My Portland guide to SCAA

So as SCAA approaches later this week, I decided to post something for the visitors to show you that Portland is more than coffee, and kind, stunningly attractive baristas. If you have four days to discover Portland, start here. 

Foods. Yeah Portland has a great restaurant scene. Here’s where to go:

Best breakfast spots that are open on weekdays:

Broder (2508 SE Clinton) The theme here is Scandinavian. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and the food is amazing. Seriously, everything on the menu hits it out of the park, but the specialty is different variations of baked eggs.

Pine State Biscuits (3640 SE Belmont, 2204 NE Alberta) Biscuit sandwiches. Not just any biscuit sandwiches, the most over the top, wonderful biscuit sandwiches in the world. Get the reggie deluxe. A biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, topped with gravy. Head rush.

Best Weekend Brunch spots. Portland loves to brunch. I mean seriously loves to brunch. Keep in mind that you’ll be on a wait list at most places you go, but that’s part of the charm.

Screen Door (2337 E. Burnside) The epitome of brunch spots in Portland. Sure you’ll have to wait two hours to get a table, but it’s worth it. The theme here is soul food, and with more than generous portions of such favorites as chicken and waffles and praline bacon, it’s well worth the wait. Plus, you won’t have to eat for the rest of the day. Also, it’s a few doors down from Heart, so while you wait, you can get some coffee. (shameless plug)

Ned Ludd (3925 NE MLK Blvd.) Brunch from a wood fire oven? Yes. It’s amazing.

Tasty n Sons (3808 N Williams Ave) These guys have taken the art of brunch to a whole new level. You can’t go wrong here, but the must tries are the radicchio salad, the baked apple with bacon lardons, and anything they make that has a fried egg on it.

Best Weekend Hangover Brunch

Club 21 (2035 NE Glisan) The best place to get a greasy brunch when you can’t wait or your head will explode. The Monte Cristo is sexually good, and their chicken fried steak meal is enough grease and carbs to make you feel human again. Oh, and best part: Eight dollar bottomless mimosas with Cristalino and Odwalla juices. Don’t worry, day drunk is okay in Portland.

Best lunch spots

Boke bowl (1028 SE Water Ave) A hopping lunch spot with delicious handmade ramen noodles. Closed Sundays.

Laurelhurst Market (3155 E Burnside) This butcher shop/steakhouse does amazing sandwiches for lunch. Get the number three.

Meat, Cheese, Bread (1406 SE Stark) The name is pretty self-explanatory, but they do sandwiches, very good sandwiches. House made bread, great ingredients, and creative but simple sandwiches. I recommend the green bean sandwich.

Por Que No? A Portland take on the taqueria. No burritos here, just good old fashioned tacos and bowls. House made tortillas, and slow cooked meats.

Dinner. 

Best places to eat a lot of meat:

Olympic Provisions (107 SE Washington) A mecca for all lovers of cured meats, pates, and terrine. All made in house with skill and care.

Laurelhurst Market (3155 E Burnside) Modern steakhouse. Grass fed goodness butchered in house. An amazing burger to boot.

Best burger(arguably)- Little Bird. (219 SW 6th) Le Pigeon’s downtown sister restaurant. They have the famous burger available all of the time along with other excellent bistro fare.

Best french bistro gone wild: Le Pigeon. (738 E Burnside) Consistently among the best restaurants in Portland for a reason. A passion for great ingredients, and an unabashed love for foie gras makes this tiny restaurant a must visit.

Best simple italian: Luce. (2140 E Burnside) Great, simple, classic italian food with great ingredients straight from Italy.

Best pizza: Nostrana (1401 SE Morrison). Hit them up after nine for happy hour where you can get their outstanding wood fired margarita pizza for only five bucks.

Best ambience: Ned Ludd. Beautiful space, amazing hospitality, and wonderful food. It’s a wood fire kitchen done right, with a hyper-local sensibility. Must try.

Best super hyped Portland restaurant: Pok Pok. (3226 SE Division) Yeah, my parents saw Pok Pok on the Travel Channel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. The fish sauce wings are the best wings you’ll ever eat, and they have drinking vinegars!

