CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 4 Cafes in western Portland

Back Buzz - May 31, 2014

pumping heartStumptown Coffee Roasters, 128 Southwest Third Avenue, Portland, Oregon

pumping heartPublic Domain Coffee, 603 Southwest Broadway, Portland, Oregon

pumping heartThe Fresh Pot, 724 Southwest Washington, Portland Oregon

pumping heartPeet's Coffee, 508 Southwest Broadway, Portland, Oregon

Once again this column is late because I've been visiting the Pacific Coast of America. As a break from sweltering Southern California where I was visiting my family, I spent a few days up north in cool green Portland with my bay area friend Mistah Rick. Taking advantage of the great public transport system (US$5.00 for a day pass valid on all the buses, trains, and streetcars), we started our days off sampling some of the coffeehouses in the central area of the city.

The city of Portland is located near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in Multnomah County, which is named after one of the groups of Upper Chinook tribes that originally inhabited the area. Incorporated in 1851, Portland is called the City of Roses and is known for its liberal politics. In Portland's Washington Park is the world famous Rose Test Garden. (We ventured out of the central area to visit this 4.5-acre park only to find that none of the roses had bloomed yet. It seemed we were a bit early.)

The afternoon I arrived was surprisingly hot. After walking around the west side of the river killing time before Rick's arrival later on, I decided to have a coffee at a place recommended by a friend who grew up in Portland. Stumptown Coffee Roasters is named after another Portland nickname that derives from the 1800s when trees on the site of the original settlement were cleared but their stumps left behind. This, of course, is distinct from the Stomptown Collective, a Portland studio which offers percussive dance lessons.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters was opened in 1999 by Duane Sorenson who bought a 19th century Probat roaster and searched the world for the best coffee beans he could find. The cafe's Direct Trade program offers incentive based rewards and makes sure the farmers who harvest the beans are paid a living wage. In my opinion this always makes a cup of coffee taste better.

The cafe is cool and cavernous with minimalist wood and steel furniture and a very long bar. One long wall is all brick, which reminded me of Seattle's Pioneer Square basement-level cafes and pubs. There are window counter seats, a long row of tables and chairs along the wall, and a rear carpeted living room area with two sofas. There is a wide array of magazines available for browsing or purchasing. In the rear right corner is a turntable playing actual LPs, with a "Playing Now" sign posted. How wonderfully retro.

My double cappuccino was very attractive and crowned with a perfect rosetta, and it was served with a glass of sparkling water, which was a nice touch on this unusually warm day. It was very smooth but quite satisfying, and it propelled me back out into the city streets to soak in more of Portland's bizarreness.

There are four Stumptown cafes as well as one annex in Portland, two cafes and a roastery in Seattle, and a cafe and roastery in New York City. This particular Stumptown is one hell of a big space for just coffee drinks, so I wondered if they host other events besides coffee-drinking: live music, perhaps, or dancing, or maybe even circuses or livestock markets. Anything is possible...

The next morning Rick and I left our accommodations at Hotel Lucia and went in search of our first coffee of the day which turned out to be Public Domain Coffee on the corner of Southwest 6th and Southwest Alder. Founded in 1972, this high-tech coffee shop grew out of Coffee Bean International, a speciality coffee roaster based in Oregon. The first thing I was struck by when we entered was the extremely yellow back wall and the gorgeous-looking pastries under the counter. To accompany our double cappuccinos we ordered a couple of the impressive looking croissants.

Our cappuccinos were once again served with beautiful flower rosettas. The coffee tasted gorgeously fresh, as if it had just been roasted. It wasn't the most robust coffee in the world; perhaps I would have liked it roasted a bit darker. But if you like your coffee super smooth this fits the bill. Our croissants were very good as well. The view across the road from our window seats were of Pizzicato Pizza Est Pds 1989, Clogs N More Comfort N Style, and K Jewellers. We wondered if we were in Portland's Southwest Abbreviation District.

Early Saturday morning we had trouble finding a coffee shop that was open in the vicinity of our hotel. Luckily we stumbled upon The Fresh Pot. An independent cafe with three locations in Portland, this is an irresistibly friendly little place, with the works of local artists displayed on the walls and a row of skulls looking down from the loft. We immediately warmed to the place with the friendly barista and the friendly customers. This is not surprising, as we had already found Portland to be a very friendly place, not unlike my own home of Sheffield.

We sat at a table near the window counters. A very friendly regular customer served us our macchiatos, which were made with Stumptown beans and were very smooth and pleasant and decorated with those obligatory Portland rosettas. While we sipped our cappuccinos to 1960s music we nibbled on bagels, delivered fresh from the city's Bowery Bagels, with cream cheese and orange juice.

While we dined we noticed the customer who served us was sitting with her laptop at the back of the cafe which seemed like a step back into the 1950s, with naugahyde seats and a formica table. And she was wearing a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other. Obviously the boot was one of those "Rooney boots", as they're called in the UK, which help support an injured ankle. But we appreciated the quirkiness of her dress sense.

I noticed a typical sign of modern coffee-shop lattephilia on the coffee menu. Although our order was simplified by the choice of only one size of cappuccino, there were no less than three sizes of lattes. Knowing how massive a "small" latte can be these days, how big could a "large" be? Or is the small latte like the mini latte (now called Caffé Pune) I used to order at Uptown Espress in Seattle -- in other words, a macchiato with extra steamed milk and foam? Needless to say, our single-size-option cappuccinos were the perfect size.

The Fresh Pot is such a great cafe I was wishing I could take it home with me. Fortunately for Portland it wouldn't fit in my backpack.

On our last morning in Portland we left Hotel Lucia and walked a couple of blocks down the road to Peet's Coffee. Yet another outpost of the chain that started in Berkeley in 1966, Peet's always promises predictably drinkable coffee with satisfying pastries. From our seat by the window we had a view of the Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon Run which began just down Broadway at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Along with our nicely predictable cappuccinos, perfect after a long evening of too many pints, I had a cranberry walnut scone and Rick had a marionberry muffin, and both were quite good. As we sipped we watched all the people and infants and dogs that were standing on the sidelines watching the runners.

As opposed to the Fresh Pot, Peet's served three sizes of cappuccino. Considering our "small" cappuccinos were plenty big enough, we hated to imagine what type of vessel was needed to hold a large cappuccino. If we didn't need to set off for the airport we could have waited around until somebody ordered one. Surely one of the marathon runners might fancy a post-race giant cappuccino, especially if they have to scale the side of the cup to get to it.

So what's the world's biggest cappuccino size? Gargantuan? Mammoth? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, last year in Milan, 33 baristas used a mere 9 coffee machines over the course of 10 hours to create a 4,250-litre cappuccino served in a 2,000-litre cup. I wonder how much one of these would cost...