An almost DIY coffee experience at The Mississippi Coffee Company (and cart)

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If you live in Portland, like coffee and read Willamette Week, chances are you read WW’s “Drip City” feature on Portland’s coffee scene earlier this month, which highlighted the revival in simple, pour-over coffee (oddly labeled as “nerd coffee”) and the cafes that serve them.

Ironically, the same day I picked up a copy of WW, the electronic newsletter from Mr. Green Beans hit my inbox. While Willamette Week focused on some of the hot coffee hipsters making a name for themselves in the art of pour-over coffee, such as Water Avenue and Coava, Mr. Green Beans was announcing the launch of their Mississippi Coffee Company, which takes the pour-over concept to a completely different level — the pour-over coffee cart.

Notes on Mississippi Coffee Co…

Location: Mr. Green Beans, best known for selling Do-It-Yourself (DIY) supplies for roasting coffee, fermenting yogurt and making cheese, delivers an almost-DIY experience with their new coffee cart, just inside their storefront at out at 3932 N. Mississippi Ave. The Mississippi Coffee Co. is open daily 7am-7pm.

Coffee: We visited the coffee cart on a rare sunny and warm weekend day this April (yes, there was at least one of those days this month), and had a leisurely and tasty experience. First, our coffeemaker asked us which coffee apparatus we preferred for brewing our drink — the Hario V6 or Chemex for coffee that is brewed by pouring hot water directly over a filter and into a pot or cup; or the Aeropress for an “Americano”-style drink. We chose the Chemex and then got to choose the filter — stainless steel or the stiff paper kind from Chemex. Lastly, we had our choice of roasted beans, which were micro-roasted in the shop earlier by Mr. Green Beans himself. Mississippi Coffee Company also offers other small, independent roasts like one of my favorites, Trailhead Coffee. But this time around, we got the home-roasted Mr. Green Beans beans, and after a few minutes of brewing, got to enjoy our coffees and chat with the staff.

Cool stuff: Great Do-It-Yourself vibe — even if you’re not the one pouring the water, customers make individual choices that ultimately result in a cup of coffee made to order. While you wait, you can check out Mr. Green Beans’ coffee-roasting supplies and other DIY gear or inquire about classes. While we had our coffee the pour-over way, Mississippi Coffee Co. has also launched an “honor bar,” a small counter next to the cart with two pots of freshly brewed micro roasts and plenty of cream and sugar. If you bring your own cup, the coffee is just $1.

Not so cool: Up until now, the fake-Italian-looking building and piazza that Mr. Green Beans occupy has looked a little out of place and a bit lonely on Mississippi. But the bustling coffee cart promises to jazz up the sleepy little block, along with a new yogurt shop next door.

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Coffee, and knowledge, at Cellar Door Coffee

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Cellars and coffee are not two words that normally go together, especially in a city as rain-sodden as Portland this spring. But Cellar Door Coffee, a three-year-old independent roaster in Southeast Portland, breaks any pre-conceptions of a dark, damp cellar with a really nice set of coffees and a warm, comfy coffeehouse that sits nice and high above SE 11th Street, well above the floodline.

Notes on Cellar Door Coffee…

Location: Cellar Door at 2001 SE 11th first caught my eye as I was heading south on 11th toward Powell to pick up my order of Trailhead Coffee from The Warehouse Cafe. The tall, vertical red coffee sign with light bulbs pulled me in on a part of the street with mainly Victorian houses and a few low-lying buildings.

Coffee: Cellar Door does something you don’t see or hear very much, even in a town as coffee crazy as Portland. They’ve trained (or maybe just hired) a group of really passionate baristas who make and serve your drink with a narrative about what you’re about to enjoy. Now, granted, I am not as interested in the kind of bean I’m tasting as the flavor of the coffee and the ambience of the locale. But, I have to say it’s refreshing and totally interesting at Cellar Door when the barista hands you your drink and says: “Today’s roast is single origin Brazilian with hints of cherry and chocolate.” Love that! And the roasts at Cellar Door are flavorful and made with obvious care. Cellar Door Coffee also has a healthy wholesale business and is sold at shops all around Portland. Check out their website for details.