Best places to sober up after a few barista parties:

Voodoo doughnut: (22 SW 3rd Ave) They had a maple bacon doughnut when people thought that was weird. This Portland icon is open till the wee hours, and is great for people watching after a few drinks.

Pine State Biscuits: Open Friday and Saturday night until 1 am, nothing cures a case of the drunkies like gravy.

Luc Lac Vietnamese kitchen (835 SW 2nd Ave)- If your cure for the drunkies is more brothy and healthy than greasy and regretful, you can’t beat this place. Some of the best pho in town, and a lot of wonderful sharing dishes as well. They’re open till 4 am on weekends, making them one of the only places in Portland to get food really late.

Best places to see another side of Portland. Portland isn’t all bicycles, yard chickens, and vintage shops. We’ve got, you know, normal stuff like strip malls, poverty, and crime. To see where we hide all that stuff, you have to venture past the 50th block. That’s also where a lot of the city’s best food is:

Ha and VL- They make two soups a day, from scratch. They’re life changing. Call ahead to reserve before they sell out.

Taqueria Santa Cruz- The best taqueria that I’ve found in Portland hands down. It’s in the St. John’s neighborhood which is a trek, but while you’re there check out Cathedral Park, and the St. John’s Bridge: one of the most beautiful bridges in the country.

Drinks. Portland knows how to drink. Maybe it’s our lack of sunlight, but we’ve mastered the art of liquid depressants. From craft beer, to craft cocktails, to good old fashioned PBR, you won’t have a problem getting a drink around here.

Best craft cocktails:

Clyde Common: it’s inside the Ace Hotel for crying out loud! This place is on the cutting edge of the craft cocktail world right now, so do yourself a favor and stop in.

Beaker and Flask: really knowledgeable staff, and a great cocktail list. 

Teardrop Lounge: a go to for craft cocktails, and a second home/job for barista competitors. 

Places to go for a drink when you’ve spent all your money on craft cocktails:

Club 21: This place looks like a little Bavarian castle from the outside, but it’s all dive bar on the inside. Stiff drinks, decent whiskey selection, and surprisingly one of the best burgers in town.

Swift Lounge: Mason cocktails. That’s right. Cocktails in mason jars. They’re surprisingly (scarily) delicious and drinkable too. One jar will set you back 8 bucks, but you should probably only need one.

Tony’s Tavern (1955 W Burnside): Mini pitchers are two dollars, and they have a happy hour that might as well be all day. Great place to go on Saturday nights to pretend you went to the Timber’s game and get a member of the Timber’s Army to buy you a drink. Warning: don’t wear anything even vaguely associated with Seattle on the weekends if you value your safety.

Beer.

Deschutes Brewery. Yeah it’s big, and it’s in the Pearl, but hey, it’s freakin’ Deschutes Brewery! It’s a Northwest institution! Sample the flagships such as Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter, but you should really go for the rotating taps.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House (939 SE Belmont)- all barrel aged and sour beers. Unique, and delicious. The most eclectic, creative beers in town.

Upright Brewing- Farmhouse style ales that are nuanced and balanced. Best new(ish) brewery in the city by my vote.

Best Bars to rub shoulders with the painfully hip:

The Sweet Hereafter- and woah, they’re also vegan!

Dig A Pony- You might just meet the DJ/Graphic Designer/Barista/Vintage clothing model/Producer/Photographer of your dreams.

Best Place to regret singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in front of your colleagues- Chopsticks Express II- A chinese lounge that hosts karaoke every night! Let the embarrassment begin.

Best Place to weird out your conservative friends- CC Slaughters- Portland’s premier gay bar. They feature a drag show almost every weekend, and it’s actually a lot of fun. Be ready for cheap drinks, neon bars, and to feel really affirmed in your choice of footwear.

Best place to feel like you’re in an episode of Portlandia-

The Hawthorne Strip- it’s the Haight-Ashbury of Portland. Loads of vintage shops, Thai restaurants, and head shops. A great place for instagram photo-ops that you can add witty captions to like: “Put a bird on it!” and “Woah, that girl is totes riding a unicycle topless!”

