Category Archives: Portland

Where’s My Joe?

I really miss my tall, dark deliciousness. Its absence from my coffee cup has lead to lethal lethargy. The unwelcome dog-tiredness forces me to crash into bed just shortly after early-bird dinner. Before I shut down, I ritually calculate the number of hours (108) until I can revert back to my mad fixation. And predictably, I dream about every good cup of coffee I’ve ever sipped in my life, including the one I drank at Bijou Café in downtown Portland, Ore.

Bijou Café, Portland, Ore.

This organic locale is very Pacific Northwest, serving food so supremely fresh, you’d think the kitchen held a greenhouse (along with chickens, a cow and maybe a goat). The vogue eats were clearly no secret to the Running-of-the-Bulls crowd I saw waiting to herd the door just shy of 8 a.m. Really, was this place that good that it warranted a Black-Friday long line, pre-Church hours? Only one way to find out: taste test.

The clock struck 8, and the herd bombarded the door like freakish foodzillas. Though slightly perplexed, I grabbed a table. After a quick scan of the menu, I understood the reasoning behind the crazy horde, and it goes something like this: buckwheat buttermilk pancakes, grilled cinnamon bread, brioche French toast, Oyster hash, organic grapefruit, organic oatmeal, organic bacon, local apple cider (i.e., organic), and a plethora of French style organic omelets—I bet the tap water was organic, along with my napkin. It didn’t take long before I spotted my petit déjeuner: a French style sheep’s milk feta omelet and a complementing cup of coffee.

A server approached ready to take my order. She looked like an Amish schoolteacher sporting early 90s denim (no further description necessary). Her pen to paper, I attempted to order—attempted the operative word. Could I have some tomatoes with said omelet? “We don’t have tomatoes. They’re not in season,” replied Amish-schoolteacher-looking server. Okay then, how about some asparagus? Amish-schoolteacher-looking server shook her head, “Not in season.” Artichokes? “Not in season.” Avocado? “Not in season.” And at that point, it’s tough to say who was more bothered. So I kept the order plain and simple, the omelet and a café au lait. I should have asked “Is the coffee in-season? And if so, is it organic?”—but I held back, thinking she just might whip out a ruler and teach me a lesson.

Amish-schoolteacher-looking server scribbled the order and quickly dodged my table as if it was on fire. Busy was an understatement that particular morning. I sat back and eyed the progressive café, which bustled with eager energy as the kitchen staff operated in a seamless choreography, grinding away to feed the hungry herd.

Before I knew it, Amish-schoolteacher-looking server once again approached my table, this time with half a smile on her face. Placed in front of me, a piping hot porcelain cup of coffee. For a second (and yes, just a second), I almost didn’t want to drink it because it looked so beautiful. The top was decorated with an ivory smooth foam of milk, which I can only imagine was organic from a cow within 15 miles of the cafe. Fresh much? Absolutely, and that’s why I love Pacific Northwest cuisine.

Amish-schoolteacher-looking server was kind enough to spill the secret as to where Bijou gets their brew: Café Femenino—and yes, it’s organic. Café Femenino is awakening for many reasons. There’s the obvious (caffeine), but what’s more, Café Femenino is also a project created to aid female coffee producers in rural communities around the world. As noted on the CF web site, “More than 1,500 women in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru are active in the project to achieve empowerment, build social and support networks and earn incomes through the production and sale of the Café Femenino Coffee. The success of the Project initiated the creation of The Café Femenino Foundation, which provides grants to select programs and projects that enhance the lives of women and their families in coffee growing communities around the world.” The project has even spawn a documentary, Strong Coffee: The Story of Cafe Femenino.

I can’t find a better way to describe my Café Femenino cup than powerful, inspiring and coffee worth consciously sipping.

P.s. My “in-season” organic omelet was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

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Stumptown: Serving Coffee…and Much, Much More

Stumptown's Downtown Cafe, Portland

December 5, 6:30 a.m. Like clockwork, I popped out of bed. It wasn’t a workday. It was a Sunday. I know what you’re thinking. Who awakes at such a peaceful hour on the weekend? Well, this Sunday was unlike most. Back in Portland after an 11-month hiatus, I was particularly anxious about one thing: Stumptown Coffee.

Much to my convenience, there were five locations (five!) that allowed me to feed my frenzy. I opted for the downtown hotspot, 0.3 miles from my home for the weekend, Hotel Lucia. The five-minute walk brought me to 123 3rd Ave., where I ventured inside as if on a mission. I headed straight to the display of aromatically inviting coffee beans. Unsurprisingly, my blend of choice: Hair Bender, which I mentioned my love for in the first post. Did I look like a kid in a candy store as I approached the register? Absolutely.

I added a café au lait to my order and proceeded to wander, absorbing every detail around so I could tattoo the memory of the modish room. A generous selection of magazines neatly racked near the entrance, high ceilings, lots of natural light, minimalist art, eggshell-white walls opposite a large, rustic brick wall, long benches coupled with wood tables and chairs, a perfectly aligned row of silver stools greeted a large coffee counter, and near it, a record player occupied upbeat indie spins. When I glanced behind the counter, I noticed a slight peculiarity. Along with the plethora of coffee…Stella Artois.

