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    Entries in cafe review (58)


    Christopher David Experience Design – the Next Generation of the Multi-Use Space

    On hot summer days, now a distant memory, the Pearl District’s Jamison Square teems with activity. From miles around, the park’s wading pool attracts parents who bring their kids to cool their toes and survive the heat. Joyful shrieks of children splashing and frolicking in the water echo off the walls of nearby condos and fill the open space.

    When autumn arrives, the pace of activity slows. Pedestrians saunter through the square, holding on to the season’s waning moments of sun and warmth. Leaves turn golden, bathing the plaza with amber in the afternoon light. Streetcars rumble past on schedule, the metal of the steel rails screeching under the weight of the wheels. Sharply-dressed women strut by in heels, slowly, to make sure they are seen. Fit, toned joggers in short shorts and tight tees bounce along the boardwalk. Curious kids clamber up the park’s granite bear, testing their bravery as they climb to the top of the statue before leaping off, like chicks taking their first plunge from the nest. Toddlers wobble along the top of the tan stone wall that splits the square, their mothers leisurely following behind, pushing high-dollar strollers with one hand, and holding smartphones to their ear with the other. Benches surrounding the park fill up with friends, neighbors, and nappers.

    Amidst this activity, a new café sits on the northwest corner of the square, waiting to be discovered. The name on the door says Christopher David, Interiors | Floral | Café (CDExD). The shop is a unique concept, a multi-use space that combines the diverse interests and talents of its three owners: Chris Giovarelli (whose first and middle names adorn the door), an interior designer, Cosmin Bisorca, a flower and finance specialist, and Kevin Nichols, a former barista at Nuvrei and Water Avenue Coffee, who oversees the coffee side of the business. I stopped in and was able to chat with Nichols, who shared the story behind the company.

    First and foremost, CDExD is dedicated to beauty. The company started out as strictly a design firm, founded by Giovarelli in 2012. Looking to grow the business, Giovarelli knew he needed to get his work in front of the public. “Chris wanted a storefront to showcase his design and have it be a place to show the actual work that he does in people’s homes and businesses,” Nichols told me. “In doing that, we saw the opportunity to have a revenue stream from a small café inside the store, as well as the floral area. We decided to put all three of those together to have it work.”

    The three-in-one concept adds an interactive vitality to a space that would otherwise be limited to shoppers quietly perusing furniture and other fixtures. “It’s kind of a collision of worlds—the designer meets the barista meets the floral designer. We all came in under one roof to create a beautiful experience.” said Nichols, adding, “There’s not many places you can go where you can buy a bouquet, a latte, and a sofa.”

    The Coffee Business

    Naturally, I was curious about the coffee side of the business, so I asked Nichols to share his story too. Originally, from the D.C./Northern Virginia area, Nichols came to Portland in 2007. With a degree in geology from the University of South Carolina, Kevin worked in an environmental testing lab, but he found his job unfulfilling (being holed up in a lab all day did not lead to much human interaction). Outside the lab, he discovered for the first time that coffee could taste good. “Coming here, I first noticed all the latte art, and I was just fascinated by it,” he said. Nichols spent a year abroad in London, during which he decided to switch career paths and get into the coffee business. To get a head start on his new life, Nichols took an intensive course at the London School of Coffee that covered a gamut of topics, from roasting to pulling shots to latte art.

    Back in the Rose City, Kevin found a barista job at Nuvrei, where was trained by Matt Higgins, Coava Coffee’s owner (at that time, Nuvrei was a Coava wholesale account). From Nuvrei, Nichols moved to Water Avenue Coffee. When he interviewed for the Water Avenue position, Kevin was clear about his ultimate intentions. “I was honest with them,” he said. “I said my dream is to open up my own place. That’s what I want to do in the next couple years.” That was fine with Milletto and Smyth, who look to hire employees with enthusiasm for coffee, even if it causes them to lose them when they leave to do their own thing.

