CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 2 Cafes in Southeast Central Portland

Back Buzz - August 8, 2014

pumping heartCoava Coffee, 1300 Southeast Grand Avenue, Portland, Oregon

pumping heartWater Avenue Coffee, 1028 Southeast Water Avenue, Portland, Oregon

Last spring, when I met my Bay Area friend Rick in Portland, we spent a morning making the journey out to the Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, first on the Trimet Max light rail, then by foot, and finally on a bus. When we arrived, tired but triumphant, we found acres and acres of rose bushes. Sadly not one was in bloom. Oh well...

We headed back into central Portland to recharge our batteries with a coffee. This time we ventured over to the area just east of the Willamette River. Know as the Industrial Eastside, this is a light industrial and art-trendy area featuring not only furniture shops and storefront suppliers but also quirky window displays and a scattering of various types of gourmet experiences.

It was here we stumbled upon a large warehouse of a building with open walls to the front. This was the brew bar tasting room for Coava Coffee. The word coava means "unroasted or green coffee", which perfectly describes a coffee roaster. Coava began life in Matt Higgins' garage in 2008, who funded his venture by repairing motorcycles. Because of his desire to source the beans himself and establish a good relationship with the coffee farmers he began travelling to coffee growing regions. He opened the brew bar and roastery two years later.

When we walked in we were struck by the expansive emptiness of the room. As several types of coffee were available, we took the recommendation of the barista and selected the Benjamin Miranda coffee for our macchiatos. (I found out later that Benjamin Miranda is a Honduran coffee farmer who owns a 1.5-hectare farm in the village of El Cielito.)

Our drinks were served in perfect sized cups with beautiful right-handed apple rosettas. Being a left-handed drinker my upside-down rosetta gradually turned into a lovely pair of buttocks, whereas Rick's turned into a very ghostly woman with broad hips. I watched with fascination as mine transmogrified into Munch's The Scream.

As far as how the coffee tasted, it was very interesting and unique, imparting a lubricating feeling sliding down the tongue, with an unusual sweet character. We sipped our coffees at one of the few tables, a slab of wood held up by an industrial press with a sign saying HIGH VOLTAGE. We thought that was most appropriate for the double hit of caffeine we needed.

Coava Coffee offers two choices of hand poured coffee as well as two selections of espresso roast. They have free wifi and they sell pastries by Portland-based Little T American Baker. I have to say this is one of the most unique coffee houses I've ever visited.

The next day we made a pilgrimage, once again on the east bank of the river, to the Portland Cement Studios where we shot a video for the Concrete Appreciation Society. Satisfied with our successful quest we emerged from under the concrete bridge in search of a coffee reward. Our destination was Water Avenue Coffee, located just behind the antique-filled Grand Marketplace. What confused us was the address on Water Street, as all we could find at the address was an office building with an intercom. As we found the door unlocked we cautiously entered and explored the corridors, eventually finding the back entrance to the buzzing cafe which has a front entrance facing Southwest Taylor Street.

Opened in 2009 by Bruce Milletto, Matt Milletto, and Brandon Smyth, Water Avenue Coffee features a roasting factory and retail outlet. We sat at the south-facing window on aluminium stools and admired the bar and wood tables which were built with 100-year-old reclaimed fir, and also the huge blue neon COFFEE sign above the bar. Apparently the sign can be seen at night by drivers on nearby Interstate 5.

The wide variety of boutique coffees for sale are bagged and dated with an "I was born on..." label. We were offered a choice of two different roasts for our macchiatos, so we went for the Toro espresso blend. The coffee was smooth and subtle but with that thick Italian fuzziness to the texture on the tongue—and, of course, the macchiatos were served with gorgeous rosettas.

As we sipped our coffees we enjoyed the view from our window of the enticingly named Empire Rubber and Supply. On a wall of the café there is a display of all kinds of espresso cups, including Caffe D'Arte and Torrefazione from Seattle, Costa Coffee from the UK. and cups from Greece, Italy, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. It was quite an ambitious collection, and made a lot of sense in a coffee shop.

Speaking of things that makes sense reminds me of a recent Facebook conversation about things that don't make any sense:

Okay, here's a question. At the library in which I work, why does the cleaners' "Caution Wet Floor" sign feature a picture of a fish? Seriously! You. Did. Not. Just. Ask. That. Question!!


Coming from you!

ooookay.... no clue.... Fish flopping about on a wet floor? It would have to be pretty wet for aquatic life to have developed there. In the library bookworms and students are the abundant fauna. But maybe I should pack a fishing pole just in case. You live in England . . . that explains everything! Yes, it's an island, so we are just obsessed with fish, Barb. Good one Calder! The floor is wet because of the fish. Added contextual information, see. Thanks, Steph. I've only just noticed the fishy smell and the scaly texture of the students. Perhaps we should just fill the library with water. First you need to cover all the books in water-resistant tape. I think it would be more fun to cover all the students in water-resistant tape.