Portland Blind Cafe returns June 2-4 with Unseen Beans

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Last fall, I wrote about the Portland Blind Cafe, billed as “mind-bending, heart-opening” dining event in pitch blackness. Designed to show the seeing public what it’s like to be blind and to rely on others, the event is coming back for a third time over the weekend of June 2, 3, and 4 at the Tabor Space, 5441 SE Belmont.

There are a couple things that are intriguing about Portland Blind Cafe 3. One, the idea is not just to raise awareness for the blind, but also to create an experience that brings people together through food and music in total darkness. Second, from a coffee perspective, it’s fascinating that one of the main folks behind the Blind Cafe concept is a blind coffee roaster from Boulder, Colorado, and his Unseen Beans Coffee plays a prominent role in the evening meal. According to the cafe’s website, roaster Gerry Leary travels around the world sharing his personal experience and leading a discussion in the dark with the audience at the events.

To find out more about Portland Blind Cafe 3, purchase tickets or hear first-hand accounts of what it’s like to dine in the dark, visit: http://www.theblindcafe.com/portland-blind-cafe.htm

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Caffe Vita roasted-coffee a welcome addition on NE Alberta Street

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I was about 11 years old the first time I ventured from my native Portland north to Seattle. The 1978 King Tut exhibit at the Seattle Center was the occasion, but what remains one of my most vivid memories of the trip was the white-haired lady Sonics fan who got in my face about the Blazer pin I was wearing and her claim that Portland was the inferior city. Happily, I wasn’t scarred by the experience with the rabid fan, as much as puzzled as to why a woman in her 70s would pick on a child, and grew up to enjoy my yearly escapes to the Emerald City.

As might be expected in a coffee-swilling household, our family’s meanderings around Seattle’s neighborhoods include an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops, and a few years back, we discovered one of Seattle’s own independent coffee roasters — Caffe Vita — which we treat ourselves to now on every visit north. Of course, there are plenty of Portland roasters to fill our fair city’s cafes, and many good ones at that, but Caffe Vita’s expansion into Portland has been a welcome addition. Take that, white-haired lady.

Notes on Caffe Vita…

Location: Vita has five locations in Seattle, half of which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, one in Olympia and a new shop here in Portland on 2909 NE Alberta, which opened in the Fall of 2010 in the old Concordia Coffeehouse. If you aren’t near their branded shop further up the street, Caffe Vita is now the coffee of choice served at Random Order (1800 NE Alberta), and it goes superbly with their award-winning pies.

Coffee: Caffe Vita coffee roasts are exactly how I like them: rich, smooth, hints of varying influencing flavors and not too bitter. They offer several organic, farm direct beans and source their coffee from all over the world. I really have never had a cup of Vita coffee, in Portland, Olympia or Seattle, that I didn’t enjoy.

Cool stuff: I’m not sure if Caffe Vita’s icon is a court jester or not, but whatever it is, it lends a fun, whimsical look to the brand. To kick off the year, Caffe Vita on Alberta ran a fun little promotion called Free Coffee Fridays for a month or two. Hey, it was enough to get me over to check out the new digs and brew, and it attracted the attention of many foodie bloggers and writers in town during the campaign. Founded in 1995, Caffe Vita does a ton of really cool community partnerships, but one of the coolest projects here in Portland is Caffe Vita’s collaboration with p:ear, the homeless youth mentoring organization, to provide an 8-week course in all things “barista.” In fact, they call it the p:ear barista school.

Not so cool: The Portland cafe, while spacious and airy, could use a new couch or two. The last I looked, this orange thing from the previous Concordia shop was still taking up a corner of the shop. Maybe Caffe Vita’s 1005 E. Pike Street location in Capitol Hill can give the new Portland cafe a primer on interior design.

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Time for a new brew at Coffee Time

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I started this blog because I frequent Portland’s coffeehouses and enjoy trying new blends and brews of independently roasted coffee. For the most part, I am a big fan of our city’s coffee scene and the variety of coffees available for consumption. But every once in a blue moon, there’s a cup of Joe that sticks out not because of how great it tastes, but rather the opposite .

Now being more of a coffee-drinking fan than an expert in the art of bean-roasting, I have to admit I don’t know if it’s the roasting or the brewing that ultimately results in a bad cup of coffee. But sadly, on a recent trip to Coffee Time, an-always-bustling coffeehouse that is one of the few, if not the only, cafes to stick around on NW 21st Ave., the coffee was bitter and burnt beyond drinking, an experience that’s not entirely atypical in the years I’ve been stopping by.

Notes on Coffee Time…

Location: Founded in 1994 and according to its website under new ownership since 2005, Coffee Time is located at 712 NW 21st, just a block away from Cinema 21. In fact, that’s how we came to know and love Coffee Time in the late 1990s. Without a TV, our entertainment consisted of the independent and foreign movies playing nightly at Cinema 21. Before or after a show, we’d grab a coffee, which even in those days wasn’t the best in the world but could get you through a late-night showing. Coffee Time is great for early birds and night owls, opening at 6:30 a.m. and closing at 2:30 a.m.

Coffee: In the old days of Coffee Time, I am not sure what brand they sold, but the cappuccinos they served always reminded me of the kind I used to get when teaching English in Eastern Europe — slightly bitter coffee topped with foam and a generous amount of cinnamon. On a visit at the beginning of the year, my coffee arrived so burnt-tasting, it had to be tossed. According to Coffee Time, they serve specially roasted light and dark roasts of the Panache blend, from Portland’s own Coffee Bean International, the folks behind the Public Coffee Domain coffeehouse that has gotten such great reviews and I’m hoping to visit soon. Not sure what’s gone wrong at Coffee Time, but it could be time to check the coffee machine, the beans or something.

Cool stuff: Despite the coffee, Coffee Time is an awesome place to hang out, chat, read and study. The place attracts loads of students, by the looks of the study groups that converge, as well as neighbors and passers-by. On a cool, damp day in Portland, there’s nothing better than getting a warm drink (preferably tea) and sitting outside on the sidewalk under the heated lamps. Or if you like the coziness of a cave, you can find a very private booth in the very private backroom.

Not so cool: ‘Nuff said.

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