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    Stormy PDX: Where'd the sun go? (plus a visit to North Portland)

    Experiencing the weather is kind of like drinking coffee, in that it is such a universal human experience (if you think the analogy is a stretch, consider the fact that people drink more than 700 billion cups of coffee each year). Growing up in a farming family, the weather was always a topic of conversation at meal times, at the hardware store, on Sundays in church—pretty much everywhere you went. Even though we couldn’t do anything to control the weather, life revolved around it. Weather dictated what you could do in the fields each day, and was the most important factor in how the crops would turn out. If it rained too little or too much, was too hot, too cold, or too windy (it’s hard to keep farmers happy), stress levels around our house would go up. When a late spring shower broke a long stretch of drought, it was grounds for celebration. Perhaps that’s why I still pay so much attention to the weather. Old habits die hard. –WH

    The view from inside Coffee Division today.

    If you’ve lived on the East Coast or in the Midwest, you might jeer at the fuss Portlanders make over a couple inches of snow. A Nor’easter in Boston that dumps a foot of snow overnight causes less disruption than the few inches we’ve received over three days (though as I write this, a third wave of storm is really starting to pile up the snow outside). Portland just doesn’t have a lot of equipment dedicated to clearing the streets. Seeing a snowplow in Portland is kind of like seeing a bobcat in Eastern Washington. You know they exist, but they’re rare enough that you might spend your whole life there and never see one. As infrequently as it snows, why should the city spend much money on snow equipment? Especially since it has already dedicated so much funding to paving roadways and putting in sidewalks in Southeast Portland (oh, wait….)

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    Third Wave Coffee Tours: a great introduction to Portland coffee

    When you visit somewhere new for the first time, one of the best ways to get a feel for your new surroundings is to find a local guide. Whether you are looking for museums,  restaurants, or other attractions that don’t always make it into the guidebooks (or to the top of the Google search rankings), a good guide can make your experience much better.

    The same holds true if you are looking for good coffee. Portland’s reputation for coffee is well-known around the world, yet it can still be a challenge for tourists (or even locals) to choose where to go when they want to explore the city’s coffee scene (granted, one of the challenges is that there are so many options). A new company, Third Wave Coffee Tours, owned and operated by Lora Woodruff, is making it more convenient to find good coffee, whether you are making your first trip to Portland or have lived here all your life.

    Lora Woodruff, Third Wave Coffee Tours owner and tour guide

    I first heard about Third Wave Coffee Tours when I saw one of the company’s flyers on the coffee bar at Spella Caffè. Curious, I reached out to Woodruff for an interview, and she invited me to join her on one of the several tours she operates each week. Tuesday was the best day of the week for me to join her, which meant we would be exploring The Pearl District and Northwest Portland.

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    2013 Seoul Recap, Part 2: The ABWG

    The reason I went to Seoul in the first place was to judge the Angel-in-us Barista World Grand Prix (ABWG). From first moment after I cleared customs in Seoul, Angel-in-us (sounds like “Angelina’s”) made me feel welcome. Despite the fact that my plane was nearly two hours late in arriving (we had a late start and some strong headwinds), my greeter met me with a smile at the airport. He did not complain (at least to me) when it took us two hours to get from the airport to downtown in rush hour traffic. (Travel note: My trip was long, but I had it much easier than some of the other participants. One of the baristas traveled more than 37 hours, from Chile to Seoul, via Atlanta. Two judges, traveling from Europe, spent an unplanned night in a hotel in Istanbul.)

    When we finally did make it into Seoul, we skipped the hotel and went directly to the welcome dinner (most of which I missed), where the gathered judges and baristas went over the competition rules. The baristas also drew lots for the presentation order. After dinner, a short walk through Seoul’s Gangnam district to the hotel felt good, despite the cold weather. Seoul’s nighttime brilliance dulled the chill in the air.

    The ABWG stage. Photo courtesy Jinsu Lee.The next morning, after a short sleep and a hearty breakfast, we reported to the massive Coex exhibition hall for a short calibration session prior to the start of the competition.

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    2013 Seoul Recap, Part 1

    The trip to Korea was great fun, and highly exhausting. A week after returning to the States, my body still wondered what time zone it was in. Regardless, traveling to Seoul to judge in the Angel-in-us Barista World Grand Prix (ABWG) was worth every minute of the battle against fatigue. —WH

    With around 26 million residents, the Seoul-Incheon metropolitan area has one of the largest agglomerations of people on the planet. Accordingly, the energy level you encounter when you visit the area is as lofty as the high-rise apartments lining the Han River running through downtown. Seoul has the air of a city racing toward the future, and if you visit, prepare yourself for being on the move the entire time.

