Mark, nice write up and glad you enjoyed your visit!
Some things from your article really intrigued me and I hope you don't mind some feedback. First and foremost, is the attitude. I got to the point of expecting an attitude from the staff of any given cafe when I ordered coffee. It's a hard thing to really describe; somehwere between "I don't care" and "you're lucky I'm letting you buy this beverage." Well, that may be a bit extreme, but an attitue existed none the less. It's what I thought specialty coffee was. It's not that it was any one place and not that there weren't good experiences, but it seemed an overall vibe. In my more recent visits to cafes over that last year or so, that seems to have changed and it makes the visits so much better. The visit to a cafe should still be enjoyable and that starts with your interaction with the staff/barista. Barista and Red E cafe have been the most engaging. I'm glad you noticed the improvement since your last visit.
I'm also glad you liked the cafes themselves. Although I've had a few Coava offerings, I've yet to go to there location. That being said, I still think I might give the nod to Heart here. It's not that it's the prettiest, or the most comfortable, or any one thing. What's so amazing is that no detail (including the coffee itself) has gone unattended to. That shows and it's top notch all the way. If I HAD to choose what takes "center stage", it'd go to the vintage Probat. My .02 anyway.
I'd like to comment too on all the SO's that are in Portland. I'll start off that I understand your complaints of the SO's, but I don't fully agree. Perhaps not as complex as a well developed blend, but that doesn't make it any less exciting (my opinion). You may be very correct on your reasoning behind the popularity of roasters producing SO's, but if I may, I think I have some insight behind the popularity in Portland. I "discovered" specialty coffee roughly 7years ago. Basically stopped into Stumptown on Division and the rest is history. Stumptown (and my own interest) grew. Stumptown grew big; well, I should say Hairbender got big really. Everywhere you looked, Hairbender was being served. Places that had no idea what they were doing to the best places in town were pulling Hairbender. It was more than just the only gig in town; it was one thing all over town. The market was there, obviously. Looking at the two closest attractions, SF and Seattle, they had some options, but Portland was Stumptown Hairbender. It was frustrating that not only were other roasters rare (Ristretto was probably the biggest alternative), but the only thing being offered from Stumptown was Hairbender. So, fast forward to now, and there's micro roasters aplenty. Not only can you go to a solid cafe serving something other than Hairbender they're serving more than one coffee. WOW! You have to realize how much Portland was craving and needing this. The interest and market was there. So now there's such a number of roasters to choose from and to amplify that, there's a rotating option of what each is offering. Because it's easier? Who care's why, it's there that makes it exciting compared to just a few short years ago. Some options and variety was needed and it came ten fold. To finish on this point, Hairbender got stale to me; a good blend but I knew there was other stuff to try. Despite my feelings of Hairbender, Stumptown is still an amazing roaster and I'd still say the best in Portland. The best SO's I've had have been Stumptown. It's to the point I'm curious is Hairbender is overshadowing the greatness that Stumptown is.
This also brings me to Barista. I've praised them many a times here, but the single visit doesn't do it justice. This is a different beast. I've had nothing less than great shots and some that were nothing short of amazing. Ok, great esrpesso, but so what makes it better? Again, the attitude is great; no barista has been more engaging than at Barista. Each one knows the coffee; some baristas at other cafes don't know the one coffee they pull everyday as well as the ones at Barista know the coffees that are limited offerings. That says alot about the dedication. So great espresso pulled by a passionate barista; yes, it's been done. Like I said, it's a different beast. I've had offerings at Barista from 12 (maybe 13?) different roasters. That's unreal. The one pass through visit doesn't let you appreciate what Barista is really offering.
I'm familiar with all your stops and the ones you "missed", but a couple more suggestions. There's a couple of long time members of this site that have done well here. Mike McGuiness mcKoffee bought a place outside Portland (Vancouver, WA USA). He's changed some stuff a few times since he started and he's expanded, but it's solid. Vancouver is a place that tries so hard and seems to fail so miserabley, that it's good to see something worthwhile there. Last time I was in, a double was accompanied with soda water and an almond biscotti. Nice touch indeed.
