wanderlust wednesday :: a coffee shop tour of portland

As promised, a coffee themed wanderlust post.

Being in Portland for a coffee convention filled that little city to the brim with coffee crazies like myself.  Being there with people from my coffee job at Greyhouse meant that we were all up for checking out as many coffee shops as we could.  We went to more than a handful and still missed out on some.  But, I think we hit most of the really really great ones.  Total caffeine overdose.

The great thing about specialty coffee in Portland is that the people that work in coffee are very friendly and excited about sharing their passion.  Some other specialty coffee places (ahem, Intelligentsia and Mad Cap) have a stigma of not being very nice or understanding of customers.  (Don’t get me wrong, I still think that these places make fantastic coffee but I just wasn’t so impressed with how I was treated as a customer).  Anyways, Portland coffee people are just great.

Stumptown

This coffee shop is classic Portland.  It’s what most people think of when you say Portland and specialty coffee in the same sentence.  It definitely lives up to it’s name.  I traveled to Portland for the first time in 2009 and had the best macchiato in my life (now it’s too hard to say what has been the best up to this point).  I’m impressed that they keep their super high quality despite having 8 shops (only one of which is outside Portland, in Manhattan), which is quite a few for a specialty coffee shop.

One thing that they do that I have never seen anywhere else is have cold brewed coffee on tap.  Yes, you read that right, iced coffee on tap, 3 different kinds to choose from.  It was just one of the most revolutionary things ever (maybe that was a slight exaggeration).

Plus, their coffee packaging is so great and simple.

Personally, I’ve only been to the ‘downtown’ location on 3rd Ave and the Manhattan one, but their quality remains consistent and amazing. (Multiple locations in Portland and one in Manhattan, NYC)

Barista

What makes Barista a little different than most of the shops in Portland is that they don’t roast their own coffee.  But, what they get to do is feature their favorites from roasters all over Portland and the country.  I really liked the building that their shop was in.  It was a huge brick building in the Pearl district and it had a really open and airy feeling with lots of natural light.  There wasn’t a whole lot of seating but it still felt comfortable.  I really liked their bar setup too with wooden box shelves above displaying merchandise and the like.  Definitely a must see for Portland coffee. (Pearl District)

Heart

This is in the running for my favorite shop of Portland.  I don’t exactly know what it is about it, but I just really liked the feel of it as soon as I walked in.  You can tell these people are really passionate about coffee and eager to share it with their customers.  Their shop is simple and classy and open and flows really nicely. The roaster is right in front of the customers with bar seating around it. A lot of thought and time went into this shop and you can tell.  Not to mention that it was probably my favorite coffee that I had the entire time I was there. (Northeast Portland, Burnside)

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Coava Coffee

Coava Coffee shares their space with a woodworking shop.  It looks like a warehouse.  It’s in the industrial district of Portland.  The tables are old machinery.  All these things add up to something very special and unique.  Everything is very simple and clean.  I love a simple shop.  It keeps things focused on what we are all really there for: coffee.  They roast themselves and do all brewed coffee by Chemex pourover.  It’s just simply some really great coffee. (Industrial District, Southeast Portland)

Public Domain

This shop was probably the “least specialty” out of all the places we visited, at least to me.  It’s in downtown Portland and just has a more business-crowd feel because of that.  They still make a decent cup of coffee and the baristas are really friendly.  It’s just not a place that I would frequent everyday.  Nothing about it sticks out to me.  And in Portland, if you are doing specialty coffee, you just have to stick out or you will get lost among the hundreds. (Downtown)

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Portland, you have not disappointed your coffee filled reputation.  It was really great to be able to visit so many shops and have some really excellent coffee.  I’ll come back soon, I promise.

caffeine :: tattoo

So, some of you who don’t see me everyday have begun to see my newest tattoo in outfit photos and Instagrams, so I thought I should finally explain and share it.

This, my friends, is the chemical element of caffeine.  A bit geeky? Yes.  But, let’s be honest, I am quite the geek sometimes.

You probably have all figured out that I’m a but obsessed with coffee.  Not just the drink, but also the whole entire specialty coffee industry.  I’ve worked as a barista for about 4 years (not all of these coffee jobs I am proud of…).

It all started with Greyhouse Coffee in the Fall of 2008 (where I am back as a full time intern at now).  It had just opened and I worked full time until the end of that year.  I had always loved coffee but never had any idea of the specialty aspect of it.  I was hooked immediately.  I loved that the coffee industry was so closely tied to coffee producing countries.  In specialty coffee, many of the relationships are direct between the roaster and the farmers that grow it.  We all work together for a great end product.  It is just a really unique industry that I am in love with.

