Thursday, July 17, 2008
Buvare: The Coffee [r]Evolution
People love their coffee.
Strike that, people do actually NEED their coffee. I've always prided myself on being someone who, well, didn't.
There was one cup of coffee that changed my mind. Not to the point of "need" maybe, but definitely showed me true love.
No, it wasn't the crack-strong moonshine brew they served us crazed students at Eugene's Espresso Roma, or that delightfully sinful mocha float at Tucson's too-cool Cafe Quebec, or even the sharp lemony espresso I so often enjoyed while working brunch shifts at Marché.
No, it was a gorgeously crafted latté (pictured) at the Belmont Stumptown Coffee Roasters in SE Portland (where I later, ahem, stalked and dated a barrista). Upon entering any of the seven Stumptown locations, you can SMELL the difference. This is one rich subject, taken deadly serious. The aforementioned barrista explained just how rigorous the training truly is to work there.. Several intensive weeks watching the roasting process, tasting, noting and testing.. This is no slacker barrista part-time job. This is coffee expert training. And the proof is in the pudding.
You are purchasing a respected and finely crafted product when you walk into Stumptown, as you would a reserve bottle of Pinot Noir at a King Estate Winery tasting room.
So, least to say I was spoiled for good. Part of me took for granted though that this exceptional quality coffee revoltion was perhaps unique. I mean, beyond Stumptown, Portland was burgeoning with other robust contenders for a perfect cup, like Mississippi's Fresh Pot, the legendary Starbucks-alternative Coffee People, and even my old college roommate roaster/biker Joel's successful Courier Coffee (you order it, he roasts it and bikes it to your door!). So when I moved to Los Angeles and suddenly found myself at the Coffee Bean whenever a craving hit.. My appreciation for the leaf-adorned foamy tops up North brought a wistful tear to my eye. Could this GIANT city really be lacking a good cup of joe???
Bourne from a newlywed's passion for premium fresh roasting, the Chicago upstart has landed its only non-Chicago shop smack dab in the center of Silverlake, at Sunset Junction proper. And boy are we lucky! Following (or perhaps just kindred to) Stumptown's tradition of excellency, Intelligentsia brings the finest beans they can find to the hood, whilst making one HELL of a macchiato! Suddenly LA can't stop yakking about coffee. Now I hear about how damn good Silverlake's Cuban corner Café Tropical's Espresso con Leche really is (and it IS - could have used that tip earlier on, thanks everyone). Meanwhile, LA Mill, the bourgiest fine coffee and tea "boutique" you could dream up opens a hop skip and a jump down Silverlake Blvd. Imagine a bizarre ritzy 70s Roman-themed country club tearoom serving molecular gastronomic specialty drinks like Coffee and a Jelly Donut (strawberry essence layered with donut-infused milk and topped with espresso) and Liquid Tiramisu (chocolate and grand marinier creme anglais, topped with espresso then garnished with sweetended whipped cream). LA Mill also specializes in slow extraction coffee prepared table-side, an extensive coffee and tea list, and thankfully a perfect Café con Leche.
So when I last visited Portland, I entered a downtown Stumptown (off the lobby of the uber-hip Ace Hotel, pictured) with a little more pomp, curious to see if it still stood up to my flexed palate. But oh.. it's still the one!
[Ed. note: I just got the iced Vietnamese coffee at Viet Noodle Bar with my soyskin noodles for lunch today and hours later am still whirring like a hummingbird. It's robust yet sweet and all-around delicious, what true cravings are made from!
And per Nicolette's astute reminder, I almost forgot to mention the magical potion that is Allegria's mind-altering and taste-bud-exploding Cafe de la Olla. The secret? "Piloncillo and cinnamon sticks are simmered for an hour then coffee is added to the mixture then removed from the flame before bitterness sets in. The result is sweet and strong." Indeeeed!]