I even survived college without it. Caffeine through chocolate, thank you very much.
Spent a year working at a college…in Europe…that had coffee break…twice a day. Didn’t go to the dark side. Tea suited me just fine.
Then, I moved to the Northwest. And became a barista.
I was required to taste many different types of coffee. Required, people. Smell and slurp. Allow the coffee to spray over your tongue on each of the taste receptors. Decipher body, acidity, flavor, and smell.
At first, no love. Bitter roast beef. Then I was told I get one free drink during every shift. Syrupy creativity ensued…
Vanilla breve. Hazelnut ristretto. Blended drinks. The sweet, creamy sky was the limit!
Then, I discovered foam. *sigh* Cappuccino foam. Beautifully thick, creamy foam. With that, my java journey began.
Portland is a treasure trove of joe exploration. I aim to discover its many wonders. Here are my initial ventures and subsequent feedback:
Dare I begin with such a gem? Oh yes, I dare. Spella is a small – nay sliver of a cafe nestled between the Willamette River and Pioneer Square. The humble, minimalistic European setting is complemented by a simple menu. If Top Chef has taught me anything, its that when one chooses to keep it simple, it must be perfection.
Spella cappuccino? Divine. Thick, luscious foam resting atop caramel espresso. A perfect balance of strength and depth.
The only downside to Spella is the seating. Outdoor seating for dry days, but we weren’t so lucky. A small alcove with a thin bar rail allowed us to move out of the way for a bit of standing privacy.
For those in the advanced coffee tier, this place is for you! Located right across the river in the SE, Coavo is a modern coffee bar at its best. Beans are roasted up the road and everything is uber-fresh. When I ordered my cappuccino, I was asked which type of espresso I wanted – Costa Rica or Honduras (the coffee also had a name with the country, which of course I’ve forgotten). The kind barista noticed my quizzical look and went on to explain the profile differences of each. You can even order a coffee flight of the two featured coffees to compare!
Once I had chosen my espresso, I turned to seek a place to sit. The location is massive. Lots of windows and natural lights. TONS of wood. Apparently it doubles as a bamboo display space. Wood paneling, a huge wooden table on one side, a few chairs and small tables, small roaster, and then empty space. Like half a room of empty space with only some large wooden slabs, perhaps on display? I’m usually intimidated by by small, crowded spaces. This was unnerving for the opposite reason. My friend and I had one choice for seating – the huge wooden table. We decided to crouch in the corner of the table so others could join, which they did (whew).
The cappuccino – made quickly and exquisite. My friend ordered the other type of espresso and we sampled both to compare. We had impressive responses like, Oh yeah, yours is definitely bolder. or I can REALLY taste the difference. Could we? Maybe. Or maybe those descriptors like, bold with hints of chocolate or smooth with end notes of roast beef (kidding) influenced my perception before my first sip. I was GOING to taste bold chocolate, regardless of what I really tasted.
To sum up – super cool joint, way above my coffee intellect.
Sterling Coffee Roasters
Without a doubt, my favorite street in Portland is NW 21st. Not as well-tread as the famous NW 23rd, but still full of delightfully Portlandian experiences. Sterling Coffee Roasters was destined to be a hit before I even stepped in the door.
Once we found the door, my husband and I crossed the threshold into a little 1950s, posh, hipster oasis. Immediately, I felt more creative and open to new ideas. We ordered, slid into a little wooden bench with a hightop table covered in a cloth linen with a small vase and flower and began dreaming. It was as if we were transported to a place of focused solitude to imagine how the world could be such an amazing place. Like the best Twilight Zone ever.
The cappuccino was very good. Not blown away, but perhaps I was distracted by the amazing setting. The baristas were friendly and chatty. Granted, they were about 10 feet away, so it must come with the territory. They were dressed sharply, and it really made a difference! Sometimes all things surrounding the product make it that much better.
Plus, it was a sunny, Winter day. For Portlanders, that’s like an immediate high.
First off, we ran into an actor from Grimm at Barista. And by ran into, I mean that my husband saw him in line, ran over to tell me, I casually walked by to get sugar, after which I shuffled back in tears. TEARS. No pic. No casual remark like, Your show is awesome. Just a clanging cup and saucer.
So, that little incident may have contributed an automatic upgrade in my initial reflections of this place (followed by an obvious downgrade in my coolness). BUT, I was not let down with any other aspect of Barista.
Location – Pearl. Always a good choice. Little shop, with seating all along the hallway. Private, but open. Fun shape in the foam – check. Rice milk available – fantastic! Quality of the product – good. Friendly staff with great eye contact (sounds weird, but they must have all been trained, because they were super attentive), out-of-this-world almond croissant, and celebrity tears. What more does one need?!
And so the search continues. I’m open to suggestions and would like to reiterate (if it’s not clear by my lack of expertise in reviewing such treasures) that I am still a java infant. Barely crawling. Metaphor over. Veach out.
P.S. Newbie confession – I stereotype coffee by its region of origin. If it’s from Central or South America, I assume it has a caramel or chocolate tone. Why? Because that’s where chocolate and dulche de leche are from. Duh. Rational assumption? Probably not. I also assume Asian coffees will be earthy. What does earthy mean anyway? Green tea is earthy. Green tea is Asian, so…A + B = C, right? Is this getting offensive? Hope not.
European coffee will be bold. That’s all. Just crazy bold. Like you need a chocolate-filled croissant to balance that sucker out. African coffee…wait, I haven’t tried any. My guess – it will taste like sweet potatoes and be thick like Mr. Waternoose’s from Monster’s Inc. Just intuition. Which, as you can see, is PRETTY much reliable.