The Coava Kone: finally, a perfect cup of pour-over coffee

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Over the years, I have inherited a few household items from my mom. And while most of them were at the time simply mementos from my 1970s childhood, a few also turned out to be icons of mid-century design.

One such “hand-me-down” was an original Chemex glass coffee maker that my mom pawned off on me about 20 years ago. I liked the hour-glass shape and the wood grip, held together by a piece of old leather string. When I had my first apartment in NW Portland, I occasionally tried to use the Chemex to brew up some easy-to-make drip coffee, placing a few scoops of grounds in a paper filter and pouring hot water over it. Unfortunately, I either had the wrong filters or just couldn’t get the hang of it because more often than not, the ground coffee flowed over the paper filter and into the pot, making a gritty, ground-filled drink.

My mom’s old Chemex pot has followed me around ever since, but collected more dust than coffee – until recently. When I heard about the Kone filter, an innovative new reusable coffee filter made right here in Portland by the creative folks at Coava Coffee and had the chance to have a cup of perfectly brewed pour-over coffee at both Mr. Green Beans and Coava, I had to get one myself. Plus, I liked the idea of buying local and not having to throw away, or compost, my filter after each use.

The metal-mesh Kone, at $50, is a pretty penny, for sure. But if you compare it to the price of paper filters over the life of your pot, eventually it all pays off, especially if you drink as much coffee as we do.

Following the instructions of Coava’s barista (see below), it only took 20 years to brew a perfect cup of pour-over coffee in my now-vintage-vintage Chemex pot.

The metal Kone filter fits right into the top funnel of the Chemex. I expected it to look a little like a strainer but the holes are mesh-like, allowing the water to pour over the finely ground coffee ever so slowly and seep into the pot. For one pour-over, Coava recommends: 21 grams ground coffee, 340 grams H20 and 3 to 3.5 minutes to drip/brew.

To find out more about the Chemex coffee maker, check out a post by Portland Roasting Company on their visit to the original factory.

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Taking a trip to Italy via Portland’s Spella Caffe

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When visiting Milan many years ago, we did as the Milanese do, and started each day with a small espresso and a light, incredibly delicious brioche. Our typical breakfast spot was a tiny walk-in coffee shop with chipped tile floors and only enough room for a handful of people to order and then stand and eat their brioche while dipping it in a small brown cup of espresso or cappuccino.

I haven’t been back until this past week, when I walked into Spella Caffe (note the Italian spelling) in downtown Portland and was transported back to what felt and looked like one of those little closet-sized cafes on a street corner in Italy (I’ve heard that Spella claims to have Roman, rather than Milanese, influences, but oh well). Only Spella is sandwiched, literally, between two high-rise buildings on the bus mall in Portland.

Notes on Spella Caffe…

Location: Spella Caffe started out in a coffee cart a few years back, but is now located at 520 SW 5th in a long, narrow space with sunny yellow walls, a small counter and a wood-and-glass display case full of tempting baked goods. The café is only large enough to order or stand to drink your coffee, but on nicer days than the one on which I visited, Spella offers a few Italian-style café tables and chairs placed outside on the wide sidewalk.

Coffee: I first experienced Spella’s Italian roasted coffee at Alma Chocolate, one of the dozen or so retailers that carry the local hand-crafted coffee, and loved it – a variety of complementary flavors resulting in an amazing drink, hot or cold. Owner Andrea Spella roasts beans once a week in small batches and sells one-pound bags in the café for around $10, unheard of at most Portland indie roasters.

Cool stuff: It’s small, it’s intimate and it really feels like an escape to another world, complete with tile floors, retro logo and homemade gelato from an artisan maker in Eugene (which I haven’t yet tried). Plus, Spella Caffe-roasted coffee is very tasty.

Not so cool: Once you leave Spella Caffe, alas, you’re not in Milan but back on the bus mall in downtown Portland.

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Nothing watered-down about Water Avenue Coffee

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As a regular coffee drinker and blogger of Portland’s independent coffee scene, I tend to be open to many different roasters around town and usually have a different bag of beans in my cupboard every week or so. But I recently began to develop some favoritism for Water Avenue’s “El Toro” espresso blend — silky, with hints of dark chocolate but no bitterness, just rich coffee-ness. It’s just how I like my espresso but is a flavor that sometimes is a little hard to consistently find.

It took me awhile to actually try Water Avenue Coffee. Sure, I saw the beans for sale at my local Whole Foods store, but I like to actually try a new coffee at the roaster itself or preferred café.

Notes on Water Avenue

The first time I ventured into the coffee shop/roastery, I was chaperoning a third-grade field trip to research Portland’s bridges along the Eastside Esplanade. While the class stopped under the I-5 bridge to eat sandwiches amidst the pigeons and nearby homeless encampment, another mom and I ran a couple blocks to the bright yellow industrial building with the large “Water Avenue Coffee” sign for a cup of coffee to warm our bones.