    Less than a year later—much sooner than originally planned—Nichols became a partner in the new business. “I was a little daunted about starting my own place, completely on my own,” Nichols said. “Then this came up—not only the opportunity to work with other people, but to work with friends.” When Nichols told Milletto and Smyth he was leaving to start the new business, they encouraged him to go for it and offered their support.

    Click here to see a few more photos of the shop.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the café serves Water Avenue Coffee. Nichols says his choice of coffee was an easy one. “I love the company and the coffee” he explained. “I spent close to a year working there and I just fell in love with the product and the people who work there. I wanted to bring their coffee to the Pearl and I wanted to put their coffee in a beautiful place.”

    CDExD is the fourth café to have inhabited the Jamison Square location during the five years I have been in Portland, so I asked Nichols how the new business would be successful where others were not. He said the mix of talents and the experience of the owners gave CDExD an advantage. In addition to selling goods and services, the puts on several classes each month, in home decoration, floral arranging, and coffee (Nichols will be teaching a class on how to brew a pourover at home the next one will be Wednesday, October 23, at 7:00pm. Details about the classes can be found on the company website). CDExD does design and flowers for events as well. The diverse offerings are intended to complement each other.

    Time will tell how the three-in-one model works as a business, but Christopher David makes a pleasant stop in the north end of the Pearl. Between the furniture, the flowers, and the coffee, the shop is like a little bit of Paris in the heart of the Pearl. It combines the elegance of the Champs-Élysées with elements of third wave coffee, such as the low counter and the open coffee bar, where baristas make drinks in full view of the customers. I might never have a living room as nice as the showroom floor, but I will happily sit at a table and enjoy the setting for the price of un café.

    Address: 910 NW 10th, Portland, OR 97209 (map)
    Hours: Monday-Saturday 7am-6pm
                Sunday 8am-5pm
    Phone: 503-206-8226
    Coffee: Water Avenue
    Recommendations? Take your drink and sit outside on a sunny afternoon
    Wi-Fi? Yes


    JoLa La!

    Having traveled around most of Portland between I-205 and the West Hills, I rarely encounter “undiscovered” cafés, and it always enthuses me when I hear about a café serving high-end coffees hidden in some corner of the city. Monday morning, I happened upon the JoLa Café, named after the Johns Landing neighborhood where it resides. (Unfortunately, and perhaps unforgivably, I left my phone behind when I left the house, so I am unable to share any pictures. My words will have to suffice for now.)

    South of downtown, stretching from the Willamette River on the east side to I-5 on the west side, Johns Landing has long been popular place for Portlanders who find it close enough to the city center for easy access, yet far enough away for a more relaxing lifestyle. The neighborhood also appears in Portland’s coffee history. Several decades ago, David Kobos set up his first shop in Johns Landing.

    Buried deep inside the residential part of the neighborhood, JoLa would be hard pressed to get enough foot traffic solely for coffee to support the business. Attracting a lunch crowd and even a light dinner crowd (the café is open until 7pm and serves wine and beer) would be important for long-term success. Therefore, it was unsurprising that the café smelled more like breakfast than coffee. Still, the three-group Synesso sitting on the bar signals that the café takes its coffee seriously.

    JoLa café serves Stumptown coffee, but not exclusively. Coava was the alternate on the day I visited. I ordered the latter, and my espresso had the typical characteristics of a Coava roast profile. It was bright but smooth, hitting my palate with a bold acidity that melted away as it washed across my tongue. A slightly bitter aftertaste lingered, reminiscent of a stout black tea.

    JoLa Café is set up in two distinct parts, in a space that appears to have once been two separate shops. The right side (as you enter) is deep and wide, with a left-facing L-shaped coffee bar about half way back. Rectangular tables for twos and fours line either side of the aisle. At the very back of the shop, a long conference table sits two steps up, somewhat segregated from the rest of the café. A small sign on the table politely asks individuals to sit elsewhere in order to accommodate larger groups. The left half of the shop is more comfortable, with a few stuffed chairs and some toys for kids in addition to more tables.

