the free tastings at 3 pm Monday through Saturday. But it’s no place to linger, at least after the barista is done with you: There’s no seating, and it closes at 4 pm anyway. AARON SPENCER.