5th & Alder – Andrea Spella

When I ask Chris why the cart is closing, he sends me down to 5th and Alder to get the details from Andrea.

My question surprises Andrea. Sales dropped at the cart over the last year so he is consolidating, but Andrea Spella has achived his MacGuffin. With the food cart bubble growing close to poppage, it’s easy to forget that most food cart owners dream of permanently moving to a “brick and mortar” shop. And now that Andrea has a real shop, the cart’s closing is only bittersweet.

Nostrana now features Andrea’s coffee, along with the classy Devil’s Food Catering and Market of Choice in Multnomah. Andrea is expanding Spella’s wholesale placement and adding stability to the business.

And after a modest reception at Barista, too. Their Portland Roasters Month did not embrace Andrea’s roast, which was featured alongside roaster-in-law, Sterling. Andrea’s Brazilian espresso blend is based on the traditional Italian blends, and is pulled with 14 grams instead of 20 and results in nearly 2 full ounces of volume. “The Sterling was a lot better” says Joe at Barista 2, “Spella is just a lot darker.”

Heart Roasters – Guatemala Puerta Verde

When I first asked around Portland for a new coffee roaster to explore, I would frequently be sent to Heart. Heart Roasters, as if that end of Burnside is another country, or as if visiting their mammoth UG 15 Probat is a stop on some sort of hipster coffee pilgrimage.

Heart’s Guatemala Puerta Verde is busy tying up Barista’s month of Portland coffee roasters. Joe at Barista 2 says it’s “super chocolatey, with blood orange citrus notes, walnut and toffee.”

When asked, the Heart staff will explain to any passerby that their Probat comes from Giesen Coffee Roasters, a coffee roaster repair/restoration/equipment company in the Netherlands. It’s a 1953 Probat, and it has better air circulation than Heart’s older, smaller L12. It’s that the roaster is one of the largest and most displayed roaster around town, or the European connection, that makes Heart’s shop such a draw.

Coava Coffee Roasters, The Kone (K-ONE) Pour Over Filter

Keith Gehrke humors me with an in-depth discussion about his soon-to-be-released metal pour over filter named the Kone. Known as the K-ONE in its earlier stages, the filter is based on the common Melitta paper filters used for most pour over brewing. Keith calls it a “selfish project” that he started on his kitchen table in November of 2009. He set out to create a sustainable pour over process that also produced a better cup of coffee.

His initially attempt was a reusable filter that mimicked the brew process of paper filters. After some kitchen-table theorizing he realized paper filters didn’t produce an ideal brew because the wet paper would hug the sides of the glass, restricting water flow to the tip of the filter and creating points of over- and under-extraction. Keith overcame this problem by redesigning the metal filter to taper quicker than the filter’s glass holder. The filter only touches the glass sides at its crown, at the very top of the Chemex holder. This holds the suspended filter away from the glass sides, allowing a free flow of water through the entire surface area of the filter and not just the tip.

The design is entirely custom, and the CAD drawings were drafted by a local engineer and submitted to a manufacturer on the East Coast. The stainless steel is sourced from Ohio and the filter’s holes are created by photochemical etching. The process creates a taper in the holes; the holes are bigger on the outside and smaller on the inside. This prevents clogging and makes cleaning easier. Only a few filters are cut from one sheet of steel, so Keith created several different versions of his design and ordered up a small test batches for each redesign.

Keith holds two filters up to the light. I can see that one allows more light through than the other. On closer inspection, one filter’s holes are closer together than the other. This is the difference between the 6th and 7th versions. Earlier versions featured a gradient of holes that were less dense at the top and denser at the bottom. The changes are made to control the speed that water exits the filter at any given location, brewing the grounds evenly and extracting all possible oils.

Matt and Keith have hit a good balance between the high acid light roasts that are currently in vogue around Portland and the darker roasts that appeal to the broader coffee drinker. It’s nice to see them experimenting with brewing technology and growing coffee plants. Their tasting room on Grand Ave is well worth the trip.

Tentative Release & Price: Late October 2010, $50

Portland – Water Ave, Coava, Sterling Roasters

Sterling Coffee Roasters

The finest espresso this week was at Sterling, a Grade 2 Yirgacheffe (currently at Water Ave too) and an El Salvador from San Joaquin. Rachael pulled both with quite a bit of sweetness, but the acid was strong and balanced on the Yirgacheffe.

Water Avenue Coffee

The most compelling news about Water Avenue is the location; with the Bunk Bar gaining traction next door and the return of lunch at Clark Lewis across the street, the East Bank is quickly becoming Portland’s hippest part of town. Olympic Provisions and Coava near by make it my new favorite area.

Coava Coffee Roasters

Keith humored me with a lengthy discussion about his Kone (aka the K-1) pour over filter. Their coffees have become permanent fixtures at Red E Cafe and Barista, but their new shop inside Bamboo Revolution is worth a visit, if nothing else than for the table saw bistro table.

Portland, Roasters & Espresso


Both Barista locations are engaged in their “Best of Portland” roaster series. Billy’s coffee houses will feature 2-3 different Portland coffee roasters each week during the month of September. Today in the Pearl I tried Ristretto’s El Salvador, Finca El Rosario. It showed a little vegetable, some nuttiness, and a great creamy aftertaste. Water Avenue’s Kenya AA Nguvu was second, which was pulled with much effervescence and had flavors of lemon and grapefruit but also a dose of sugar.

Public Domain

It was refreshing to taste a well-balanced and acidic Kenya Nguvu at Public Domain, where I’m use to overwhelming sugar and high viscosity. Whether those imbalances ares due to their 6 second automatic pre-infusion or something else, the shot I received today from their Synesso Hydra was wonderful. Vegetable flavors expressed as split pea soup and a corn on the cob finish.