Location: Located on, of course, Water Avenue (1028 SE Water Avenue to be exact) in a renovated warehouse that now rents to creatives and yogis, Water Avenue Coffee is an inviting destination in the up-and-coming Eastside industrial neighborhood.

Coffee: That first Americano warmed, woke up and did all the right things for a field trip chaperone walking under the bridges with 33 third-graders. I’ve been back three times since and Water Avenue Coffee continues to never disappoint. As I said, I’m a fan of the El Toro, which a very nice barista recommended, and this year I began to buy the beans at the more conveniently located grocery store. My coffee-drinking other half agrees that Water Avenue’s got a good blend going and is currently our favorite at-home coffee.

Cool stuff:Water Avenue is the real deal. From the outside, they may appear to be a hot, indie coffee roaster with bearded and eye-glassed baristas who look like extras from Portlandia, but Water Avenue Coffee actually has an authentic, down-to-earth vibe, eclectic clientele (from grandparents to truck drivers) and clutter behind the counter. And the coffee’s just damn good, whether espresso, pour-over or cold-pressed.

Not so cool: As I’ve said about others before, location, location. While the digs are cool, if you don’t work in that area or happen to make a detour from MLK or get off I-5 at the Water Avenue exit, Water Avenue Coffee is not the most convenient place to get to. But it is worth a trip, if you’re in the neighborhood, for the coffee.

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Coava Coffee leading in coffee innovation

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Carrie Brownstein sings their praises in interviews about Portland. Techies like Gizmodo geek out over them. One of their baristas just won the 2012 Northwest Regional Barista and Brewers Cup. And now, of course, the New York Times has joined in with a glowing review in last weekend’s Travel section.

No question: Coava Coffee has put itself, and Portland coffee, on the map through a number of innovations.

Notes on Coava Coffee…

Locations: Coava Coffee Roasters occupies a spacious corner at1300 SE Grand Avenue. Like many other craft roasters in town, Coava has an antique roaster parked in the middle of its shop and offers micro-roasted beans in brown paper bags (differentiating with a focus on single origin, rather than blends). They’re also among a handful of shops in Portland that have specialized in the pour-over coffee movement.

But where this roaster is even more different than the others is that they not only roast and pour a great cup of coffee, in 2010 Coava introduced the Kone, a revolutionary, reusable metal mesh filter designed for glass, drip coffeemakers like the Chemex. A few weeks back, I splurged and finally bought myself a Kone.

Check back soon for Part II of this post and my experience at home with the Kone. Keep reading for a brief review of my impressions of Coava, the café.

Coffee: I’ve had Coava-roasted coffee several times as espresso as well as pour-over coffee. Until recently, I have to say I favored their Americanos, which may just be because I like espresso best. But this winter, I dropped in for a pour-over cup, and it was truly a delicious experience. From the rum-chocolate-flavored Finca Zarcero drip coffee from Costa Rica chosen for my drink to the way the barista carefully explained the method behind this particular pour-over coffee, I thoroughly enjoyed my coffee and left excited to try it out at home with my new Kone filter.

Cool stuff: Aesthetically, Coava’s coffee shop is an incredible space with large windows, high ceilings and bamboo wood accents. The baristas are friendly and knowledgeable and more than willing to share their expertise while brewing a fine cup of coffee. The wooden coffee bar looks like an experiment in mid-century design adorned with glass coffee pots just waiting to be poured over.

Not so cool: The metal school chairs and stools make it a little tough to cozy up with a coffee and a book or your laptop. Many people do, but I tend to get my coffee to go or end up drinking while standing up.

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On books and coffee…

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I’ve been reading a lot this winter. And there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee and a good book to curl up with this time of year. When you’re out shopping for books – preferably the old-fashioned way, at your local independent bookstore, like Powell’s on SE Hawthorne– The Fresh Pot is there to fortify book- and coffee-lovers alike.

Notes on The Fresh Pot…

Location: The Fresh Pot has three fabulous locations around town, but this post is about the shop that’s located in a quiet (save for an occasional scream from the espresso maker), somewhat dark corner of Powell’s Bookstore at 3729 SE Hawthorne.

Coffee: The Fresh Pot serves Stumptown, and while Portland’s original indie roaster is taking some hits lately for selling out to Corporate America, The Fresh Pot keeps it local with just three smallish cafes and baristas who are obviously dedicated to their craft and to brewing a tasty cup of coffee. If you didn’t know any better, you might mistake the coffee-making folks at the Powell’s location for librarians. They don’t shush, thank goodness, but they are among the most serious, no-nonsense baristas in town.

Cool Stuff: Drinking coffee and reading the stack of books you just bought or are considering buying while hanging out at Powell’s; whimsical illustrations on sidewalk sandwich boards by artist Trish Grantham; my favorite gluten-free goodies from local bakery Gluten Free Gem.

