PDX Coffee News
Saturday, July 26, 2008 Review - J Cafe I apologize for the delay in posting reviews recently. The last few days have been exceedingly busy for me, though I did manage to squeeze in another visit to a local coffee shop, the J Cafe.
Last week, Portland played host to the Open Source Convention (OSCON). For those who don't know what 'Open Source' is, the Cliffs Notes version is that it's software that is built with (usually) freely available code so that other developers can modify, alter, and improve it. Check the Wikipedia entry to learn more if you'd like, I need to get back to talking about coffee.
The reason I mention OSCON is because it was why I was in the neighborhood of J Cafe. During lunch on Thursday, I searched Google Maps for "coffee" with my BlackBerry and found a couple nearby shops. J Cafe wasn't the closest, but it was the the only one on my screen that wasn't a national chain, so off I went.
The J Cafe is nestled along the MAX a couple blocks east of the Convention Center and as I could tell is definitely a volume based business. The inward and outward design of the J Cafe reminded me more of the sidewalk cafes in Germany than a tradional coffee house and that observation held true.
Unfortunately for me, the J Cafe isn't so much a coffee house as it is ... well, a cafe. The difference being that a coffee house is a place to get coffee and a cafe is a place to get a light lunch, drinks, and if you're in the mood, some coffee. So again I found myself reviewing a place that served coffee instead of a coffee house. Still, I wanted to get a drink and eat some lunch so I got in line and waited my turn to order.
The place was very busy so I didn't have time to get a good feel for the personalities of the wait staff, though it seemed they were very polite despite the lunch rush. Though I walked away from the counter with my double-shot espresso, I had to wait about 10 minutes for my sandwich. I took a seat at a barstool and started snapping pics and videos with my phone while I waited for my espresso to cool down a bit. After sending myself the media, I sat down and started sipping my brew and found that it wasn't too bad. It didn't measure up to the Juniper Java, but it was still pretty good for being an ancillary product. The espresso was a bit on the bitter side, though when it reached the middle of my tongue there was a distinctly sugary taste along with it. It didn't leave much of an aftertaste and didn't leave much of an impression beyond being caffiene.
The sandwich, though, was delicious! I had the 'English Pub Dip' which came with a side salad and some tasty potato chips. To wash it all down I ordered a cup of iced tea which was probably he best part of the meal and complemented the sandwich nicely. Since the sandwich and drink are more to the heart of the J Cafe, I'd say that it falls into the category of "if-I'm-in-the-area-and-slightly-hungry", but not worth going out of the way for on its own.
Labels: cafe, coffee, iced tea, J Cafe, PDX, Portland, review, sandwich
Posted by Ben at 5:18 PM 0 comments
Monday, July 21, 2008 A Method to the Madness First off, thanks to @caseorganic on Twitter the tip about the Ace Hotel Lobby being open late, I'll make that my next stop. Secondly, I've come up with what I feel is a unique way to find new places to try which I'll explain below, but first I need to provide a bit of background:
Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send updates (otherwise known as tweets) which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.
Updates are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook. For SMS, four gateway numbers are currently available: short codes for the United States, Canada, and India, as well as a United Kingdom number for international use. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via email.
What I've done is to create a search query that will pick out when someone around Portland posts a note referencing "coffee" or "cafe" or "roast". Of course this generates quite a number of posts about "Ugh, want coffee..." and the like, but it also helps me find new places that other Tweeters talk about. You can check it out by subscribing to this RSS feed.
If you're already a Twitter user, you can find me there at @bandit36. Also, if you know what a "fail whale" is and want something else, try Identi.ca, I'm @bandit36 there also.
And on a final note, I found this post on Life Hacker pretty interesting and though it fit the topic enough to mention it here: Scoop Clip Keeps Coffee Fresh, Measures The Scoop Clip from Pampered Chef is a simple but useful multi-tool that works as both a freshness clip and tablespoon and teaspoon measuring tool. It may seem a little silly, but if $5 means you don't have to fumble bleary-eyed through your drawers for your tablespoon and your coffee's going to be that much fresher, it's not a bad buy. Then again, if you don't feel like shelling out the extra cash, rolling your own is a very simple kitchen DIY project waiting to happen. Scoop Clip [via Cool Tools]
Posted by Ben at 10:44 AM 1 comments
Thursday, July 17, 2008 Help Me Find Coffee After 6 I went downtown again yesterday for a networking event sponsored by PDX Mindshare. I was one of the first to arrive at Paddy's Bar & Grill and since this was my first time I felt a bit out of place when people asked me if "this was where that PDX Mindshare thing was meeting?" Note to self: arrive fashionably late next time. I also quickly found that trying to make professional contacts when you have to shout so the person next to you can hear you isn't the best way to make professional contacts. At least I felt very awkward doing that, but that might just be me.