Best Place to walk around in the rain and re-think what you’re doing with your life:

Washington Park: An expansive complex of parks in the West Hills overlooking downtown. It includes in its proximity a beautiful Japanese Garden, the rose test garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and Forest Park. Seriously gorgeous and peaceful.

Bonavita vs Technivorm

So today I was privileged to get to try my hands at two brewers I’ve been wanting to try for a while: the Bonavita and Technivorm electric drippers. This is due in part to my recent fascination with mechanical drippers in a manual brewing obsessed industry. I don’t mean to demean manual brewing, as it is a great love of mine, but I think it is fast becoming apparent that a knowledgeable application of mechanical brewing, combined with great coffee can produce much more consistent results than the most well intentioned manual brewing program. It is also a glaring fact that many consumers seek convenience before most other factors (Nespresso anyone?) and getting up at 7am and making a Chemex bleary eyed does not register on a lot of peoples list of appealing morning rituals. To those folks who want a delicious, well brewed cup without the fuss, either of these brewers present a great option. Now to the details.

I intentionally went about testing these brewers as an average consumer opening the box, using a ratio I trusted, and brewing accordingly. I did not thermocouple the water temperature, and did not break out the extract mojo. I wanted to see what the brewers could do without a lot of dialing in, in order to see how the brewers performed, and some of the basic pros and cons.

Aesthetics:

Both brewers are handsome pieces of equipment, but in very different ways: the Bonavita gives the appearance of a work horse. It’s solid, and shiny, and would be at home alongside any of the kitchen appliances in an American household. The Technivorm is very utilitarian in appearance, giving it a more modernist, European feel. I tend to drift towards a more modern aesthetic myself, so I enjoyed the overall look of the Technivorm more, and  also like the fact that you can watch the entire brewing process. I did have problems with the Technivorm caraffe, however, as it doesn’t have a dedicated pour spout, so I’ll have to give the nod to Bonavita in that regard.

The coffee:

I brewed two four cup batches (38 grams of coffee, to 640 grams of water), and two 8 cup batches (65 grams of coffee, to 1300 grams of water) of Heart Roasters Rwanda Coko Cooperative on each brewer, I also brewed a chemex with each just for good measure, and the results were pretty startling. The coffee from the Technivorm was consistently extraordinary. The acidity popped, the sweetness was um, sweeter, and the body was more pronounced. The coffee from the Bonavita was good, but fell flat by comparison. It was generally fruity and clean, but lacked a pronounced body, or nuanced sweetness. I found this in large part to be due to the difference it the spray heads. The Technivorm’s spray head was very gentle. It provided a very well timed pulse that kept the flow rate very constant. The Bonavita’s spray head, although covering more of the coffee bed, was much more intense. The evidence was in the final coffee bed at the end. The Technivorm bed was smooth and even, while the Bonavita was even, but potch-marked, much like a fetco. It seems that Technivorm has mastered the art of the gentle pour, and even flow-rate in a way that has frustratingly alluded so many of us in coffee.

Synopsis: While reading a lot of comparisons between these two brewers, it seemed that the general conclusion was that the coffee quality was about the same, and it really came down to the aesthetic and price point you were looking for to decide which one to buy, but to say this, I believe does a disservice to the engineering marvel that the Technivorm is. I applaud Bonavita for bringing this technology to the public at a price point that is within reach of the average consumer. I don’t doubt that with a little tweaking you can get a delicious cup from it, and I have full faith that this young company will continue to improve its product. Bonavita has a very bright future, but at this point, I have to give huge props to  Technivorm for creating a classic product that creates a consistently delicious, and well extracted cup, with very little effort. I guess this means I’ll have to start saving my pennies to add it to my own collection.

