The Portland-NY coffee connection (and love affair, apparently)

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This past week, Portlandia filmed outside my office, Willamette Week featured an article on how Brooklyn wants to be like Portland, and a reader from Philly left a comment on my blog looking for a Portland coffeehouse he and his wife visited more than a decade ago.

All this, at the same time I was drafting a review of NY coffeehouse RBCNYC from a recent trip back East and my flight back with two forty-something Portlandia tourists. Serendipity or just coincidence, I love when that happens.

First, a quick story on my fellow travelers. During this year’s tragic tornado season, what should have been a routine flight from La Guardia to PDX turned into a 17-hour journey to get home. Like many other travelers heading West, it took hours to get out of NY, only to be foiled again in Chicago. At the gate, I sat next to a down-to-earth couple about my age, whom I decided by their clothes and look were from Portland. Thus, I was surprised when the wife turned to me and asked: Are you from Portland?…and told me she and her husband were from New Jersey.

They were on the first trip away from the kids for a long weekend in Portland. Huge Decemberist fans (and more recently, Portlandia), they had dreamed of visiting Portland for years and proudly shared their planned itinerary, which included a show at the Doug Fir, nights at both the Kennedy School and Ace Hotel, a walk through the Alberta Street Fair and dinner at Paleys, where they hoped to find out the origins (and possibly name) of their free-range chicken.

I offered some suggestions for coffee (Ristretto) and pie (Random Order), and mentioned my visit the day before to RBCNYC in the heart of Wall Street, where one of the roasts they were serving was none other thanPortland’s Heart Coffee.

Where’s that, they asked? Granted, if you don’t work in downtown Manhattan, RBC’s a little out of the way. But since the husband of the Portlandia couple did work a couple blocks away from the RBC shop at71 Worth Street, I gave him the scoop, possibly inspiring a new customer of the independent coffeehouse for a Portland coffee fix.

Notes on RBCNYC…

Location: I was referred to RBC on the recommendation of Project Latte, a social media project mapping the independent cafes of NY. The folks at Project Latte actually first suggested I head to Brooklyn (how ironic!), but I was short on time and wasn’t able to venture out of Manhattan, so they kindly referred me to RBC on Worth Street in downtown. In the evening, when I stopped by, the area was totally dead and void of the hustle and bustle of Wall Street. But RBC stays open, perhaps for the law students from the school just around the corner or the other lone customer I saw, a young guy in a suit with a book and calculator.

Coffee: Like PDX’s own Barista, RBCNYC serves up a variety of other independently roasted coffees from around the U.S. What a fun surprise to walk in and see Portland’s Heart Coffee as the day’s “guest espresso,” complete with a chalkboard-written recommendation to try Heart’s “Wallego” without milk. Since I actually do prefer milk with my espresso, I ordered San Francisco-based Ritual’s “Spring Break” blend. It was tangy and slightly acidic, but a nice pick-me-up to combat my jetlag. Other coffees on offer that day included Barismo from Massachusetts and Klatch from California.

Cool stuff: RBC is tucked into a small space in what appears to be an old bank building. Exposed, dusty brick walls and metal imprinted ceilings combine with modern wood furniture and accents. Hip-hop music and young hipster baristas counter the stuffiness of Wall Street.

Not so cool: It’s possible to almost miss RBCNYC as it inhabits a desolate block marked by imposing columns.





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.

For the love of coffee, check out Heart Coffee Roasters

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Valentine’s Day is in the air, and as much as I love Portland’s indie coffee scene, I don’t have any good coffeehouse love stories. The best I can do is the story about a high school girl (me), who was working in a neighborhood drugstore one lonely February 14 when out of nowhere a cheesy Hallmark card, addressed to her and signed by a customer who had inquired earlier about her Valentine’s Day status, slid down her checkout stand.

Whether your most memorable Valentine’s Day is from high school or a happening coffee shop, there’s one cafe in town that offers a little bit of both — Heart Coffee Roasters. Combining the trendy, dark-wood-and-concrete look and tall ceilings of a New York loft and the weirdness of high school chemistry class, Heart Coffee has got a good thing going on East Burnside.

Notes on Heart Coffee Roasters…

Location: I like — or should I say, I “heart”? — Heart Coffee at 2211 E. Burnside for its proximity to two recent kid-friendly transplants to nearby NE Sandy, The Children’s Gym, which just relocated from Hollywood, and The Circuit Bouldering Gym, which just opened its second location. After your kids get their crazies out at gymnastics class or scrambling up boulders, you’re just a minute or two away by bike or car from a warm cup of Heart Coffee.

Coffee: A huge 1953 roaster takes up one side of the cafe in what looks like a mad, scientific experiment with coffee beans. My very first visit’s Americano tasted more like watery coffee but subsequent drinks, including cappuccino, have been hearty (no pun intended) and nicely flavored. Heart Coffee says their roasting style is inspired by Scandinavian and Portland influences. On a recent visit, my barista even threw my shots away before I got them in order to perfect my drink. It wasn’t until my coffee was halfway drunk that I noticed the signature heart on the foam.

Cool stuff: Amidst the modern feel of the space are metal school stools, crazy science illustrations of hearts and other organs and what looks to be an authentic school clock; despite the slightly sterile decor, the place is packed with adults and kids alike. And, since I’m on a love theme, it was cool running into a couple I hadn’t seen in a couple of  years who were back together. The cafe also serves pastries by Random Order, who recently received the accolade of baking “One of the best pies in America” by Travel & Leisure Magazine. Yum.

Not so cool: If raw dog food and coffee sound unappealing, you might avoid sitting outside where Heart Coffee Roasters and a raw dog food store share the sidewalk.