As usual, I wanted to make the most of my trip and get some material for my next review and become more familiar with the lay of the Portland coffee house land. That roughly translates to, "I wanted to drown my sorrows for lacking bar room social grace in a cup of joe." During my desperate search for a cup of hot, steamy caffeine I learned a very tough lesson: most coffee shops in downtown Portland close at 6PM. Oh, sure, Starbucks and Peets are open, but as my friend who recommended Juniper Java said, "I'm not a fan of dishwater and cookie cutter baked goods..."
I wanted caffeine, but I didn't want to take the easy way out, so I walked the streets of downtown Portland for about an hour and a half looking for a coffee house that was 1) open, and 2) locally owned. I sadly found none that met these two simple criteria. The places that I did come across that fit the second criteria failed to meet the first. Every single one of them closed at 6 PM, like all the coffee suddenly turned into pumpkin juice (congratulations if you get the reference). It doesn't seem realistic to me that there wouldn't be a local coffee house open past 6 PM so I'm officially asking for help -
Help me find a local coffee house that is open after 6 PM! Labels: closed, coffee, PDX, Portland, suggestions
Posted by Ben at 12:09 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 Review - Juniper Java Today I made a trip down to Southern Portland for a meeting and decided that I should make the most of my trip and stop at a coffee shop so that I could do another review. Totally selfless you know, strictly for the benefit of my readers ... all two of you (hi Dad!).
After the meeting I asked for recommendations for local coffee shops that I could stop by on my way out of town. The guy I was meeting with pointed and said that there was a nice little place right across the street that he liked to go to called the Juniper Java.
I was thrilled that I would finally be able to review an actual coffee house since, you know, this is a coffee review blog. So I went across the street and found what has become officially my first coffee house review here on PDX Coffee. I'm happy to report that the Juniper Java is definitely on my 'worth it' list.
Finding the place is pretty easy; if you're headed south on Macadam, turn right on Dakota and make the very next left into the parking lot. Inside you'll find that the atmosphere is pretty typical of coffee houses with a mix of couches, comfy chairs, bar stools, and regular old tables and chairs. One side of the shop is plate window so you have a lot of natural light and a good view of Macadam street so you can watch busy folks hurry about their business as you enjoy you brew. Over the bar was a huge mirror which I found a bit unique, but it fit in well with the rest of the shop.
When I walked in I saw that there was already a couple other folks inside, one of which was chatting pleasantly with the Barista. I walked up to the counter and asked for a small cup of coffee and was told it was self-serve on the table by the door. I went over and poured myself a cup, added a bit of cream and sugar, and went back to the bar to order my double shot espresso. After picking up my double and paying, I took a seat in one of the tall chairs to begin the toughest *giggle* part of the review - drinking coffee.
(side note - I think I'll continue to phrase it that way to see what kind of response I get - them, "What can I get for you?"; me, "A cup of coffee, please."; them, "What kind of coffee?"; me, "You know, coffee-coffee."; them, "Huh?" - in my opinion, the term "coffee" should mean house blend drip by default. If it's not, to me, it's a sign that the shop wants you to know that they know what the heck they're talking about and you lowly peons should know to be specific when you ask for your coffee, dangit! But I digress...)
The cup of coffee was good. Not knock-you-on-your-butt good, but it had a good, strong flavor that wasn't overpowering or leave much of an aftertaste. As I sipped away at the cup I listened- ok, eavesdropped on the conversation that the Barista was having with her customer. Based on that conversation, and the conversation that she (the Barista) had with several other customers, I came to the conclusion that the place was pretty popular with the locals since every one of them called her by her first name (which escapes me at the moment) and she responded in kind. Definately high marks for knowing you customers by name!
When I finished the coffee I moved right into the double shot which was outstanding! I don't think I've ever had such good espresso. The whole experience was great. The flavor was very strong, as it should be, but not bitter at all. It was as if the espresso was softly caressing my tongue and telling it that everything was going to be ok as it jabbed a needle full of caffeine into my bloodstream. This was good stuff!
I tried to take my time with the double shot and enjoy it, but it was tough to pace myself and I quickly found that my tongue had been lied to because the goodness came to an end at the bottom of the too-small cup. Don't get me wrong, it was your standard double shot sized cup, it was just so good that I drank it too fast. I like to think that the espresso tried to make it up to me by leaving a wonderfully sweet taste in my mouth. Even hours after finishing the cup, I still have a delicious aftertaste lingering on my tongue.