Not so cool: The Fresh Pot at Powell’s is obviously beloved by bookworms (myself included) and laptop users, so it’s sometimes hard to get a table.

Books inspired by, in or about Portland: And while you’re perusing Powell’s and taking a break at The Fresh Pot, here are some local reads I recommend: Wildwood by Colin Meloy (Portlandia meets Forest Park fantasy); A Family Daughter by Malie Meloy (Portlander Colin’s sis is a writer, too, and a really good one; all I can say about this story is “whoa.”); The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow (haunting coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a gray, 1970s Portland); The Chronology of Water by Lydia Yuknavitch (a brave memoir by an amazing Oregon writer).

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Coffee ice cream suddenly abounds in Northeast Portland

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When Mio Gelato closed its shop in the Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland earlier this year, my family panicked. After several years of walking or riding bikes for a cool ice cream or iced Italian coffee on hot summer nights, what would we do? Fortunately, two new ice cream shops have emerged to fill the void that Mio Gelato’s departure left — and both offer the requisite coffee-flavored ice cream.

Both Salt & Straw and Ruby Jewel Scoops have put down roots in two hot neighborhoods in Northeast – Salt & Straw on NE Alberta and Ruby Jewel on NE Mississippi. But each offers a different approach to their coffee ice cream. Of the two, Salt & Straw has become our family fave, at least in the coffee category. Here’s why.

Notes on Salt & Straw…

Location: Salt & Straw started out in a mobile ice cream cart with a red-striped awning slightly reminiscent of Farrell’s while waiting to move into their new building at 2035 NE Alberta. Since occupying their new digs late this summer, the line is often seen winding out the door of the faux-warehouse shop.

Coffee (ice cream): Salt & Straw makes some very funky flavors indeed, from brown ale with bacon to pear and blue cheese. Call me old-fashioned or new-fangled, but I like the coffee ice cream best — which they make using Stumptown cold-brewed coffee with chunks of chocolate they call “cocoa nibs.” Coffee-colored and made with organic, local dairy milk, the ice cream is smooth, save for the nibs, and has a light yet distinct coffee taste.

Cool stuff: Salt & Straw, just like its name, has an artisan, small-town dairy feel to it. Simple, white ice cream cartons are stamped by hand with the shop’s logo. Despite the rustic décor, this is not your grandfather’s ice cream parlor. Salt & Straw has embraced the 21st century, taking credit card payments through a tiny-mounted iPad cash register application.

Not so cool: Standing outside the shop in line on one of those 90-degree September days, waiting…and waiting…for a cool coffee ice cream treat.

Notes on Ruby Jewel Scoops…

Location: Ruby Jewel, originally sold at the Portland Farmer’s Market and wholesale accounts around the country, popped up a few months back with a new scoop shop at 3713 N. Mississippi Ave. and has been equally swamped as the open garage door entrance can attest.

Coffee (ice cream): Ruby Jewel’s main claim to fame is its hand-crafted ice cream sandwiches and unique, small-batch flavors. This summer, they offered a coffee-flavored ice cream that looked deliciously mocha-ish but ended up being chunky (I’m talking about the consistency of the ice cream here) and chock full of ground up coffee beans. Dry and crunchy are two words that come to mind.

Cool stuff: Ruby Jewel claims that they recycle nearly everything they make and sell, and the shop has a number of recycling bins and signage to encourage patrons to do the same. Their ingredients are also local and sustainably grown, from the hormone-free milk to local sources of lavender, honey and mint.

Not so cool: I’m willing to give Ruby Jewel some slack if their coffee ice cream is just a seasonal fad, but it was disappointing that the ice cream-ista didn’t know his source of coffee used in the ice cream and couldn’t even brew up a cup of Joe when asked, though the shop had a small coffee maker on the counter.

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Fire can’t stop Barista

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It’s Labor Day, and 4th of July is yet a distant summer memory. Except if you’re Barista, whose Northeast Portland business was damaged in a roof fire caused by an errant 4th of July firework two months ago.

This past week, I had the opportunity to stop by Barista (also known online as Barista PDX) at 1725 NE Alberta a couple of times, as I dropped kids off at the Community Cycling Center’s awesome bike camp. Cool, late summer mornings deserved a warm coffee, and Barista beckoned me from across the street. What I didn’t expect was to see the baristas of Barista huddled around a coffee cart in the courtyard of the new-ish building Barista moved into over a year ago.

While the business waits for insurance to pay up, the cafe that was reminiscent of a modern hunting lodge stays shuttered from water damage it sustained when the sprinkler system went into action. In the meantime, Barista occupies a cart that drums up a steady stream of morning coffee-drinkers-on-the-go.

This is not last year’s Barista, which carved out a niche for itself by featuring a variety of independently roasted coffees from around the country. No, for the moment, Barista offers Stumptown exclusively, in honor of Stumptown Coffee, which generously donated the cart so the business — and coffee-making — could go on. Stop by and support Barista’s coffee cart as they rebuild.

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