De-localization of Specialty Coffee

This post is more of a stream of thought than one trying to make any particular point, but it is a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. As social media (especially twitter) becomes more utilized by the average joe, it’s easier than ever for people to see what’s going on with people who share common interests all over the world. This is true for a lot of things, but it has made specialty coffee a very small world. It’s intensely interesting for me to see more and more people in rural areas, and places where there is a lack of good coffee becoming passionate about coffee on a level that was previously only seen by baristas and coffee professionals. It’s amazing. As a direct affect of this constant buzz and chatter created by a worldwide community of super-connected coffee nerds is a growing trend towards roaster worship. Thanks to internet stores, anyone, almost anywhere can receive coffee from almost any given roaster in the world. We see this with the rise of coffee subscriptions (Tonx, Wrecking Ball) but also interestingly with the rise of certain coffee “meccas.” These are the regions of the world that are seen as being on the cutting edge for coffee right now, (Portland, San Francisco, Oslo, Copenhagen, Los Angeles) and likewise roasters from these regions are granted extra street cred. If you read a lot of the tweets, blogs, articles, and such noise surrounding specialty coffee these days you will likely see a lot of roaster worship surrounding these “meccas,” and very little focused on the little guy fighting the good fight outside of these holy realms. So my question is, is this healthy? We can see in other industries where certain regions and cities become known for a specialty, (wine, and cheese being examples) and thus are looked to as experts, so is coffee also falling into this line? As much as I love my old friend from high school suddenly getting into coffee, and somehow then knowing who Tim Wendelboe is, there’s something very strange about the whole situation. To me, coffee has always been about the experience, and having a sense of time and place surrounding it. I love the feeling of walking into a place where the whole process takes place, from the roasting to the final preparation, and feeling the pride that the barista and clientele feel for their establishment. Plus, there’s the ethical questions of shipping coffee hundreds, or thousands of miles instead of just picking it up from your local roaster. I’m torn. On one hand, I love the idea of everyone being able to order and brew delicious coffee at home, no matter where they are, and on the other hand, I’m dreaming of a day where everyone has access to a great, high quality local roaster. For this to happen though, I feel that those who are passionate, and good at what they do in coffee need to be willing to leave their safe zones, and get their hands dirty a bit. In my gut, I know there are more than enough talented, and passionate coffee professionals out there to start a great establishment in every market, but is this really necessary with the rise of the “uber-roaster” and convenient shipping? I just don’t know…

(Incoherently mumbles something about taxes, and spits on the ground)

When coffee people make sense…

Specialty coffee can be a bubble. Especially if you’re a barista in a “coffee city” such as Portland, Seattle, New York, or San Francisco, it can be hard to remove yourself from all of the hyperbole, buzz, and inbred culture surrounding coffee, and really relate to people who have never tried black coffee or espresso sourced well, roasted light, and thoughtfully prepared. That’s why I get so excited when I see people in what are thought of as tough coffee markets really striving for excellence. There’s something beautiful about a person having enough passion and drive to push for quality coffee in the face of a culture that has been trained to enjoy huge, sugary, corporate-ambience driven coffee as a way of life. I also think that those of us in the bubble can learn a lot from their work, because at it’s heart, it’s all about teamwork, education, and service. I am a big fan of people who can articulate what specialty coffee is all about in simple, and approachable terms without watering it down, or compromising the message. I stumbled upon a twitter link to this video by David Bueher, a coffee friend from Houston, Texas, who owns and operates Greenway Coffee. David is one of the most inspiring coffee people I know, not only because he’s a damn fine barista, but because he’s passionate about developing Houston’s food and beverage culture, and works towards this goal in really innovative ways, such as being an integral part of OKRA, which is a great collaboration worth taking a look at. 

What I learned from “Shit Baristas Say.”

