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    Entries in coffee shop (39)


    Opening (Very) Soon - Ristretto Couch

    Two weeks ago, Ryan Cross, Ristretto’s director of wholesale, led me on a quick tour of the company’s new café, at Northeast Couch and 6th. As you can see below, the space wasn’t quite finished, but it should be opening any day now.

    The view from the front doorAnd from behind the bar

    The most unique feature of the shop will be its Steampunk brewer. Built by Alpha Dominche, a company based in Utah, the brewer made its public debut at the SCAA 2012 Event in Portland. It is a programmable brewing system that looks kind of like a cross between a French press, a Clover, and a four-group La Marzocco Linea. The Steampunk can simultaneously brew four different coffees (or teas), each to their own (programmable) specific brewing parameters. It will be the centerpiece of the café’s unofficial ‘slow bar’, where customers can get individually brewed coffees to order.

    The Steampunk is headed for the spot on the bar framed by the scaffolding and the ladder

    Ristretto is the first company in the Pacific Northwest to get a Steampunk, and I was hoping to snag a couple of photos. Unfortunately, it happened to be at Accelerated Development’s workshop, where workers were building a custom countertop for it. Next time…

    One last perspective


    Either/Or Café – Sellwood’s new coffee star

    Southeast Portland is known for having a lot of neighborhood commercial districts, tucked away inside residential areas. These districts are full of hidden treasures, if you can find them. One new destination worth seeking out is Either/Or, a brand new coffee shop in Sellwood. Either/Or takes up a few square feet in the Old Sellwood Square, a small commercial center on Southeast 13th Avenue, two blocks south of Tacoma.

    Either/Or’s owners, Natasha Miks and Ro Tam, live in North Portland, but they fell in love with Sellwood on trips to the area shopping for antiques. Coffee aficionadas, they thought the neighborhood’s offerings needed upgrading, so they decided to start a café. They leased the former site of Love Cup, spent a month remodeling it, and opened in the middle of March.

    Either/Or’s main coffee is roasted by Heart. Ro and Natasha had gone to a lot of coffee shops around town and found that Heart always seemed to be their favorite. “We feel like Heart’s coffee is cutting edge,” Ro told me. “We like the way they take a scientific approach.”

    Elegant service

    Heart’s owner, Wille Yli-Luoma, is very careful about who he works with for wholesale accounts, so if Ro and Natasha have his trust, you know they are going to take good care of the coffee. They pull every shot of espresso in a way that optimizes it for each beverage. Recently, they began pulling their shots served as espresso with a little more volume, to bring out more sweetness and complexity. 

    In addition to serving Heart coffees, Either/Or keeps a guest roasters’ espresso on grind (so far, the guests have been Sterling, Coava, and Roseline). The café also serves pastries and treats from Bake Shop. Several outdoor tables increase the seating capacity, at least when the weather is pleasant.

    Ro Tam and Natasha Miks, Either/Or's owners, behind the bar

    The shop has only one drawback. It’s kind of out of the way. “Nobody comes to this side of Tacoma,” Ro said.

    They should start. Either/Or is a treasure that should not remain hidden.

    Address: 8235 SE 13th (map)
    Phone: 503-235-3474
    Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-3:30pm
                Saturday-Sunday 8am-4pm
    Coffee: Heart + rotating guest roaster
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendations? The espresso flight—two espressos side-by-side, paired with a small “tasting bite”


    Speaking of ancestry...

    After visiting Lighthouse, I lumbered down the road a mile or so to Milstead & Co., a café that sits quietly beneath the towering concrete pylons of the Aurora Bridge. Milstead is more like what I am used to when I think of a specialty café. Admittedly, the coffee selections had something to do with that. At the bar, the coffee signs hanging on the espresso grinders said….Coava and Stumptown.

    “Do you have anything from Seattle?” I asked.

    “The only coffees we carry that are roasted in Seattle are from Stumptown,” the barista told me.

    Stumptown doesn’t count, and while it would have been a fun experiment to see how a Seattle café works with Portland coffees, I decided to try a brewed coffee instead, where there were more options. I chose a Rwandan coffee from Intelligentsia and watched as the “brewista” set up the AeroPress on a scale, taking care to weigh both coffee and water to the nearest gram.

    She must have done everything right, because the coffee was very, very tasty. It was slightly sweet, savory, had a mellow acidity and a big, satisfying body. The complexity and depth of flavors reminded me of a good marinara sauce, where the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and white wine fuse together to make something that each alone could never be.

    Milstead is an relaxing space, with calming grays and tans around the café. The tables, framed with welded rectangular tube steel and topped with chunks of reclaimed 2x10s, sit sturdily on a polished concrete floor. The café was quiet enough you could hear the soft music playing in the background, but not so quiet you would feel awkward having a conversation. Several people were working on their laptops, but a few people were chatting. The space was large enough to accommodate both.

