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A Barista's Favorite Coffee Shops in Portland, Oregon

Updated on August 9, 2013
Case Study Coffee; 802 SW 10th Ave.
Case Study Coffee; 802 SW 10th Ave.

My ideal coffeehouse combines character and quality. Some shops, like Public Domain and the several Barista locations, feel cold to me, though the sleek, industrial interior may appeal to others. Most of my top picks offer warmth and comfort, with generous windows and wood. My list includes my favorite spots for chocolate and tea as well as coffee. Some customers are bothered by things like the format of a menu, such as whether it comes in the form of a chalkboard or a laminated sheet. A few are opposed to using an iPad for completing a credit card transaction. I am not one of these and will not comment on such trivial matters. Anyone with sense can figure these out. Many customers are overly conscious of the length of time they wait for a drink. As a barista myself, I am well aware of how long a good drink requires. If you are impatient or in a hurry, go to Starbucks. This element of the coffee experience is not accounted for in my list.

The order is alphabetical, not based on preference. I enjoy all more or less equally. When I go to one over the others depends mostly on what part of town I'm in at the time.

Albina Press

4637 N Albina Ave.

Like numerous other coffee shops in Portland, Albina Press uses Stumptown coffee and a La Marzocco espresso machine. Unlike most others, however, it offers a very comfortable, spacious, clean environment with a significant reduction of pretentiousness. The atmosphere feels warm and inviting, thanks in part to hardwood floors, comfortable couches and generous natural light. This is a wonderful part of Portland--rich in character--and Albina Press is frequented by all types. Most of the clientele is young, but styles are more indie than hipster and no one feels unwelcome.

You can feel confident that the baristas will treat the coffee with the respect it deserves; lattes taste just as they should, as the typical latte art will evidence.

Cacao

414 SW 13th Ave.

Cacao is a chocolate lover's heaven. Those who have not yet converted may leave this shop feeling differently. Most of the best chocolate bars I've had were purchased here; I wish every major city had its own version of this store. The staff is knowledgeable and eager to offer a taste of many if not all of the chocolate bars in the shop.


The environment is comfortable but not cozy. The store strives to maintain a safe temperature for its chocolate--I wouldn't have it any other way--with the unfortunate side effect of a colder temperature than is ideal for most people. In the summer this is a welcome relief from the heat outside, but in the winter I usually keep my jacket on inside. This is not my favorite place to read, knit, draw, or work on my laptop, but it is perhaps the shop where I am most likely to meet my closest friends, as we are all ardent chocolate lovers. I love to indulge in a spicy drinking chocolate or hot chocolate on rainy afternoons, and frequently stop in for a new bar.

Case Study

802 SW 10th Ave.

Case Study offers an interesting layout and design with plenty of tables. In contrast to the many other coffee shops that profess hardwood floors and furniture, Case Study feels more like a cozy European library or university than an industrial warehouse. I enjoy both types, but find this environment far more inviting and I feel more encouraged to wile away the hours with a book or people-watching through the extensive windows. Do not fear a hipster environment here; they have not yet invaded the southwest as they have the northwest and east side. The location is perfect for people from other parts of town, situated on both the Max and Streetcar lines. Book lovers will find the main library right across the street.

Drinks use Case Study's own coffee. For lovers of drip coffee, many brewing methods are offered. Pastries are superb, coming from the terrific Nuvrei and Bakeshop. Though I have not indulged in syrups or sauces, I've heard good things of both, which are made in-house. Anyone knowledgeable of chocolate would be impressed with their choice of Michel Cluizel for drinking chocolate. Tea offerings exceed the norm for indie coffee shops in Portland, which typically pride themselves in high-quality coffee but neglect tea.

Coava

1300 SE Grand Ave.

Coava offers an interesting experience. The coffee shop shares a large, open space--formerly a warehouse--with Bamboo Revolution and N.W. Go Design Collective. The atmosphere is industrial without feeling cold. Some of the communal tables are slabs of natural wood attached to repurposed machinery. The d├ęcor will not suit everyone and is certainly not ideal for business meetings, students hoping to use their laptops, or necessarily private conversations.A coffee snob looking for an excellent espresso drink or pour over coffee, however, will be more than satisfied.