I'd also recommend Courier Coffee from long time member Joel (it's all in the name) Domreis naznar. He roasts and delivers on a bike. Now this may not be Portland's coffee scene, but it's simply everything Portland right there. Solid coffee too; I'm actually pulling an El Salv at home right now and loving it.
I feel pretty fortunate and I think what I have available I won't get elsewhere. I feel happy I've been able to expereince the latest wave of specialty coffee here and excited to see what comes next. Actually a new home roasting store just opened up near my work: Mr Green Beans. Still playing with samples I bought, but it seems promising and good to see a local brick and mortar.
Vancouver is a place that tries so hard and seems to fail so miserabley, that it's good to see something worthwhile there. Last time I was in, a double was accompanied with soda water and an almond biscotti. Nice touch indeed.
There are actually a couple more shops in Vancouver that will serve you a great espresso. Paper Tiger up on Grand and Evergreen (Which also roasts their own) and River Maiden has a couple locations (They serve Stumptown and pull Hairbender). So the situation on this side of the river has been getting better and better as more awareness is introduced to our "Vantuckian" minds :D
I'm actually fairly new to the specialty coffee scene (Only been seeking it out for about 2 years now) but I did notice that when I was first getting into it, Hairbender was practically EVERYWHERE. I got to the point where if a place served something that wasn't Hairbender, I automatically had a bias towards liking it, simply because of how overexposed I was to Stumptown's famous blend. I think most Portlanders feel the same as Joel and Mark in that we appreciate how incredible Hairbender is as a blend, but there was a period of time there where it was just way too much for its own good.
I would also like to back Joel's comment about Barista. I could not agree with him any more! It's a crying shame that you couldn't visit the Alberta location of Barista, Mark. That location is everything I love in a coffee shop. A great open space, with the baristi and their beautiful Mistral taking center stage at the center of the shop, allowing them to meaningfully engage you throughout the entire time you're at the bar. On top of the great setup, fantastic offerings, friendly atmosphere, top notch barista skill, and everything that has already been mentioned thusfar, they have mind-blowing microbrews on tap! The beer is only at the Alberta location, and it rotates out just like the coffees. Done and done, don't really need to say anything else on the topic.
Glad you had a great experience down here in Portland Mark. This article was a great read!
I'd say I'm more of a coffee nerd rather than coffee geek
There are actually a couple more shops in Vancouver that will serve you a great espresso. Paper Tiger up on Grand and Evergreen (Which also roasts their own) and River Maiden has a couple locations (They serve Stumptown and pull Hairbender).
Yes, I'm aware of both, but I've yet to go to Paper Tiger. I was hesitant to mention River Maiden for two reasons. 1) They only serve Hairbender. 2) The espresso has never been better than "good", never great and sometimes less than good. I will admit I haven't been in a while though. Why I should of mentioned it though is they offer several stumptown coffees on a Clover.
I've been living in Seattle now for a little over 2 years now(dear god, outside the shop I'm at now there was a horrific car accident...), and it's been interesting contrasting the coffee communities of Seattle and Portland.
For starters, I think I may have witnessed the climax of Seattle's coffee scene right when I moved here, or just missed it. So many shops were trying new things, and education was abound. I'm not saying people aren't trying any more, but 9 out of 10 Baristas think "ristretto" means "better", and increasingly bars all start to look like Ikea.
Portland, on the other hand, was a different place 2 years ago. Like Mark says, it was ruled by Stumptown, and it's been exciting to watch that community grow. I've witnessed more shop diversity in my 5 trips there than in 2 years in Seattle. The Baristas are more like bartenders in their service and roasters are just, how do you put it, better. The shops have a definite positive energy, and that reflects in the drinks, the service, and the overall experience. Also interesting, Stumptown's wholesale presence in Seattle is starting to look more like Portland's of the past.
Seattle has seen a lot, but the times are changing. We, as the great 206, NEED to step up our game if we want to keep up.
I've witnessed more shop diversity in my 5 trips there than in 2 years in Seattle. The Baristas are more like bartenders in their service and roasters are just, how do you put it, better. The shops have a definite positive energy, and that reflects in the drinks, the service, and the overall experience.
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