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

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