The Coava Kone: finally, a perfect cup of pour-over coffee

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Over the years, I have inherited a few household items from my mom. And while most of them were at the time simply mementos from my 1970s childhood, a few also turned out to be icons of mid-century design.

One such “hand-me-down” was an original Chemex glass coffee maker that my mom pawned off on me about 20 years ago. I liked the hour-glass shape and the wood grip, held together by a piece of old leather string. When I had my first apartment in NW Portland, I occasionally tried to use the Chemex to brew up some easy-to-make drip coffee, placing a few scoops of grounds in a paper filter and pouring hot water over it. Unfortunately, I either had the wrong filters or just couldn’t get the hang of it because more often than not, the ground coffee flowed over the paper filter and into the pot, making a gritty, ground-filled drink.

My mom’s old Chemex pot has followed me around ever since, but collected more dust than coffee – until recently. When I heard about the Kone filter, an innovative new reusable coffee filter made right here in Portland by the creative folks at Coava Coffee and had the chance to have a cup of perfectly brewed pour-over coffee at both Mr. Green Beans and Coava, I had to get one myself. Plus, I liked the idea of buying local and not having to throw away, or compost, my filter after each use.

The metal-mesh Kone, at $50, is a pretty penny, for sure. But if you compare it to the price of paper filters over the life of your pot, eventually it all pays off, especially if you drink as much coffee as we do.

Following the instructions of Coava’s barista (see below), it only took 20 years to brew a perfect cup of pour-over coffee in my now-vintage-vintage Chemex pot.

The metal Kone filter fits right into the top funnel of the Chemex. I expected it to look a little like a strainer but the holes are mesh-like, allowing the water to pour over the finely ground coffee ever so slowly and seep into the pot. For one pour-over, Coava recommends: 21 grams ground coffee, 340 grams H20 and 3 to 3.5 minutes to drip/brew.

To find out more about the Chemex coffee maker, check out a post by Portland Roasting Company on their visit to the original factory.

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Nothing watered-down about Water Avenue Coffee

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As a regular coffee drinker and blogger of Portland’s independent coffee scene, I tend to be open to many different roasters around town and usually have a different bag of beans in my cupboard every week or so. But I recently began to develop some favoritism for Water Avenue’s “El Toro” espresso blend — silky, with hints of dark chocolate but no bitterness, just rich coffee-ness. It’s just how I like my espresso but is a flavor that sometimes is a little hard to consistently find.

It took me awhile to actually try Water Avenue Coffee. Sure, I saw the beans for sale at my local Whole Foods store, but I like to actually try a new coffee at the roaster itself or preferred café.

Notes on Water Avenue

The first time I ventured into the coffee shop/roastery, I was chaperoning a third-grade field trip to research Portland’s bridges along the Eastside Esplanade. While the class stopped under the I-5 bridge to eat sandwiches amidst the pigeons and nearby homeless encampment, another mom and I ran a couple blocks to the bright yellow industrial building with the large “Water Avenue Coffee” sign for a cup of coffee to warm our bones.

Location: Located on, of course, Water Avenue (1028 SE Water Avenue to be exact) in a renovated warehouse that now rents to creatives and yogis, Water Avenue Coffee is an inviting destination in the up-and-coming Eastside industrial neighborhood.

Coffee: That first Americano warmed, woke up and did all the right things for a field trip chaperone walking under the bridges with 33 third-graders. I’ve been back three times since and Water Avenue Coffee continues to never disappoint. As I said, I’m a fan of the El Toro, which a very nice barista recommended, and this year I began to buy the beans at the more conveniently located grocery store. My coffee-drinking other half agrees that Water Avenue’s got a good blend going and is currently our favorite at-home coffee.

Cool stuff:Water Avenue is the real deal. From the outside, they may appear to be a hot, indie coffee roaster with bearded and eye-glassed baristas who look like extras from Portlandia, but Water Avenue Coffee actually has an authentic, down-to-earth vibe, eclectic clientele (from grandparents to truck drivers) and clutter behind the counter. And the coffee’s just damn good, whether espresso, pour-over or cold-pressed.

Not so cool: As I’ve said about others before, location, location. While the digs are cool, if you don’t work in that area or happen to make a detour from MLK or get off I-5 at the Water Avenue exit, Water Avenue Coffee is not the most convenient place to get to. But it is worth a trip, if you’re in the neighborhood, for the coffee.

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Coava Coffee leading in coffee innovation

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Carrie Brownstein sings their praises in interviews about Portland. Techies like Gizmodo geek out over them. One of their baristas just won the 2012 Northwest Regional Barista and Brewers Cup. And now, of course, the New York Times has joined in with a glowing review in last weekend’s Travel section.

No question: Coava Coffee has put itself, and Portland coffee, on the map through a number of innovations.

Notes on Coava Coffee…

Locations: Coava Coffee Roasters occupies a spacious corner at1300 SE Grand Avenue. Like many other craft roasters in town, Coava has an antique roaster parked in the middle of its shop and offers micro-roasted beans in brown paper bags (differentiating with a focus on single origin, rather than blends). They’re also among a handful of shops in Portland that have specialized in the pour-over coffee movement.

But where this roaster is even more different than the others is that they not only roast and pour a great cup of coffee, in 2010 Coava introduced the Kone, a revolutionary, reusable metal mesh filter designed for glass, drip coffeemakers like the Chemex. A few weeks back, I splurged and finally bought myself a Kone.