Options are simple: a twelve-ounce basic espresso drink or coffee. They offer two single-origin espresso beans on rotation, which they roast themselves. The Brazil I had with my latte was light, buttery and sweet.

Coffeehouse Northwest

1951 W Burnside St.

Coffeehouse Northwest serves coffee from one of the best roasters in Portland (Sterling Coffee Roasters) using a Synesso machine. Espresso is smooth and strong. They offer some of the richest, most delicious hot chocolates and mochas in town.

The brick walls and hardwood floors lend themselves to a welcoming atmosphere--a haven on one of the busiest streets in Portland. It is not a particularly spacious shop and indoor seating is often full. There are some reasonably comfortable outdoor seating options away from Burnside.

Dragonfly

2387 NW Thurman St.

Dragonfly uses Mountanos Brothers coffee, which I can't comment on as I have yet to try it; as a lover of tea as well as coffee, my drink of choice here is the Dreaming Dragonfly Elixer. Their pastries, made in-house, are wonderful. As an artist, I venture across town to visit this shop because it offers the perfect environment for drawing: comfortable seating with an exceptionally inviting atmosphere. Even the outdoor seating is charming.

The service is unparalleled, with not a hint of pretentiousness. Due in part to its location in far NW Portland, the clientele was less hipster or business-y and more down-to-earth; parents with children or adults enjoying a leisurely day are not uncommon. The location also lends itself to easy, free parking.

Ristretto

2181 NW Nicolai St.

Ristretto shares a large, open warehouse space with Schoolhouse Electric Co. and a flower shop. The space combines materials reclaimed from the original warehouse with found objects in a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing manner. The somewhat secluded corner of Nicolai in the far northwest part of town makes outdoor seating more comfortable than is common elsewhere.

For espresso, they offer their own Beaumont Blend and a rotating single origin; these tend to be somewhat darker than is typical of indie coffee shops in Portland that roast their own beans. The sweetness of their double ristretto shots is noticeable and pleasing to me.

Stumptown at Ace Hotel

1026 SW Stark St.

Though seating in the shop is limited, an extensive selection of comfortable couches is available for coffee-drinkers in the lobby of the hip Ace Hotel, where newspapers and magazines abound. It is perhaps this that draws me to the Stark St. location more than any other. Here, a regular cup of coffee is brewed via French press and poured into self-serve urns: at $1.75, it's about half the cost of a latte and refills in "for here" cups cost just $0.50. And, of course, the coffee itself is fantastic. Espresso drinks are smooth and rich, appealing to a wide range of taste preferences.

Though Stumptown beans can be found at some supermarkets, including the Whole Foods franchise, their retail stores offer a wider selection: I recommend taking home the Kenya Gaturiri or the Sulawesi Toarco Toraja. The downside of Stumptown is a degree of pretentiousness that is consistent across locations. Be prepared for an element of hipster in both employees and clientelle. Some independent shops offer this in even larger doses, however, and this Stumptown location is worth the drawback for me.

Tea Chai The

734 NW 23rd Ave.

This is, as the name should suggest, a tea rather than coffee shop. One of the leading reasons to venture out to Tea Chai The is for the extensive chai selection; I like to sit down with a pot of chai on the deck or by the window. It's a comfortable environment for both sitting alone or with friends.

The shop feels more comfortable and down-to-earth than the more industrial-hip Pearl District and East Side coffee shops, while remaining clean and aesthetically pleasing. Many comfy chairs are offered, making it perfect for reading a book or knitting. This provides a stark contrast to Teazone in the Pearl.

The Ugly Mug

8017 SE 13th Ave

Venture down to Sellwood for this little gem. They use Stumptown coffee and a La Marzocca machine, but I usually stop here for a lavender lemonade. 13th Street in Sellwood is a wonderfully quaint area; I like to sit outside and people-watch.


Inside it lacks the clean, wood aesthetic common at downtown coffee shops but it offers its own quirks to make it worth the trip. It feels slower and quieter here, despite being only fifteen minutes from downtown.

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