I’ve certainly posted more than my share about the joys of Portland, Oregon. Here’s more Portland travel news, but this time from the Portland that’s not found on the upper left of the map of the United States.
Our family went to Maine recently for a short vacation, which included an overnight in Portland. What a terrific small city! Interesting neighborhoods, nice waterfront, lots of great food and drink options, and what the kids these days call good vibes. For coffee, the city punches well above its weight with a concentration of excellent roasters and cafés. I was able to squeeze in visits to three cafés, two operated by roasters and one independent shop serving beans from yet another well-reputed local roaster.
We stayed at an Airbnb in the East Bayside neighborhood, and the location could not have been more perfect. Within easy walking distance were cafés, bars, brewpubs, and interesting food. We weren’t there long enough to even scratch the surface, but experienced a few places and all were all top-notch.
First stop was Coffee by Design‘s Diamond Street roastery and café. A large industrial space made warm by colorful paint, art, and wood, with a big, round coffee bar in the middle. The staff could not have been friendlier or more thoughtful, the coffee was excellent, and there was a good-sized crowd of patrons for a weekday afternoon.
Sorry I’ve been silent for so long. No special reason, just been busy.
On a recent trip to Oregon I was visiting one of Coava Coffee‘s Portland cafés, and while waiting for my drink I noticed a display of instant coffee. I’ve been aware of the effort the last few years to make high quality coffee available in instant form, but hadn’t tried it yet. Probably too biased against freeze dried coffee, including memories of having Nescafé as the only option far too often. Figured I’d give it a try, so I grabbed a box.
Verdict: spectacular. Coava and their partner Swift Cup Coffee have managed to keep the great flavor you expect from craft coffee. It’s also the easiest way to get your fix, even more so than the single serve coffee bags from Counter Culture and others – no need for steeping time, no bag to dispose of. A real game changer if, like me, you don’t have many (or any) good coffee options near work. They also make decaf offerings, for all you latent Sanka fans out there.
Swift Cup, from Lancaster, PA, produces instant coffee for a number of specialty roasters in addition to Coava, including their own label. So if you see instant from a roaster you trust, shake off any freeze dried crystals prejudices and give it a try. You can also buy Coava’s instant from their website, sold in boxes of six for $16-$17, or in bulk pouches which deliver 25 servings for around $40.
Not too long ago a friend turned me on to a text subscription service for buying wine. You sign up with your credit card, address and phone number, and every day you get a text offering a quality wine for sale at a steep discount. If you want to buy it, all you do is answer the text with the number of bottles you want. As in sending a text that only says “2.” No minimum purchases, you can just lurk and never order or go nuts building a wine library as you go broke. I’ve enjoyed it, even if at times I’ve gotten a little side eye at home for buying too often. In my defense, whomever is writing the daily texts is one of the finest marketing writers I’ve ever encountered, the fact I’m not buying every day is an achievement.
It turns out that Fellow Products, the retailer of achingly beautiful consumer coffee equipment, has started a very similar service for coffee beans. Fellow Drops is a very similar no-commitment coffee subscription service run by text message. The difference from the wine text service is the tempting messages come once a week, rather than daily, and while the writing is still enticing it may not take the same strength of will as the wine texts to avoid ordering every single time.
I’ve ordered a few times, and been very pleased with the results. The offerings are always interesting and focus on high-quality growers and roasters, with attention paid to different coffee varietals and unique finishing processes. You’ll need a grinder or access to one, as it’s whole beans only.
I’ve covered earlier my first order, which was from Onyx Labs. Among the other orders I’ve made was one of three different varietals from Red Rooster Coffee, a notable roaster based in Floyd, VA that I’ve been meaning to try. So far every order has been absolutely exceptional.
So if you like trying new and exciting coffee at home, and the use of the term ‘curated’ outside of a museum doesn’t bother you, give it a shot. It’s great access to rarely available quality beans without having to hunt them down and check the roast date on the bag. You can sign up at the Fellow Products website.
This year I’m taking a slightly different approach to my previous gift guides (2018, 2019, and 2020). While some of the models may have been replaced by newer iterations, pretty much all the recommended items in those posts would still make for great gifts. This version, however, is for those of you who just thought, “Oh $#%@!, it’s five days to Christmas and I haven’t written my annual gift guide post finished my shopping yet!”
So if the calendar is not your friend, supply chain worries are making you pull out your hair, and you’ve got a coffee lover in your life, here are a few suggestions.
I recently made my first order with Fellow Drops, the text-to-order coffee service from the company that makes the most achingly beautiful coffee paraphernalia. It was a sampler set of four coffees from Onyx Coffee Lab, one of my favorite roasters.
Not too much longer, a small box, no more than a 5″ x 5″ x 5″ cube, arrived at my home. My initial reaction was disappointment, because clearly four bags of coffee couldn’t fit inside such a wee little box. My second reaction was befuddlement, as it took a while to figure out how to open the sucker. Once I did, ohhhhhhhhh my, was I in for a delightful surprise.
There’s a great article in today’s New York Times about young Yemeni-Americans in Brooklyn building coffee businesses featuring beans grown in Yemen. It’s an enjoyable read and about a lot more than coffee.
Between being off my feet for a while and having to get my grinder serviced, I hadn’t made espresso at home for about a month and a half. Finally got a chance yesterday, and I was a little surprised that I had to work to remember some of the steps. But my first effort I thought was decent as far as the milk art goes.
It was also my first time making beans from Tim Wendelboe, a Norwegian roaster who supplies a lot of fine coffee shops across Europe. I was very impressed, the flavor was smooth and balanced, without the burnt taste of overroasting or the sourness that can accompany some Third Wave coffees. The beans were a two-bean blend from the Finca Tamana plantation in Colombia, you can read the whole story of Wendelboe’s relationship with the farm here.
The pricing wasn’t terrible for being shipped from Norway, though the bag only contained 250 grams of beans. Still worth it.
After Portland we headed down to Eugene, so my son could attend first year orientation at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks). We had a nice time here as well, getting to know the town, staying at a nice cottage. However, we may have chosen the wrong places, but frankly the food and coffee were underwhelming.