Check back soon for Part II of this post and my experience at home with the Kone. Keep reading for a brief review of my impressions of Coava, the café.

Coffee: I’ve had Coava-roasted coffee several times as espresso as well as pour-over coffee. Until recently, I have to say I favored their Americanos, which may just be because I like espresso best. But this winter, I dropped in for a pour-over cup, and it was truly a delicious experience. From the rum-chocolate-flavored Finca Zarcero drip coffee from Costa Rica chosen for my drink to the way the barista carefully explained the method behind this particular pour-over coffee, I thoroughly enjoyed my coffee and left excited to try it out at home with my new Kone filter.

Cool stuff: Aesthetically, Coava’s coffee shop is an incredible space with large windows, high ceilings and bamboo wood accents. The baristas are friendly and knowledgeable and more than willing to share their expertise while brewing a fine cup of coffee. The wooden coffee bar looks like an experiment in mid-century design adorned with glass coffee pots just waiting to be poured over.

Not so cool: The metal school chairs and stools make it a little tough to cozy up with a coffee and a book or your laptop. Many people do, but I tend to get my coffee to go or end up drinking while standing up.

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On books and coffee…

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I’ve been reading a lot this winter. And there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee and a good book to curl up with this time of year. When you’re out shopping for books – preferably the old-fashioned way, at your local independent bookstore, like Powell’s on SE Hawthorne– The Fresh Pot is there to fortify book- and coffee-lovers alike.

Notes on The Fresh Pot…

Location: The Fresh Pot has three fabulous locations around town, but this post is about the shop that’s located in a quiet (save for an occasional scream from the espresso maker), somewhat dark corner of Powell’s Bookstore at 3729 SE Hawthorne.

Coffee: The Fresh Pot serves Stumptown, and while Portland’s original indie roaster is taking some hits lately for selling out to Corporate America, The Fresh Pot keeps it local with just three smallish cafes and baristas who are obviously dedicated to their craft and to brewing a tasty cup of coffee. If you didn’t know any better, you might mistake the coffee-making folks at the Powell’s location for librarians. They don’t shush, thank goodness, but they are among the most serious, no-nonsense baristas in town.

Cool Stuff: Drinking coffee and reading the stack of books you just bought or are considering buying while hanging out at Powell’s; whimsical illustrations on sidewalk sandwich boards by artist Trish Grantham; my favorite gluten-free goodies from local bakery Gluten Free Gem.

Not so cool: The Fresh Pot at Powell’s is obviously beloved by bookworms (myself included) and laptop users, so it’s sometimes hard to get a table.

Books inspired by, in or about Portland: And while you’re perusing Powell’s and taking a break at The Fresh Pot, here are some local reads I recommend: Wildwood by Colin Meloy (Portlandia meets Forest Park fantasy); A Family Daughter by Malie Meloy (Portlander Colin’s sis is a writer, too, and a really good one; all I can say about this story is “whoa.”); The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow (haunting coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a gray, 1970s Portland); The Chronology of Water by Lydia Yuknavitch (a brave memoir by an amazing Oregon writer).

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Coffee run at 3 a.m.? Look no further than 24-hour Southeast Grind

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Twice in the past year, my job has led me to do a 3 a.m. coffee run for an early-morning appointment with the East Coast. Both times, I’ve found coffee salvation at Southeast Grind, Portland’s only 24-hour coffee shop. The first time, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I drove down an eerily empty Powell Boulevard looking for the coffee shop on the corner of SE Powell and 12th. But inside, it was cozy and warmly lit with three or four night owls hunkered down with books, laptops and big mugs of coffee.

Notes on Southeast Grind…

Location: Located at 1223 SE Powell, Southeast Grind opened in 2010. While situated on the busy boulevard, daytime and evening coffee-goers can easily walk over from the Clinton neighborhood or Cleveland High School a few blocks up. If you’re driving at night, there’s easy parking on 12th street or in the parking lot behind the cafe.

Coffee: Southeast Grind’s website and reviews say it’s a Stumptown Coffee shop, and I recall drinking a nice, tall cup of Stumptown a year ago at 4 in the morning. But on my most recent morning visit, I noticed a sky-blue coffee pot emblazened with the logo of Batdorf & Bronson coffee roasters out of Olympia. I was too bleary-eyed to inquire about the switch, plus the super-friendly barista was trying to serve me and a motorcyclist while trouble-shooting a cash register problem. The Batdorf & Bronson brew definitely kept me and my colleagues awake but lacked a super-flavorful taste and may have been sitting in the pot a bit too long at that hour of the day. I’d like to give it a try again, given the roaster’s environmentally friendly and organic approach, not to mention cleverly named website — http://www.dancinggoats.com.

Cool stuff: Genuinely friendly staff, even at 3 a.m.; fresh baked goods and a nice selection of Gluten Free and vegetarian options; the feel of a 1960s retro basement, complete with foam-tile drop ceiling and Jetson-like furniture.

Not so cool: While it’s awesome that a coffee shop like Southeast Grind has found a home on such a car-centric boulevard, it is slightly spooky getting there in the middle of the night when there’s not a car or person in sight. Fortunately once inside, Southeast Grind is warm and inviting.

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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.

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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