Coffee ice cream suddenly abounds in Northeast Portland

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When Mio Gelato closed its shop in the Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland earlier this year, my family panicked. After several years of walking or riding bikes for a cool ice cream or iced Italian coffee on hot summer nights, what would we do? Fortunately, two new ice cream shops have emerged to fill the void that Mio Gelato’s departure left — and both offer the requisite coffee-flavored ice cream.

Both Salt & Straw and Ruby Jewel Scoops have put down roots in two hot neighborhoods in Northeast – Salt & Straw on NE Alberta and Ruby Jewel on NE Mississippi. But each offers a different approach to their coffee ice cream. Of the two, Salt & Straw has become our family fave, at least in the coffee category. Here’s why.

Notes on Salt & Straw…

Location: Salt & Straw started out in a mobile ice cream cart with a red-striped awning slightly reminiscent of Farrell’s while waiting to move into their new building at 2035 NE Alberta. Since occupying their new digs late this summer, the line is often seen winding out the door of the faux-warehouse shop.

Coffee (ice cream): Salt & Straw makes some very funky flavors indeed, from brown ale with bacon to pear and blue cheese. Call me old-fashioned or new-fangled, but I like the coffee ice cream best — which they make using Stumptown cold-brewed coffee with chunks of chocolate they call “cocoa nibs.” Coffee-colored and made with organic, local dairy milk, the ice cream is smooth, save for the nibs, and has a light yet distinct coffee taste.

Cool stuff: Salt & Straw, just like its name, has an artisan, small-town dairy feel to it. Simple, white ice cream cartons are stamped by hand with the shop’s logo. Despite the rustic décor, this is not your grandfather’s ice cream parlor. Salt & Straw has embraced the 21st century, taking credit card payments through a tiny-mounted iPad cash register application.

Not so cool: Standing outside the shop in line on one of those 90-degree September days, waiting…and waiting…for a cool coffee ice cream treat.

Notes on Ruby Jewel Scoops…

Location: Ruby Jewel, originally sold at the Portland Farmer’s Market and wholesale accounts around the country, popped up a few months back with a new scoop shop at 3713 N. Mississippi Ave. and has been equally swamped as the open garage door entrance can attest.

Coffee (ice cream): Ruby Jewel’s main claim to fame is its hand-crafted ice cream sandwiches and unique, small-batch flavors. This summer, they offered a coffee-flavored ice cream that looked deliciously mocha-ish but ended up being chunky (I’m talking about the consistency of the ice cream here) and chock full of ground up coffee beans. Dry and crunchy are two words that come to mind.

Cool stuff: Ruby Jewel claims that they recycle nearly everything they make and sell, and the shop has a number of recycling bins and signage to encourage patrons to do the same. Their ingredients are also local and sustainably grown, from the hormone-free milk to local sources of lavender, honey and mint.

Not so cool: I’m willing to give Ruby Jewel some slack if their coffee ice cream is just a seasonal fad, but it was disappointing that the ice cream-ista didn’t know his source of coffee used in the ice cream and couldn’t even brew up a cup of Joe when asked, though the shop had a small coffee maker on the counter.

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Fire can’t stop Barista

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It’s Labor Day, and 4th of July is yet a distant summer memory. Except if you’re Barista, whose Northeast Portland business was damaged in a roof fire caused by an errant 4th of July firework two months ago.

This past week, I had the opportunity to stop by Barista (also known online as Barista PDX) at 1725 NE Alberta a couple of times, as I dropped kids off at the Community Cycling Center’s awesome bike camp. Cool, late summer mornings deserved a warm coffee, and Barista beckoned me from across the street. What I didn’t expect was to see the baristas of Barista huddled around a coffee cart in the courtyard of the new-ish building Barista moved into over a year ago.

While the business waits for insurance to pay up, the cafe that was reminiscent of a modern hunting lodge stays shuttered from water damage it sustained when the sprinkler system went into action. In the meantime, Barista occupies a cart that drums up a steady stream of morning coffee-drinkers-on-the-go.

This is not last year’s Barista, which carved out a niche for itself by featuring a variety of independently roasted coffees from around the country. No, for the moment, Barista offers Stumptown exclusively, in honor of Stumptown Coffee, which generously donated the cart so the business — and coffee-making — could go on. Stop by and support Barista’s coffee cart as they rebuild.

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Best iced-coffee of summer: Alma Chocolate’s cold-press-brewed Spella Coffee

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If summer ever arrives in Portland, there’s one iced coffee drink you cannot miss: the cold-press Spella coffee served over ice at Alma Chocolate. I dropped by the tiny chocolate shop at 140 NE 28th Ave. last weekend to pick up some treats and see some cool photos from a photographer I know well (and am married to…that’s the shameless promotion part), and the woman at the counter enticed me with the iced drink, brewed and steeped 24 hours with Spella Roast Coffee, which I had not yet tried. I am hooked, both on the method and Spella’s amazingly smooth coffee.

I followed up with Alma proprietor Sarah Hart to find out more about this wondrous refreshment. Check out the interview below — and definitely stop by for an iced coffee at Alma this summer or follow Sarah’s at-home instructions.

Q: I’ve heard of cold-press olive oil, but never coffee. Is it a new method and where did you hear about it?