So, clearly coffee has been and is a huge part of my life.  And anything that means a lot to me will probably be tattoo worthy.  So, I knew I wanted a coffee tattoo, but wasn’t exactly sure how that would flesh out.  But, then I remembered that one of my friends sent me a card with the chemical structure of caffeine on it.  I knew that was it.  For those of you who don’t know, I studied pharmacy for 2 years before switching to something else, so the chemistry related coffee tattoo makes a little more sense.

I just love the clean look and the straight lines.  Plus, it makes me look pretty smart, right?  Not many people have chemistry on the wrists!  It’s so amusing for people to try and guess what structure it is.  But, mostly I think that people think I’m crazy for putting this chemistry on my arm, and I’m ok with that.

coffee break :: a guide to the french press

As some of your may know, I am a barista/coffee geek by “profession”.  I fell in love with coffee and everything that it means almost immediately after working in specialty coffee. (I’ll probably share this story sometime soon!)  Because it’s such a huge part of my life right now, I thought I would frequently share some info and lovely things about coffee.

To start off, I am going to guide you through how to make French press coffee, which is probably the easiest home brewing method (other than a regular coffee brewer, but let’s be honest, that makes quite disgusting coffee in comparison).

French pressing coffee allows you to experience how the coffee tastes at different temperatures.  You will taste different notes of flavor when the cup is hot or cold.  It creates a full-bodied cup and brings out the natural sweetness of the coffee.

What you need (for a single cup of coffee):

-a French press
-22 g (~2T, but it’s always better to weigh it out) of coarsely ground coffee (preferably done yourself at home)
-12 oz of water just off the boil (~195 degrees)

Step 1:  Start the water boiling

Step 2. Weigh out the coffee and grind it on a course setting (larger particles than for your coffee maker)

Step 3. Pour the coffee grounds into a cleaned French press.

Step 4. After the water has boiled, let it sit for a minute.  Then, pour the water carefully over the grounds.

Step 5. Set a timer for 3:30-4:00 depending on your tastes.

Step 6. After 1:00 minutes, gently stir the grounds so that all get fully saturated.

Step 7.  When the timer expires, gently press the plunger down and pour into your cup.

It’s very simple (and relatively cheap) and if you do it correctly, you can drastically improve the the quality of your morning coffee at home!

a weekend with fellow coffee snobs.

I am a self-proclaimed coffee snob/nerd/crazy.  It’s one thing I just can’t get away from since I first started working in coffee in 2008.  I’ve worked in all kinds of coffee shops (yes, even chains unfortunately) but I am happiest in specialty coffee (obviously).

Every time I begin to think I know a lot about coffee, I am blown away by the knowledge of others.  I’ve had the opportunity to go to places like Guatemala to learn about the “other side” of coffee and also learn from colleagues who are much more knowledgeable than me.

That’s why it is so great to get to spend time with people are are even more obsessed, and perhaps anal, about coffee and being a barista.

Last weekend was spent in Chicago at the Big Central Barista Competition.  Although I didn’t compete, I got to be surrounded by the coffee community for 3 days straight.  The coffee community is small and relatively community focused, which I absolutely love.  Everyone knows that there really is no money in coffee.  People do it because they are passionate about what coffee means. We know how many lives it affects from the farmers in 3rd world countries to that cup of coffee that keeps us awake throughout the day.  It’s a wonderful little industry.

Here’s some photos I wanted to share from the weekend!

The competition was held in a cool little place called at the Ravenswood Event Center.

Before it was an event center, it was a place where neon signs were manufactured.  And there was over $5 million dollars in sports cars lining the room…

Allie and Sara practicing for competition

Allie getting ready to go.

Sara explaining her espresso to the judges.

Brewers Cup (competing to make the best tasting hand brewed coffee)

Self serve brew bar (basically free unlimited coffee the whole weekend as long as you made it for yourself.  Dream come true.)

Gianni, our favorite Italian and Nuova Simonelli rep

What would I do without them?

It was quite the wonderful weekend surrounded by great people.  I can’t wait until next month when we travel to Portland to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of American (SCAA) convention!

coffee + community

As you might know, after graduating college a few weeks ago, I started back at a coffee shop I used to work at called Greyhouse Coffee.  I am a full time intern there helping out with whatever I can.  Coffee has become a huge part of my life and I wanted to share a little bit why.