Cool stuff: Very kid-friendly, comics for sale, art on the wall and a shiny read Diedrich coffee roaster. Owner-roasters Jeremy and Andrea, who met as apprentices at a sustainable farming and gardening program before becoming coffee entrepreneurs, have created a warm and welcoming space that is not only roasting great coffee, but is doing it in an eco-friendly way, too, reducing exhaust emissions. Cellar Door also frequently raises money for a host of worthy charitable endeavors, most recently earthquake victims in Haiti.

Not so cool: Don’t mistake the round, light-bulb decorated street sign for a Farrell’s ice cream parlor. No ice cream sundaes here. But they make an awesome Gibraltar — cappuccino in a rocks glass.

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A quest for coffee in the City of Angels

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As an occasional business traveler, I’m used to visiting places like Chicago, Boston and DC, where Dunkin’ Donuts or the airport Starbucks are the only coffee options around. But I expected more – much more, really – from a recent spring break jaunt to Los Angeles. After all, they’re part of the same coast where some of the best independent roasters are located, and the home to LA-based coffee-maker Intelligentsia, which you can try out at our own Barista PDX.

Alas, the search for coffee was as long and tedious as driving through traffic on Santa Monica or Sepulveda Boulevards. In fact, on our way from a gorgeous Sunday afternoon hike in Griffith Park to the Burbank Airport on the other side of the mountain, plans for a pre-flight coffee went completely awry. There was simply none to be had of the independent coffee variety, even in the up-and-coming NoHo district or the 1960s-era Burbank main street. We couldn’t even find the Coffee Bean chain that seems to have a claim on LA boulevards.

What we did find during our stay near the beach enclave of Venice was both curious and vaguely Portland-esque. My impressions follow:

  • Groundwork Coffee Company – Billed as “LA’s largest organic coffee roaster,” Groundwork was the first independent-looking coffee roaster we saw during our stay, so we were excited to give it a try at the Rose Avenue and 7th location. Housed inside what was possibly an old feed store by the look of the white-washed beams up high and concrete flooring, the organically grown coffee was good, but the service was slow and some, though not all, of the clientele hanging about appeared to be surfers who have seen better days (or decades).
  • Abbot’s Habit – On a busy corner along the hip Abbot-Kinney street, Abbot’s Habit served one of the best Macchiatos (espresso shot with foamed milk) I’ve ever had. Not one bit bitter or strong, it was smooth and velvety with a hint of chocolate. What was mind-boggling was the barista didn’t immediately know who the roaster was when I asked. At first he told me it was an Ethiopian roast, but when I inquired further about who cooked up this delightful bean, he had to think and then said, Volcano. If anyone knows of a Volcano coffee roaster from California, let me know. The only one I’ve found online is from New Zealand and Africa.
  • Intelligentsia – we had just discovered Abbot’s Habit when we stumbled upon Intelligentsia down the street, whose brand I actually recognized from Barista in Portland, but the long line was enough to say: these people know good coffee when they taste it, and they’ll stand in line for a half hour to get it. After four days of searching for good, independent coffee, we understood why Intelligentsia on Abbot-Kinney was so crowded.
  • Venice Grind – on our last morning in the City of Angels, I could have sworn we were in Portland. It was dumping rain and black outside, and we hurried into the first coffeehouse whose beacon caught our eye through the rain-swept windshield. How apropos that the Venice Grind is a Stumptown shop. Without the skate boards hanging on the wall and the skate/surf art style, we could have sworn we were back home. Friendly folks and well-brewed Stumptown Hairbender prepared us for our return to the City of Roses.

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Rain, Stumptown Coffee…in Los Angeles?