    I parked myself at the front window, electing a location where I would not be tempted to watch the rest of the café. Fewer distractions equals more writing, and these days, writing is what I need to get done. (I’m working on my first book and it is taking longer than I thought. Mostly my own fault, but that is a story for another day.)

    Over the café’s speakers, Eric Clapton and B.B. King bent strings and softly serenaded the café. Later, the music transitioned to classics from the ‘60s. The music stayed at a reasonable level, providing an pleasant background energy without blasting customers’ eardrums, a problem I have noticed in several other cafés lately (maybe I’m showing my age in complaining about music volume, but it seems like some baristas have forgotten that people actually have conversations over coffee).

    Open since July 2011, JoLa was new to me, but it was obviously not undiscovered. A steady stream of people passed in and out of the café. Some came in for a late breakfast, but many just came for coffee. A few Laptopistanis set up shop for the morning, some poring over the latest market news and others tending to their latest creative project. The open space provided an apt environment for both. I don’t spend much time in Johns Landing, but when I do, I will likely return to the JoLa Café.

    Address: 5915 SW Corbett Ave., Portland, OR  97239 (map), Bus line 43
    Phone: 503-244-1812
    Hours: Monday-Sunday 7am-7pm
    Coffee: Stumptown + a guest roaster
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendation? Arrive early to get in a productive day


    FoPo's Finest - Speedboat Coffee

    When people think about Southeast Portland, they used to think of hippies, tattoos, and general Portland weirdness (okay, they still do, but bear with me). Over the last decade, Southeast has become much more fashionable—Hawthorne and Belmont, for example, are seeing an influx of people, pushing up rents and real estate values. Southeast Division is also experiencing a renaissance, with several new shops and condominiums (without parking!?!) planned or under construction.

    One Southeast neighborhood you don’t hear much about, though, is the FoPo neighborhood. FoPo begins at Southeast 50th Ave, where Foster splits off from Powell (thus, the FoPo moniker) and heads southeast toward I-205. For most people, FoPo is only seen through the windows of their cars as they drive by. City leaders don’t seem to give a damn about the neighborhood either, and when talk of urban renewal districts come up, no one ever mentions this part of the city. About the only time FoPo makes it into the news is when a pedestrian gets killed trying to cross Foster (the most dangerous street Portland). This is too bad. The neighborhood has a certain gritty charm to it, if you slow down long enough to see it, and many people living in the neighborhood care about it and want to see the area thrive.

    While the neighborhood lacks the renown of other parts of the city, you can still find good coffee (this is Portland, after all). One shop in the neighborhood that particularly cares about coffee is Speedboat Coffee, located at Southeast 51st and Foster. Speedboat sells single-origin espressos roasted by Stumptown, and has set the bar for quality coffee in FoPo. The shop is owned and operated by Don and Carissa Niemyer, two transplants who came to the Northwest six years ago in search of better coffee.

    When the Niemyers moved to Portland from Colorado, Don was managing a Verizon retail outlet, but he wanted to get into coffee. Don soon left Verizon and purchased a small coffee kiosk (a “glorified concession stand that served bad coffee from Costco,” in his words) at the Gateway Transit Center. The couple soon switched to serving Stumptown, to the benefit of commuting coffee drinkers.

    Don used the profitable kiosk as his “coffee lab,” a place where he could experiment and hone his coffee skills. A year later, the couple purchased Speedboat, with the intent to make it their “real” shop. When they bought it, Speedboat was the typical “second wave” café, serving mediocre coffee hidden beneath loads of syrups and milks. “They had every flavor of syrup you could imagine,” recalled Don. “They had twenty-four ounce snickerdoodle mochas, that type of thing.”