Sterling Coffee & Courier Coffee

Both are serving an El Salvador from Finca Santa Barbara, Miguel Menendez and his family’s estate. Joel has been consistently picking up large quantities form the Menendez estate and Sterling recently purchased a small order. Notes from Adam: “Bittersweet chocolate, cayenne or black pepper, and an under rip melon flavor that gives it acidity.” And imagine my disappointment when Adam noted that Menendez himself visited the coffee stand just two minutes before I had arrived.

Joel is approaching his new coffee shop from the perspective of a roaster, and Adam is a long time cafe man who is refining his roasting. I risk sounding dramatic, but Courier goes up against CBI next week at Barista locations, and Adam McGovern and Andrea Spella go head to head in the third week of this month.

Carlton, Oregon – Fire Mountain Brew House

When I pull into the Fire Mountain Brewery tasting room I am greeted by three sweet dogs on the driveway. In the brew house, Henry Gorgas, the brew master, and Ken Venezuela of Carlton’s Filling Station Deli are locked in jovial conversation. Ken explains that Henry worked for Lackheed Martin and that the brew house was  Henry’s workshop for experimental aircraft in the 90′s. The attention to detail required in manufacturing sheet-metal carries over well to brew making. Henry shows me the custom horizontal fermented he designed for his own style of brewing, and Ken notes the precise construction of two enormous hanger-like doors to the refrigerator unit.

My first impression of the beer is that Henry does not skimp on ingredients: his beers are rich. The Steam Stout is roasty with hints of creamy chocolate. The Bad Henry IPA is a big surprise. It’s well hopped but not overly bitter, and has strong fruit loop note.

Despite its quality, a micro brew beer may be sought out  simply for its obscurity. Fire Mountain Brewery is both obscure and excellent, which makes it worth seeking out at your beer shop (John’s Marketplace in Multnomah Village or a Portland-area New Seasons).  But I recommend you make the a pilgrimage to the Fire Mountain tasting room, twenty minutes west of Carlton, OR; past Oregon’s wine country and down Panther Creek Road, and a full hour and twenty minutes from Portland. (10800 NW Rex Brown Road, PO Box 692, Carlton OR 97111, 503-852-7378)

Vancouver, BC – Medina Café

I love the corner booth; you can watch everything. I see the brick wall behind the bar, natural wood planks along the seating, and and spotlights on the wall that point up into the tall rafters. I see tables running along the long wall filled with talkative morning-risers. “How does it feel to be turning 3o tomorrow?”, the gentleman next to me asks his friend, and receives a shrug response.

For those who love their food served separately, this is a paradise. I order the La Santé. The soft boiled egg towers above the other food on a pedestal, the avocado slices have their own bowl to lay in, and the prosciutto climbs up on itself. The avocado is a gradient of bright green and the prosciutto is moist: everything is freshly sliced.

The waitress is lovely, with bare shoulders and a dark floral print skirt that could have been picked up at the Barefoot Contessa on Commercial Drive.

I crack my egg with a silver spoon and enjoy my day’s start. 556 Beatty Street, Crosstown Vancouver

SW Oak Street, Portland – Courier Coffee

Several weeks ago I peered through the door of what was once Half & Half cafe, but I saw an empty room with a wrinkled sheet of butcher paper on the floor that held a hand-drawn floor plan for Courier Coffee’s future showcase cafe.

Last week I visited the completed cafe on Oak street in the pocket-of-hipster found between Ace Hotel and Jackpot Records. The walls are mostly stark white and behind the bar and in the corner are a few piles of clutter that are reminiscent of Joel’s roasting garage. The rest of the experience, however, is deliberate. There are books on each of the tables: Good Housekeeping Cookbook, Civilization Past & Present, and 18th & 19th Century Art. These eccentric, methodical touches are followed throughout the decor and into Joel’s pulled espresso.

“Do you have time on your hands?”, Joel asks a customer and proceeds to sip on the espresso that he just pulled, and then he pulls two more before satisfied. There’s a certain level of comfort that comes with a barista who insists on making you wait for the perfect shot. Joel has that knack for tinkering until perfect. He is an unofficial distributor and repairman of espresso machines, and, like many roasters, is comfortable with metalwork.

Joel Domreis’ roaster is a San Franciscan located in a garage on SE Hawthorne. The coffee is excellent.

NW 21st, Portland – Sterling Barista

I am always impressed with how the gentlemen at Sterling Coffee Roaster pull together their looks. Adam McGovern created Sterling as the roasting arm of Coffee House Northwest. At both locations vests are practically mandatory for the the male employees, as are the skirts and dresses for women. But if you ask Aric, everyone dresses how they want.

They pick their garb up at the normal resale shops around town, but William Temple House is just up the street.

That’s Tim in the picture. He is always sporting wonderful cotton neckscarves.

Vancouver, BC – Salt Tasting Room

The Salt Tasting Room in Gastown serves local charcuterie and cheeses. The chalkboard in the back lists choices to make into a tasting plate. Choose three meats or three cheeses, and then three sides to accompany those choices. We were treated to some cherries from the owner’s orchard, and the general manager Mike picked out some great local wines for us to try.

We arrived when they opened, so Mike Mitchell was able to recommend some of the other best food spots in Gastown. There’s a food revival going on, and among the new stars are The Irish Heather on Carrall Street, Boneta on West Cordova, and China Town’s Bao Bei.

Salt can be found in Trounce Alley along Blood Alley Square, between Water Street and Cordova Street. It’s next to Judas Goat Taberna.