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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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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