    To avoid alienating their customers, the Niemyers waited a couple months to implement big changes, but it was not long before most of the syrups went into the trash. Carissa recalled the day with much pleasure. “On the day Don gave me the go ahead, I threw away seventy-five bottles of syrup,” she said.

    Today, the Niemyers are working hard to build their business around better coffee. They set high standards for their baristas and have garnered a loyal group of customers. To make sure they are keeping up on the latest in coffee, the Niemyers became certified barista competition judges and judged at the NWRBC and the USBC last year. The couple is planning to judge at the NWRBC in Seattle this year.

    Despite its growth over the last twenty years, Portland is still a little rough around the edges. Not every neighborhood in Portland is as trendy or as polished as the Pearl District, but that’s okay. In Portland, you can find solid coffee in places you would never expect it. FoPo’s Speedboat Coffee is one of those places. If you happen to be heading out Powell or Foster (perhaps you commute through there) and are in need of some good coffee, Speedboat is definitely the stop to make. 

    Address: 5115 SE Foster Road, Portland OR 97206 (map)
    Phone: 503-775-6628
    Hours: Monday-Saturday 6am-5pm
                Sundays: 8am-2pm
    Coffee: Stumptown
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendations? Ask for a coffee/pastry pairing
    Website: or the Speedboat FB page


    Case Study Downtown

    Early last week, I spent some time at Case Study’s new café, at Southwest 10th and Yamhill, across the street from the Central Library. My impression? As they say, “the rich get richer,” and Portlanders have yet another good café where residents can meet to enjoy quality coffee, right in the heart of downtown.

    If you were to walk by the shop and just glance inside, you might think the new shop is a place to go for an after-work pint or two. The shop doesn’t sell anything stronger than espresso, but it has the ambience of an upscale tavern. This was intentional, according to Christine Herman-Russell, Case Study’s owner.

    “The seating is a little more spread out in here,” she said. “It gives the café more of a public house feel and seems to encourage more conversation.”

    In the center of the café, a long, smooth copper bar invites you to sit for a drink. Vintage light fixtures hang low from the high ceilings, their swooping filaments enveloping the café in a warm, amber light. With large, floor-to-ceiling windows, the mood of the café varies with the weather, changing from bright and lively to dim and reserved as clouds pass by overhead. In the northeast corner of the shop, a vintage Probat roaster sits patiently, waiting to be fired up. Echoing the original café, one of the café’s most prominent features is the ‘exploding spider’ light fixture hovering over the espresso machine. Its copper color complements the coffee bar.

    “This one is similar to the other Sputnik [what the baristas call the original fixture], but it’s a little more elegant,” said Ricky Sutton, the head of Case Study’s coffee program.

    Bright and shiny

    Unlike the Northeast Sandy shop, which still sells some Stumptown coffees, the downtown shop will serve exclusively Case Study coffee. Brewed coffee will be made with a Fetco brewer (once it is dialed in, according to Sutton) instead of a French press.

    Open little more than a week, everything inside the café feels new—you can still smell a hint of sawdust and varnish mixed in with the coffee aroma. The shop’s large windows provide a unique vantage point from which you can observe Portland’s downtown pulse. From my table, I watched as torrential downpours sent Portlanders scurrying for cover, rushing to avoid a mid-day soaking. When the sun came out, people strolled more leisurely, enjoying autumn in the city.

    The new café’s grand opening is slated for December 3rd. Until then, as Case Study employees get used to the new space and work out the kinks, the shop will be open from 7am-5pm every day. After the grand opening, the plan is to keep the shop open until 10pm, for the after-dinner coffee and dessert crowd.

    All lit up at nightCase Study’s second shop is easily accessible without a car, sitting at the crossroads for both the street car and the MAX lines. If you can avoid the temptation to sit and watch Portlanders passing by the large windows, it would also be a good shop to sit and work.

    With yet another quality shop to visit, is it fair to say that Portland has officially entered a ‘golden age’ of great coffee? I dare say so.

