Portland Coffee: Many people in the coffee industry believe that Portland is truly center stage for what is known as 'third wave specialty coffee'. Some people even say Portland is creating something new-- fourth wave. Any way you look at it, this fact is indisputable: Portland is a premier city in showcasing some of the best coffees in the world. We'll say it again--the world. When you read about your favorite Portland coffee shop in The New York Times, you start to realize something truly incredible is happening right here in your own backyard.
So, it should come as no surprise that Portland has hundreds of coffee shops. Some people joke that you can enjoy a cup of coffee at one cafe and watch another one open across the street. Coffee shops are found on nearly every corner and most aren't hurting for business no matter how 'famous' (or not) they are. Something about long, dark, rainy winters creates a captive audience and Portlanders are known for their love of caffeine. From big box coffee (Starbucks, Peets, etc) to local giants such as Stumptown and Kobo's to the very small independently owned Portland cafes-- your cup will always overfloweth.
This page is dedicated to the independent coffee houses that truly define Portland. We are known nationally for cafe powerhouses who shock and amaze with great quality coffees. These cafes have a massive underground cult-like following and for good reason: Portland is home to some real-live American coffee icons who are globally famous for either roasting their own amazing coffee or making the best damn cup of coffee ever. This, my friends, is an undisputed truth.
Portland Coffee: A Bit of History
What we're talking about here is not the coffee you'll find at retail giants such as Starbucks or Peets though many in the Portland coffee industry still pay a major homage to those companies who are said to have kickstarted the coffee scene. No, this is specialty coffee we are talking about here-- and Portland coffee excellence in the most scientific, most nerdy, most true to itself form.
Portland is home to the indie craft coffee roasters and the indie coffee houses that have taken a long hard look at the very essence of coffee and are each striving to do something different. Akin to the craft brewing revolution that started the microbrewery storm in the 1980's, Portland's coffee scene has seriously exploded. Portland has hundreds of coffee houses and coffee carts all over the city and many of them enjoy a fierce cult-like following. It is not uncommon for a coffee house to define a neighborhood or for a coffee house to be a destination for Portlanders and visitors alike.
How did it begin in Portland? Well, in the late 90's, a then craft roaster called Stumptown started small and humble and slowly but surely took Portland by storm. True to their nature, Portlanders were looking for a connection with the business owner and big commercial roasters like Kobo's and Boyd's felt too "corporate". Stumptown had a new image that was selling lots and lots of coffee: small | local | Portland. Now roasting over 10,000lbs a day, Stumptown can hardly be called a craft roaster but is still doing remarkable things. As a major household name in the Pacific Northwest, Stumptown has set its sights on Seattle and New York City. They have lost their edge as being small and different as in a way, they too have become the "big guy". In Portland, you'll find Stumptown coffee nearly everywhere from churches to diners to fine cafes. This opens doors for new Portland coffee roasters to take center stage. And take stage, they have...
Portland Coffee: The Best
What sets these cafes apart and makes them the best of the best? Its all about passion, knowledge and mechanics. Walk into a premier cafe in this city and you'll notice a serious lot behind the counter. It will dawn on you real fast: these folks are not passing time at a cafe job while going through college. These people are professionals who are fiercely dedicated to one thing: coffee. They obsessively study coffee from brewing mechanics, to brewing methods, to roasting methods, to the farms that grew it.
So it makes sense then that these shops would be truly different. Instead of offering coffees by one roaster, some of them offer several roasters like a pub would offer several taps. Think you'll pump your own coffee from a huge vat? Think again. Do you want French press, clover, toddy (cold coffee) or coffee from a vacuum pot? Would you like espresso? Americano? A latte? Some of these cafes wince at putting flavor in a drink because "you can't taste the coffee". These are purists. In every sense of the word.
The barista will employ mechanics and knowledge far exceeding those at other, lower quality cafes. Consider different brew times and temperatures as variables and levers. Notice your barista eyeing the timer, watching how the coffee runs into the cup. Maybe it meets his approval. Maybe not. Viscous? Too many breaks in the stream? Hmmm. They are going for the perfect drink -- all for you. The barista is a lot like a scientist in these shops. A mad, obsessed, coffee scientist. Thank God!
Looking for a Portland Coffee Shop? You won't have to look far...
The Best Portland Coffee Shops
The following independently owned Portland cafes have made a name for themselves way beyond the borders of Portland. Many of these cafes have barista's who compete nationally and internationally-- walk into these shops and you'll see trophies attesting to their dedication to the art of coffee. With mentions in national publications such as The New York Times, Roast Magazine, Barista Magazine and Sunset Magazine (to name a few), these coffee shops are known as the best coffee shops in Portland and as such, enjoy a major cult following.
They are independent trail blazers and each one will offer you something different. You won't find coffee brewed in huge vats here. Instead you'll find French press, pour over and various other brew methods such as clover, toddy (cold coffee) and vacuum pots. The barista will employ mechanics and knowledge that will blow you away-- and it goes far beyond latte art. Using different brew times and temperatures as variables, the excellent barista is a lot like a scientist. Ask them about the coffee they are serving and they will light up and tell you more than you ever thought possible about this very coffee- country of origin, the farm it came from, taste profile/cupping notes, even the elevation the coffee grew at.
You'll read about these top quality cafes in The New York Times, The Seattle and Los Angeles Times, Roast Magazine, Barista Magazine and Sunset Magazine (to name just a few). These Portland coffee houses are known for high quality and stunning, chic cafes. Many of the barista's in these cafes compete in national/international barista competitions and a handful sport trophies that make them famous in their own right. These cafes truly embody the Portland coffee scene.
Coava Coffee Roasters - 2011 and 2012 winner of NW Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup. Hailed by Portland Monthly as: "The best coffee in Portland. Period."
BARISTA - Located in the Pearl District and in Alberta Arts
Coffee House Northwest - Located NW Portland
The Albina Press - Located in Humboldt
The Fresh Pot - Located on Mississippi Ave and Hawthorne Ave
Stumptown - Many locations throughout Portland
The Red E Cafe - Located on Killingsworth near Piedmont
The Arbor Lodge - Located in Arbor Lodge
Meet the Roasters
Not only is Portland famous for the amazing coffee found in our cafes, but Portland has a wealth of very influential and highly visible local coffee roasters many of whom are known nationally and internationally for high quality, excellent tasting coffees.
Portland has well over a dozen independent coffee roasters and each is competing or branding itself in a different way. Some choose to roast only on vintage machines, some produce only single origin coffees as opposed to blended coffee, some roast only organic coffees, some roast for their own cafes exclusively and others choose to produce only small batch roasts sometimes referred to as 'boutique roasting'.
For these roasters, coffee is an art form and the ultimate goal is to pay homage to the farm that produced it. To learn more about Portland's coffee scene, you'll want to become familiar with a few local publications such as Roast Magazine and Barista Magazine both of which are local Portland publications.
Coava Roasters - 2011 winner of NW Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup and well known as the best coffee in Portland
Spella Coffee Roasters
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