A: I don’t think it is very new. Andrea Spella, who roasts our coffee, suggested we do it for summer drinks and so we did. It is really easy and so flavorful there is no good reason not to, other than the fact that we drink it up ourselves! It is at all the good coffee shops. I think Stumptown is even bottling a cold brew.

Q: Maybe you could give a nuts-and-bolts description of cold-press coffee — what equipment do you need, what kind of coffee, how much time, can you do it at home?

A: We use a cold-press coffee system made by a company called “Toddy” and essentially you just layer ground up coffee with cold water and let it sit for 10 + hours and then strain it. The toddy makes it easy because it comes with filters but you can easily do it at home with mason jars, a sieve and cheese cloth. Here are directions from the smitten kitchen:
http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/08/cold-brewed-iced-coffee/

Q: Is it best served cold over ice? I loved it that way, but was curious if anyone would ever heat it back up?

A: It is great either way. It is a concentrate so you can add super hot water to it for a hot cup. I do that a lot actually.

Q: How has the response been? Do you serve it year-round?

A: We really just do it in the summer. For an iced coffee alternative.

Q: Do you sneak any chocolate into the coffee? (It was so smooth and rich.)

A: No chocolate snuck in there (though it is good with a little dark chocolate on the side…).

Q: Anything else to share?

A: Nope, except that if you usually like your iced coffee sweet (I do, though I like hot coffee with just cream), I urge you to taste it unsweetened first. Because it doesn’t have the acids, it is so smooth and good on its own you don’t need sugar so much!

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Stumptown, Coava and Midnight Fuel

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Things have been a little quiet on the Coffeepad front, but not for lack of coffee. If anything, Portland coffee has been making news this month and I have been downing the stuff to get through a summer graduate course while holding down a full-time day job.

First, the news. Stumptown Coffee has sold a majority of its company (90%, according to Willamette Week) to a San Franciso-based investment firm. A barista at my favorite Stumptown shop on SE Belmont assured me the company is still a Portland company, and the move will allow Stumptown to expand to other cities, like Chicago. What it means for Portland? Probably nothing for coffee drinkers who don’t care if their coffee roaster is independent and locally owned. Luckily, for those who do, there are plenty of other options – for which we have Stumptown to thank for blazing the trail starting 12 years ago.

In other news, Coava Coffee, the hot trend-setter in the pour-over coffee movement, has launched a new and improved metal filter – the Kone 2nd Generation – for glass Chemex drip coffee pots, and the reviews have been great. Check out the review on Gizmodo, which calls the new version “a more magical metal Kone for brewing coffee.” Good thing I held off on buying my own Kone filter recently — new model, here we come.

In the meantime, as coffee has fueled some late night studies recently, I’ve conducted a bit of a home-brewed taste test with: Courier, Ristretto, Heart and Caffe Vita. Right now, Courier is in the lead for a nice-tasting, smooth-with-just-a-touch-of tang after-dinner espresso.

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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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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Suzette Creperie and Courier Coffee, a match made in mobility

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A few months back, we stopped by Suzette Creperie in the Alberta Arts District of Northeast Portland for a Sunday afternoon crepe. And while there, we had our first taste of Portland’s own Courier Coffee. What a pairing, both in taste and mobile sensibility. Where Suzette makes its savory and sweet crepes in a silver Airstream parked behind the main cafe, Courier delivers its custom-roasted coffee to Suzette (and others) by bicycle. We’ve been back since for more crepes, more coffee and more surprises, including a fun series of movies that the creperie plays weekly along one wall of the cafe.

Notes on Suzette…

Location: It’s easy to saunter along NE Alberta and 29th Streets and nearly miss Suzette Creperie, which sits slightly back from the sidewalk at 2921 NE Alberta. Look for the French-inspired, pebble-footed garden out front and a sign pointing in the direction of the “crepes.” Suzette is open Wed-Sun and offers happy hour and weekly events, including movies like this month’s Hitchcock film fest and game nights every Wednesday.

Coffee: I had been wanting to try Courier Coffee for some time, but hadn’t been able to make it downtown to the roaster’s one and only cafe at 923 SW Oak, which is only open Mon-Fri during daytime hours. So what a pleasant surprise to order a coffee with my goatcheese-filled buckwheat crepe and discover the really nicely flavorful Courier-roasted and bike-delivered coffee. At Suzette, they painstakingly brew the coffee using the pour-over method, and in 3-4 visits it’s been a real treat. Robust and strong yet mild and delicious to the tastebuds.

Cool stuff: Suzette, named for the crepe recipe that combines carmelized sugar, butter and liquor in a burst of flame, has got an eclectic ambience that is both cozy and congenial. Order your crepe out back at the window of the Airstream, warm up inside at a table, on a stool or sit in a row of movie theater seats. The servers, including presumably owner Jehnee Rains, are friendly and attentive, obviously enjoying the joy they bring to their clientele. Eating chocolatey or cheesy crepes and watching old movies on the wall is a kick, too. Check out Suzette’s regular calendar of events here.

Not so cool: It can be a little chilly in the winter months ordering your meal outside and waiting for it to be delivered to the sometimes-drafty inside. Bring a coat and have some Courier coffee or a tea, and you’ll be just fine.

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