Portland Blind Cafe 2 offers dinner, coffee without candlelight

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Portland’s cafes are great places to find out about cool, little happenings in the community. Like the Portland Blind Cafe 2. I recently visited Coffee Time in NW Portland and saw a tacked-up flyer for the Portland Blind Cafe, billed as “an award-winning community awareness concert and dinner in the dark.” There wasn’t much more on the flyer about the event, which is happening this coming week (Dec. 2, 3 and 4), but I was intrigued enough to go to the website and found out the following:

  • Attendees will dine in the pitch black, while listening to a full viola, violin and guitar concert by ‘Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken’; poetry readings; and three gongs from a Tibetan singing bowl.
  • Blind coffee roaster Gerry Leary, who owns and runs the Unseen Bean out of Boulder, CO, will be on hand in the dark, as will his coffee.
  • The “blind cafe” idea came to Boulder and Portland via Reykjavek, Iceland. Check out the concept and a pitch-black video here.

This fall’s Portland Blind Cafe 2 takes place @ Tabor Space at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, 5441 SE Belmont, Portland. Get your tickets online.

Note that organizers do not recommend Portland Blind Cafe for children. Too dark.

Ristretto Roasters takes hand-crafted coffee to a new level

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One of the many things I found fascinating about the Stieg Larsson trilogy of books was the amount of coffee the Swedish protagonists drank. Especially in the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It seemed like every late-night scene or suspenseful turn had Michael Blomkvist or Lisbet Salander brewing up — and drinking (usually by themselves) — a pot of coffee at 11 p.m. in some Swedish-modern apartment or cottage. Which, in a rather off-hand way, leads me to Portland’s Ristretto Roasters in NE Portland.

Before I ever got sucked into the heart-racing Swedish books, a visit to Ristretto’s mini location in Beaumont on a cold, rainy day has always felt like an escape to some Scandinavian-inspired urban coffeehouse. Lucky for Portlanders, Ristretto is our own little Northwest gem, and you don’t have to book a flight to Stockholm to enjoy it.

Notes on Ristretto Roasters…

Locaton: Ristretto has two NE Portland locations, but this post focuses on my neighborhood shop, a bedroom-sized cafe at 3520 NE 42nd. The other location is in the burgeoning bike-commuter district of North Williams at 3808 N. Williams. Ristretto on NE 42nd is open from 6 to 6 M-F with slightly different hours on the weekend.

Coffee: I wish I knew more about the craft of coffee roasting and could wax poetic on Ristretto’s stellar method. I can’t. But if tastebuds count for anything, mine keep telling me Ristretto is the best-tasting, smoothest hand-crafted coffee in Portland. Even my kid begs for sips.We regularly drink the Beaumont Blend and Cowboy Blend, but also enjoy trying some of the more exotically named roasts.

Cool stuff: The incredible coffee, of course. But also, lovely mid-century-modern decor, lighting and wood accents; seriously great people; always-fresh art; very orange outdoor furniture; and recently added Good to the Grain whole-grain baked wares by baker Kim Boyce.

Not so cool: Watch out. These beans can quickly turn you into a coffee snob or monogamist.

Portland Roasting Coffee a hit at the J-Cafe

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For the past dozen or so years, I’ve worked in the suburbs of Portland, where the only coffee available to business park office workers was the nearby shopping mall Starbucks. I missed the urban cafes/bistros of my time in Germany during the 1990s. Places like Cafe Libresso a couple blocks from my pedestrian-zoned flat, where the hip, young wait staff juggled cups of cappuccino, plates of salad and love affairs with each other. Or the Schwarz-Weiss Cafe near my office in Darmstadt, where the owner Monika greeted every customer by name and curated an amazing art exhibit every month in her coffeehouse. Both cafes sat on busy, urban corners with tall windows and attracted loyal lunchtime and after-hours customers from nearby companies and the neighborhood.

This year, I found myself with a new job in a new location in the Lloyd District of NE Portland and discovered J-Cafe, a hot spot reminiscent of Libresso and Schwarz-Weiss, with surprisingly awesome coffee and food. Located in a modern glass-and-steel apartment building that looks like it was plucked out of Munich or a spread in Dwell Magazine and placed along the MAX commuter line on NE Holladay Street, J-Cafe serves a steady stream of employees who work in the high-rise buildings of the urban Eastside district.

Notes on J-Cafe…

Location: J-Cafe is at 533 NE Holladay Street right along the MAX line, one stop away from the Convention Center, two stops away from the Rose Quarter and within walking distance of many Lloyd Center-area businesses.

Coffee: J-Cafe serves Portland Roasting Coffee, a blend I am not sure I ever had the privilege of tasting before. I have never been fond of coffees with a city in the name (the so-called “Seattle’s Best” ruined it for me), but Portland Roasting Coffee is excellent — not to mention that the company has a great coffee blog and commitment to sustainability. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to describe the almost dark-chocolate tasting coffee but the copywriters for Portland Roasting’s Tivoli Espresso served at J-Cafe captured it best with: “heavy, bittersweet, sultry.” Over ice this summer, the Tivoli Espresso was supremely refreshing.

Cool stuff: Friendly and customer-service oriented staff, who, together with owner Jonathan, always remember your name; really good lunchtime food, including fresh salads (try the curried tuna on fresh greens or the caprese), panini sandwiches (try the cluck-cluck or one of the many vegetarian options) and breakfast bagels; interesting monthly photography and art exhibits; a genuine emphasis on recycling (signs encouraging customers to not over-use napkins; real glasses offered for water); and very bike- and commuter-friendly vibe.

Not so cool: J-Cafe obviously caters to the working community in and around the area and peak dining hours, so if you want to stop by on a weekend or grab a late-afternoon coffee or treat, you’re out of luck. J-Cafe closes at 4 p.m. during the week and is closed on the weekends. Good for them, bad for fans of the cafe.

A child’s rendering of the J-Cafe