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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