    Address: 802 SW 10th Ave (map)
    Hours: Sunday-Saturday 7am-5pm
    Coffee: Case Study
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendations? Grab a cup and sit at the window to watch Portland pass by


    Coffee Lab (Hongdae, Seoul)

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, Seoul has an abundance of coffee shops. While there are cafés all over the city, if you are looking for quality coffee, you should head for the Hongdae area. The area has three different universities, with thousands of students who in need of lots of caffeine to stay focused during marathon study sessions. Bustling with young people, Hongdae is also famous for its nightlife and burgeoning arts scene.  New trends, like better specialty coffee, sprout up in this part of the city.

    Our first stop in Hongdae was at Coffee Lab. Coffee Lab was founded in 2008 by Bang Jong Koo, the 2005 Korean barista champion. (In Seoul, it seems like every Korean barista champion has his or her own shop—a positive development for Koreans who want better coffee.)  

    Coffee Lab. Photo courtesy Jinsu Lee

    Click to read more ...


    Caffe PDX – Read. Find. Drink. Smile.

    One question people regularly ask me is, “Where should I go for coffee in Portland?” Sometimes I stumble over the answer, because Portland has so many good cafés. While I would like to send them to all my favorites, I usually just give them two or three suggestions. When the SCAA Event came to Portland earlier this year, for example, I put together a few coffee tour ideas for visitors.

    To make life easier for Portland’s coffee explorers, a group of friends and I have been working on a side project called the Caffe PDX SmartMap. Located at, the site is designed to make it easier for you to find the best cafés and coffee shops in Portland. It highlights thirty of our favorite cafés around the city. We visited the shops, took some pictures and wrote up some descriptions that capture the spirit of each one. Visit Caffe PDX’s About page to learn more about our team.

    Caffe PDX - click the image to check it out

    Our goal was not to list every café in the city (Google does that quite well already). Rather, we wanted to highlight cafés where we are confident you will get a good cup of coffee and a unique Portland experience. Ultimately, the plan is to create a mobile app that will put a café guide in your pocket, but that is still under development. If you sign up for email updates (right-hand sidebar, this page), I will let you know as soon as it is ready.

    When you visit Caffe PDX, click on a café name or on one of the map pins to bring up a quick snapshot of the café. Click ‘More info’ to bring up larger photos and the full café description. Caffe PDX is still “in beta” (the tech people tell me that’s code for  the testing phase), so you might come across a bug or two that we will be weeding out over the next few weeks. Time permitting, we will also add more features and maybe a couple more cafés.

    Use the site to plan a weekend coffee adventure with your friends. Share the site with others so they too can find good coffee. Drop us a line and let us know what you think. We’re always looking for ideas of how to improve things.

    Most importantly, have fun exploring Portland and enjoy your coffee!


    Torque Coffee Roasters, Vancouver, WA

    While Vancouver does not have Portland’s renown for coffee, our northern neighbor has a burgeoning group of cafés and roasters that care about serving you good coffee. Nor’West, River Maiden (and its sister café, Dripster), Paper Tiger (under new management) and Lava Java(technically in Ridgefield) all call the Vancouver area home. Sophisticated Vantuckians do not have to settle for over-roasted, over-syruped coffees unless they choose to.

    The scene continues to improve, too. A new shop called Torque Coffee Roasters recently opened downtown, close to the Convention Center. En route to Vancouver for a Monday morning meeting, I left PDX early to check it out. With a little help from my GPS, I found the café without too much trouble.

    Pulling up to the slate gray building, a long row of parking meters greeted me (welcome to Vancouver). I don’t like to pay for parking (who does?), but I accept it as a fact of life in most cities. The problem was that Vancouver’s meters are coin-operated, and I didn’t have any spare change. I could take the chance and park without paying, or I could find somewhere else to park.

    Hmmm. . . It was a pretty dead morning in the “‘Couve." Who was really going to care if I parked there for an hour without paying?

    Click to read more ...