                

At first glance, coffee is just a drink, a drink that helps people stay awake.  But, when you start searching, you realize that coffee is something that brings people together and fosters relationships.  Whether it’s getting together with a friend or traveling thousands of miles to begin relationships with the very farmers that pick the coffee, people are being brought together.

When I traveled to Guatemala, I finally realized how these relationships cross countries and how we support each other.  We worked with a co-op of farmers from small coffee farms just outside of Antigua.  It was amazing to see how the farmers are working together to harvest coffee.  They want to learn how to make their coffee better so that they can continue to sell it for higher prices and make a living.

We were instantly brought into this community.  By working alongside them and starting to understand their side of things, we were brought into a special relationship with them.  It’s something that changed my perspective of coffee forever.  It made me realize that the coffee business is something I believe in.  If done right, it helps so many people live a better life.

This type of coffee community connects people’s lives from all over the world.  It’s why I believe in it.

live what you love.

coffee:: from tree to cup.

I thought it would be fun to do a little journey about how coffee gets from the tree into our cups.  This process is probably a lot more intense that you think, because I was definitely surprised at exactly how much work goes into it.

As many of your know, I went to Guatemala a few months ago to see how the other side of coffee works.  I learned so so much about coffee and the farms and the farmers.

Now, I want to share with all of you a little but about how coffee gets from the coffee tree to you in your cup.  The farms that La Armonia Hermosa deals with are all microlots for higher quality coffee (so basically big coffee companies like Starbucks don’t do it this way exactly so their beans basically suck…)

So, here’s the journey of coffee…

Coffee cherries on the tree.

Collecting cherries after picking.

De-pulping cherries with the hand grinder.  It’s hard work for real.

De-pulped cherries fermenting in water.  They have to ferment for about 48 hours.

Julio pushing the drying coffee beans around.

Then, the beans have to dry out in the sun for 2 days… and yes we are laying all up in that coffee.

At this point, the coffee still has parchment covering the green bean, so you have to put it in this machine and get the parchment off.

At this point, the coffee is a green bean, or cafe oro.  For coffee that’s roasted in the US, after it’s sorted, it is sent over as a green bean.

Then, the coffee has to be sorted because the smaller beans aren’t as good quality coffee.  Usually, the bigger the green bean, the better the coffee is.

Then, the beans are roasted (hopefully to perfection!) then cooled.

Then, the coffee is packaged up.

And finally, here’s a cup of the french pressed coffee from La Armonia Hermosa!

So, there it is, how coffee gets to your table.  Hopefully it made sense and now you understand a little bit more about it!

 It was such an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back!

i left my heart in Guatemala

I’ve been back from Guatemala for about 7 weeks now but I still miss it every single day.  I started to miss it even more after this weekend when most of the group was reunited again… and also because I was around coffee again.  I realized that I never really blogged about the trip yet or shared any pictures.

Guatemala is a beautiful country.  The motto of the country is the “land of eternal spring”.  I couldn’t agree more.  The weather was absolutely perfect while we were there and there were volcanoes surrounding every place we went.

Near Santa Maria de Jesus

Lake Atitlan

We spent a lot of time working directly with many of the coffee farmers.  These farmers have just started a little co-op and the next step is to develop it and also to train all of the farmers how to grow some really great coffee.  It was so amazing to see how hard each of them work and to be able to come alongside them.

Coffee Trees

Farmer’s co-op meeting

Drying coffee

We also got to spend some time in Antigua, which is a very touristy town but it was still so beautiful.  We spent a lot of time just walking the streets and sitting in the central park.  We spent the last half of the trip staying here.  The first half, we stayed in a little cottage in Santa Maria de Jesus (it was a very cute cottage but also very full of bedbugs!)

Our little cottage

Looking at Antigua from “Cerro de la Cruz”

Beautiful colors.

We also got to spend a lot of time with one of the families.  It is a huge family with so many kids!  They brought me so much joy and they were the only ones who I felt alright talking in Spanish to!

Some of the boys.

Precious little Helen!

Concentrating.

Overall, this trip was something that really did change my life and way of thinking. I hope that I can go back to continue to support the farmers.  I love that I got to work with coffee and also meet some amazing people, both Americans and Guatemalans.

Looking back on Santa Maria

If you want some more info on the farms and the farmers we worked with, check out the website: La Armonia Hermosa

muchas amor amigos