Yep. This Stumptown coffee bar is literally a bar, serving a selection of Belgian beers and bottles of wine. Had it been later, I would have had a different kind of Happy Hour. I’m certain it’s plenty decent—a DJ spins in a corner booth. Sure, it’s an atypical coffee experience, but that’s quirky Portland for you.


A Date at Heart

You know that cloud nine mood you experience when you’re love struck? The feeling powers an ear-to-ear smile so wide that your cheeks ache, your stomach flutters, and your mind charges on overdrive, consumed with elated and anxious thoughts.

That’s what I experience when I discover a beautiful, one-of-a-kind coffee spot.

Not every café I venture into evokes such allurement. In fact, the experience can be much like going on a date. Most of the time, the end result is…blah. Special experiences are few and far between, and who wouldn’t confidently agree that disappointments are what allow you to recognize and appreciate the exceptions.

Case in point: Heart Roasters. A recent (ad)venture to the Pacific Northwest brought me to 2211 E. Burnside, just a short ride from downtown Portland, across SE Morrison bridge. I’d actually been looking forward to Heart since Thanksgiving, when I discovered the recommendation while peering through my aunt’s pile of Food and Wine magazines.

Heart Roasters, Portland

Last Sunday afternoon, I journeyed over for the much-anticipated date. After parking my car, I scanned the outside appearance. First impression: contemporary classic. The black and white logo atop the entrance was simple, yet slick. Then, I opened the door. Boom—unexpectedly smitten.

The interior was extraordinary—beautifully modern coupled with a slight workshop aesthetic. To the left of the barista bar was a shelf of tastefully packaged coffee beans sealed in white lacquered-looking bags, each clasped with a coffee cup embossed silver clip. The generously-sized marbled barista bar was clean and orderly. Near the register, a couple large glass jars housed ever-so-inviting delights, one filled with what looked like oversized homemade Oreo cookies and the other was packed with flourless chocolate cookies.

Behind the counter rested a thick-framed coffee menu on a stainless steel shelf. The menu was surprisingly small, approximately less than 10 selections—and with good reason. This place is all about appreciating coffee in true form (i.e., minus the sugary syrups and other artificial flavorings typical of commercial coffee spots).

I placed an order for a small coffee with steamed nonfat milk (and a flourless chocolate cookie). The coffee was presented in a black porcelain cup and matching saucer. I already knew before my first sip that the flavor would be amazing. Sometimes you just know what to expect, and this was definitely one of those instances. I sat down at a half-moon shaped table ready to dive in. Must I say, I was definitely far, far from disappointed. The coffee was perfectly pure. No bitter, acidic aftertaste. Rather, delicately light, smooth and balanced. It was as appealing as the overall ambience, which I’d describe as slightly Brooklyn hipster with a European influence. The latter vibe is inherently brought forth by Heart Roasters founder Wille Yli-Luoma, a former pro snowboarder from Finland.


Discovering Hair Bender

February 2008, Portland.

The morning started at H50 Bistro. I remember the particulars. I ordered a light, fluffy omelet with Gruyere and a side of fruit, which arrive on my plate topped with the juiciest pomegranate seeds I’ve ever eaten. The most heavenly part of the meal though was an ever-so-flavorful, delicate cup of coffee.

It was a blissful moment, one that didn’t include my usual soy milk and single packet of raw sugar. And thank goodness. If I’d tarnished the taste before the first pure sip, my reaction wouldn’t have been similar to the double-take expression one gives a strikingly attractive person. I was pleasantly taken aback.

I didn’t need milk. I didn’t need sugar. What I needed was to know all about the fine flavor dressing my taste buds: sweet notes of buttery caramel and hints of…citrus?

I didn’t have time to investigate until I returned home, when my brain was set on one thing: find out about that coffee. Slightly obsessed? Yes. Next thing I knew, I’d dialed the number for H50 Bistro to inquire.

A smile spread across my face when I heard two details: “Stumptown Coffee” and “Hair Bender blend,” said the man on the other line.

He was referring to Stumptown Coffee Roasters, founded in Portland, Ore., in 1999 on Division Street. Stumptown’s evolution includes nine locations, primarily in the northwest, and three on the East Coast. The Division café, as well as Stumptown’s 12th Ave. café in Seattle, welcomes you to watch the crew roast beans, where “each sample is sniffed, slurped up and vetted through silver spoons hundreds of times a day” in the cupping laboratory.

Such dedication breeds only fine flavors, such as the Hair Bender blend, which boasts hints of meyer lemon and pineapple along with milk chocolate. The savory combination immediately made it’s way to my front door step after I placed an online order for a 12-ounce bag, ground #9.

When the lovely brown package arrived,  I quickly retired my drip coffee maker in exchange for a French press in my quest to recreate the best cup of coffee I’ve ever sipped.

To this day, I continually order my all-time favorite blend each month, shipped directly from Portland. The only other way I can feed my addiction firsthand on this side of the country is in NYC, where there exists the only three spots you can drink up this beautiful brew on the East Coast: The Ace Hotel (W.29th St. and Broadway), Prime Meats (Court St. in Brooklyn) and the newly opened Brew Bar (Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn). I intend to complete my trifecta tour the next time I venture to the city.

Stumptown’s Hair Bender Blend
Location: Latin America, East Africa and Indonesia
Elevation: Varying
Flavors: Sweet and savory blend of milk chocolate, caramel, jasmine, meyer lemon, apricot and pineapple