    Between the stellar coffee and the appealing, modern space, I would say that Milstead & Co. looked like the offspring of Portland’s Water Avenue and Barista cafés, with a bit of Ristretto thrown in for good measure. It’s definitely worth a stop if you are in Seattle.


    Milstead & Co
    Address: 770 North 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103 (map)
    Phone: 206-979-0010
    Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-6pm
                Saturday-Sunday 7am-6pm
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendation? A West Coast coffee flight



    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


    Café I Do (Hongdae, Seoul)

    [This is another in a series of articles about Seoul and its coffee scene. The trip took place in early November, and I’m posting my recollections as I finish them.]

    Squeezed in between a mobile phone store and a small office building, it would be easy to walk past Café I Do without even noticing the café. The oversight would be your loss, however, because the café is one of the most inviting in Seoul.

    On a chilly November afternoon, Jinsu and I ambled up the old wooden porch at Café I Do, in Seoul’s Hongdae District. We stepped into the shop and took a look around. At the front of the café, a narrow passage separated the coffee bar on the left from the sample roaster on the right. The floorboards creaked with each step as we made our way to a small table in the back of the shop.

    Cafe I Do. Photo courtesy JInsu Lee

    “What do you think?” Jinsu asked, gesturing at the décor.

    I looked around. The shop felt familiar, homey. Electric heaters rotated slowly back and forth, keeping frosty drafts from outside at bay and providing a welcome refuge for my cold hands and tired feet. An array of photos and knickknacks were spread throughout the café. It was the type of place that might remind you of sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen while sipping cocoa and eating popcorn as snow falls outside.

    “I like it,” I replied. “It’s so….cozy.”

    Photo courtesy JInsu Lee

    Jackie Chang, a well-known competitor in Seoul’s barista competitions, founded the shop in 2010 with a couple of his friends. Chang was not at the shop the afternoon we were there, but one of his co-founders (and head barista), who goes by the name of Spike, was.

    Spike sat down with us to tell us his own coffee story, a story that begins far from Seoul. Spike studied hotel management in Switzerland, and as part of his education, he worked at a hotel in Italy, where his co-workers introduced him to espresso.

    “When I got a cold,” he explained, “my Italian friends gave me coffee. ‘Drink this, you’ll feel better,’ they said.”

    Leaving Italy, Spike returned to Korea to fulfill his mandatory two-year Korean military service requirement. When that was finished, he was ready for something new.

    “I didn’t want to learn more hotel management. I wanted to find something that I really wanted to do,” he said.

    He tried several different jobs, eventually ending up as a barista in another café. Coffee soon caught his attention.

    “I got the passion six months later,” he said.

    Jinsu and Spike, talking coffee

    Spike liked that he had more influence over the quality of coffee, compared to wine.

    “With wine, I could choose certain ones for people. This one’s better than that one, or this one goes with that meal. But with coffee, I could actually make different tastes and aromas for customers. That’s really interesting for me. That’s why I want to make coffee and be a barista.”

    Spike credited Chang, for fueling his desire to learn more about coffee.

    “Our owner, Jackie Chang, taught me how to taste espresso,” said Spike. “He’s a real barista. He just loves coffee. He’s not in it for the money.”

    Spike was confident that Café I Do could stand out in Seoul’s crowded coffee industry.

    “All our customers know we’re different,” he said. “They know that at the chains, the employees have no skills as baristas. They go to those places because the coffee is really cheap. When they want something that tastes different, they go to a smaller shop. Our customers know that.”

    Getting customers excited about the coffee is a big step for growing the specialty coffee scene. Seoul’s coffee drinkers display an curiosity about coffee that bodes well for the future of the specialty industry.

    “Every day we have to change the beans in the blends because the beans change every year,” he said. “All the customers ask me, ‘today’s blend, what’s in it?’ They really like to talk about it with the barista.” Where the magic happens. Photo courtesy Jinsu Lee

    Café I Do has two different blends, one for straight shots and one for milk drinks. The shop does not serve single-origin espresso shots, though they do offer several single-origin drip coffees. The café’s AeroPress bar indulges customers who want to emphasize the brightness in the coffees.

    “These days, Korean customers and baristas really like acidity in their coffee,” Spike said.

    My espresso was sweet and light-bodied, well-balanced with a strong chocolate aftertaste. Jinsu enjoyed his mocha, though he would have preferred dark chocolate. Knowing we had further coffee stops ahead, we held off trying the AeroPress coffee.

    Café I Do is not as slick or polished as some shops, which is one of the reasons I liked it. Of all the cafés we visited in Seoul, it seemed like the one that would most likely be found in Southeast Portland. On a rainy day, Café I Do would be an ideal spot to hide with a novel or a notebook.

    Address: 1F, 410-10, Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea (map)
    Subway stop: Hapjeong (Line 2 or 6), Exit 6, or Sangsu (Line 6), Exit 1
    Hours: Monday-Sunday 12pm-12am
    Wi-Fi? Yes
    Recommendations? Bring poetry or your best friend


    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

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