    Seoul’s residents are known for their long work hours and late nights, and fueling that work ethic are large quantities of coffee. Coffee is everywhere in Seoul. It might sound like an exaggeration, but in many parts of the city, every block has at least one café. Most have more. Sometimes, different cafés are stacked on top of each other in the same building! You can find cafés surrounding the busiest intersections, tucked into quiet corners on a hidden streets, inside designer clothing stores. Everywhere you turn, someone in Seoul is serving coffee at all hours, every day.

    The Café Show

    Since coffee is such a large (and quickly growing) part of Korean culture, it should have been no surprise that the Seoul Café Show was huge event. That said, the Café Show seemed enormous—much larger than the SCAA Event that came to Portland in 2012. Over four days, approximately 100,000 people came through the doors to try various coffees, conduct business, see the latest in coffee roasting, grinding, and brewing technology, and to look at anything you could possibly imagine related to running a coffee company.

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    Portland Coffee’s Got Seoul: The Korean-Portland Coffee Connection

    At the beginning of October, I had the pleasure of hosting sixteen Korean coffee professionals for a tour of the Portland coffee scene. In two and a half days, we visited eight cafés, five roasteries, two coffee equipment stores, and attended three different educational events. The itinerary was probably a little too ambitious—by the end of each day, the everyone was floating around in a caffeinated haze. Jet lag contributed to their exhaustion, but so did the crammed schedule. It was the first time I had ever organized a group like this, and I wanted to show them as much of Portland coffee as I could in a short time  (mission accomplished). On the last day, we decided to skip several planned stops so everyone could go shopping (there is more to life than coffee, after all).

    Even with the slightly-too-busy schedule, the group seemed to have a good time. We had perfect weather (something I look back upon fondly, watching the falling rain), several laughs, and some in-depth coffee discussions. The best part was exchanging a bit of each others’ cultures and connecting over coffee. Portland did a great job of hosting, and the passion of the city’s coffee people came through as they showed us their companies and explained what made them each unique.


    Our group at Nossa Familia's roastery.

    This week, it will be the Koreans’ turn to show me around. I will be in Seoul, South Korea, to participate in theAngel-in-us World Barista Grand Prix (AWBG) as a sensory judge. Angel-in-us is a café chain in Korea, owned by Lotte, a large food retail conglomerate founded in Japan, and long-established in Korea as well. For the past several years, Angel-in-us has sponsored barista competitions in Korea, but this will be the first time competitors (and judges) have come from outside Korea. The competition will be held during the Seoul Café Show, one of the biggest coffee trade shows in Asia.* COFFEE Monthly magazine, one of the main sponsors of the Korean-Portland coffee tour, is also a sponsor of the ABWG.

    I can’t wait for the trip. I don’t know if the schedule will be quite as full as our tour in Portland, and I’m sure I won’t want to shop as much as some of my new friends did, but it should be a great week all the same.


    * The ABWG is separate from the Korean Barista Championship (KBC), also taking place this week




    The Automated Barista: Is this Really Future of Coffee?

    Recently, a friend sent me an article about a new automated coffee machine and the threat it poses to Starbucks baristas (and other baristas around the world). A company called Briggo, based in Austin, Texas, has come out with a machine it claims makes better, more consistent coffee than even the best barista champions. The article implied that by removing the inconsistencies and hassles that come with human baristas, machines like the Briggo may replace the barista position someday.

    Reading through the article, my reactions were mixed. The first one was, “That’s crazy, you’ll never replace baristas with a machine,” but then I sat down and tried to more calmly think through what evolving technology might mean for the coffee industry.

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    Bikes, Brakes and Culinary Liberties 

    If someone created a list of signs that Portland is starting to grow on you, one of them would have to be, “You spend more time on your bike than in your car.” That describes me, at least when the weather is good (true Portlandians commute by bike in the rain, but I’m not there yet). Portland prides itself as a bike-friendly city, with lots of trails and designated biking streets (complete with sharrows!) that fill up with bicycles during the morning and afternoon commutes.An aspiring bike commuter

    Traveling around Portland by bike is invigorating. Similar to walking, when you’re on a bike, you get to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the city at a much more intimate level than you would if you were in a car (a good thing, until you get stuck behind a garbage truck). Riding in traffic provides an adrenaline rush because you are moving pretty fast without much to protect you. Lurking in the back of your mind, especially when you’re riding fast, is that you could crash at any time, and hitting the pavement hurts. Believe me.

    Since I started biking in Portland two years ago, I’ve wrecked twice. The first time, I was hit by a car (yeah, that was fun). Riding up Naito toward the Hawthorne Bridge in the bike lane, a driver forgot to check her blind spot before pulling into a parking space, and unbeknownst to her, she had to go through me to get there. Fortunately, the crash was more of a sideswipe than a full-on collision. Plowing through her right side mirror, I bounced up onto the curb and landed on my side. We were both lucky, as I came away with nothing more than a few scratches on my foot, and she came away with no insurance claims from me. She seemed more traumatized by the collision than I was.

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