All told, this was a great coffee house. If I frequented the area I would definitely make it a regular stop and if I do happen be within a 5-mile radius of the place, I will swing by and get a fix. Labels: coffee, good, Juniper Java, review, worth it
Posted by Ben at 4:47 PM 1 comments
Sunday, July 13, 2008 Home Brewed Some times I'm just not motivated enough to go out and get coffee somewhere else, but I still wants me some coffee so I have to brew my own. As with many other coffee drinkers, I've come up with my own brews and mixes to simulate my favorite drinks to the best of my ability. Remember, I'm not an espresso or coffee expert, I'm just a guy who likes, ok really likes coffee.
In my amateur attempts at brewing drinks like those available at coffee houses, I've developed a favorite drink that I'd like to share here in hopes of getting other folks to share their home-mixing techniques and recipes. The method is simple and so are the ingredients. Below is a step-by-step to brew what I call a 'Pogey Mocha':
What you'll need -
Normal, drip-style coffee maker A filter to fit your coffee maker Enough ground coffee to suit your taste Water Milk Hot cocoa mix Table spoon Coffee cup What you do - Brew a pot of coffee. I've found it's better to brew this pot a bit stronger than normal as you'll be diluting it a bit in the mix. That and I just like strong coffee. So if you have to guess on how much ground coffee to use, it's better to guess high. Put a heaping spoon of cocoa mix into the cup. Fill the cup to about 3/4 full while stirring & mixing the cocoa. Putting the cocoa mix in first and pouring the coffee on top makes it easier to mix it than putting the cocoa on top of the coffee. Fill the remaining 1/4 of the cup with milk. This thickens the mix a bit and helps cool it down so you can drink it right away. Please note that I tried to avoid being specific with measurements or sizes because the point of this is to find what you like, not what is written on a recipe. Your taste buds will tell you if you got it right.
At the end of this you'll have what I call a Pogey Mocha. If you want to know what a 'pogey' is, you can look here to get the full back story on how exactly this drink came about. The short version is that spent a year in a place where I couldn't just run down to a Starbucks or Peets and get my fix so I had to figure it out for myself.
Anyway, I hope you give this brew a try and if you have your own mix, please share it with us here. And remember, your taste buds are the true judge of whether or not you get your mix right. Labels: cocoa, coffee, drip, home, mocha, pogey, recipe
Posted by Ben at 10:29 PM 0 comments
Friday, July 11, 2008 Review - Pastini I took another trip into downtown tonight only this time I brought the whole family hoping to find a nice little cafe style coffee house that we could all enjoy. Katie wanted to get a panini and I wanted to get some coffee so that I could write up another review ... and get some coffee.
We drove around downtown, parked, and the three of us walked around trying to find just such a place. After having walked many blocks on his own two little legs, Mark had reached his limit and decided it was time to be carried. Then, after walking many more blocks without spotting a suitable cafe, I decided that my limit had been reached and we needed to compromise.
Like the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe, Pastini wan't a coffee house, it's an Italian restaurant so I'm 0 for 2 with reviewing an actual coffee house here at PDX Coffee. I'm so willing to continue such a bad average because the experience was such a positive one.
From the outside, Pastini seemed like a relatively high-class Italian restaurant where you might take someone for a fancy night out so I was a bit hesitant to go inside carrying a kid and wearing cut-off cargo pants and Birkenstocks. Katie, however, showed me the menu and with little more effort convinced me that it would be worth it. My fears of being out of place were entirely invalid. We were quickly shown to a table right in the middle of the main seating area and Mark was given crayons and some paper to draw on. The waitstaff was polite, prompt and courteous and I suspect that it was the owner of the restaurant that actually brought us our meal. We both ordered paninis with a side salad and were very pleasantly surprised at the size of the portions and, after taking a bite, the quality.
I couldn't let the opportunity pass so I ordered a cup of the house blend which was provided by Portland Roasting Company. Incorporating the lessons that I learned from my previous review, I accepted the cream and sugar this time. The coffee was decent, not great, but worth the price and definitely an overall positive experience. While I can't say it's worth tripping into downtown just to buy their coffee, I can whole heatedly recommend them for the total dining experience, especially for families.
Pastini is definitely on our "good places" list.
Labels: coffee, food, Italian, panini, Pastini, PDX, Portland, restaurant, review
Posted by Ben at 9:38 PM 0 comments
Coffee Trends I've been doing a bit of research to see what else is out there in regards to restaurant and coffee focused blogs to get ideas for mine. Since I'm a heavy user of Google products, I decided to use Trends to get a picture of "coffee" searches. Interestingly, Portland was the second ranked city in the world for "coffee" searches. Minneapolis ranked first, I wonder why.
It would make sense that with such a high concentration of people interested in coffee that there would be an equally high concentration of websites related to coffee in Portland. So far, I've found ... one - besides mine of course.
Perhaps I'm on to something =)