The team at Sprudge, and Ian Hunter Anderson have created a hilariously dead-on parody of your stereotypical, elitist, “third wave” barista. Even though the video made me laugh out loud, it also made me cringe because it’s only funny because it’s true. I know that at some point through the years, I have said almost all of these things, frequently in the same day (Even though I don’t own a Washed Out record.) It’s not that all of the statements are false: I don’t like cream or sugar, and you can’t taste really hot coffee as well, but it is the attitude behind the sentiments that is off-putting. I think our industry is progressing very quickly towards remedying our earlier customer service missteps, but sometimes is takes some reminding that we still have a very long way to go. We are showing our customers something very foreign to most of them when we present coffee on a very high level. Most people fear change, and we have the chance to shape their experience with our behavior. Good coffee is a wonderful thing. Giving people good coffee makes them happy. Where it all goes awry is when people are given good coffee in an arrogant, demeaning, or otherwise indifferent manner. This can change a person from a would-be loyal customer, to someone who grows to mistrust all notions of specialty coffee. People need to know that we are on their side, that we love coffee a lot, and we want to show them why- not show them why loving coffee makes us cooler than them. (Because let’s face it, it doesn’t, we’re as nerdy as f%&k.)

Proper Grinding

My current favorite grinder manufacturer, Mahlkönig, has just published it’s first “White Paper” The subject is the science behind grinding, something every coffee professional could use a reference on. The information is fairly dense, but also very understandable. It’s also one of the most thorough explanations of the process, and results of grinding that I’ve seen. Many thanks to Mahlkönig for doing this. It’s great to see grinder manufacturers finally stepping up to the plate, and being part of the educational dialogue in coffee. I can’t wait to see what future White Papers will offer.

Brewing training pt. 1

I love brewing coffee. I love to geek out on different methods, different extractions, and strengths. I get a certain rush from dialing in a tough coffee, and getting it to taste just right. I feel like a well brewed cup of black coffee is the purest expression of the coffee-ness of any given coffee. As filter coffees become more of a focus at high end coffee establishments, and more and more shops move towards brewed to order, I feel that solid brewing training is becoming more and more important. I also feel that a barista that understands brewing and extraction before they ever touch an espresso machine will be a better barista. Here are some things I’ve found are helpful to focus on when brew training:

1.) Learn to make a lot of different methods, and learn to make them well. Although there’s nothing wrong with having a preferred brew method, it’s helpful to have a thorough knowledge of a lot of brewers. This is because different brewing methods can highlight different characteristics in coffee. I really like aeropress lately because it’s really easy to dial in a given coffee relatively quickly, and the resulting cup is well rounded and clean. I like v60 for the mouthfeel, and heavier cup it can produce, and chemex for the sweet, clean, and light cup it produces. Also, every method can teach you a little about the things that effect extraction, such as: pour speed, immersion, bloom, brew time, grind, agitation, and pressure.

2.) Get into the habit of dialing in each new coffee, each day. There are no recipes for coffee. There are guidelines to go by, starting points if you will, but if you are using one dose, one grind setting, and one brew time for every coffee, you are doing a disservice to your coffee. Not only is every coffee different (obviously) but each roast of that coffee will be different, and that same roast will be different tomorrow than it is today. The one size fits all approach doesn’t work for brewing, and you will find yourself, and your customers much more pleased with your coffees when you find the sweet spot for each one. A really helpful tool for this is to keep a log book. You’d be surprised the difference that having a little notebook to record your brew parameters and notes each day can make.

3.) Learn to taste under and over extracted flavors. In my last post I sung the praises of the Extract Mojo, and this is where it can really come in handy. Every coffee has a comfort zone, a zone where all the sweetness, acidity, and body of a coffee are extracted to a point of harmony. This zone is 18-22%. If you go too far under that, a coffee is under extracted and will taste sour, astringent, weak, or grassy. Go beyond the zone, and you start extracting bitterness, ashiness, and the other not-so-nice flavors that can be in coffee. A good starting point is to have an extraction tasting: brewing multiple cups of coffee at different extraction percentages, and getting to know the differences. It’s crazy how many people have never tasted a coffee brewed at a solid 19-20%, and in my experience, almost everyone immediately prefers that cup, and can tell you why they don’t like the other ones as much.

I’m going to end this post there in the interest of not making it ridiculously long, but I’ll pick up again in the next one, in which I’ll talk about learning to remedy extraction issues, consistency, and brew strengths. I would also love to hear feedback on what you feel were the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about brewing.