It is rough to live in a place where there is so much quality coffee available. After leaving the Spunky Monkey the other day, I walked around the corner to Heart, a two-minute walk over to Burnside and up a block. Heart opened in October 2009 and is owned by Wille Yli Luoma, a professional snowboarder from Finland who lives in Portland. The contrast between the two cafés was evident.
I strolled into Heart and glanced around, glad to be back in from the cold. A short line of people had formed at the register, so I went to look for a table. Near the front of the café, there was one sitting in the sun waiting for me. I was pleased. It’s not every day that you get to enjoy the sun during the Portland winter, so when the opportunity arises, I’m sure to take advantage of it (you know what they say: “the sun even shines on a dog’s. . .”).
Last year, Heart was featured in an article in MIX magazine that showed off the café’s siphon bar (a.k.a. vacuum pots), but it did not mention that the café was also into single-origin espressos, as I would soon find out. After leaving a backpack at my seat to save it, I walked back up to the counter and asked the barista which espressos she had available. The conversation went like this:
“Hi. What espressos do you have available today?” I asked, hoping for an interesting answer.
“We’ve got two—the Stereo blend, which we have just for the holidays, and an Ethiopian Wollega as a single origin.”
An Ethiopian what?
“What’s the Ethiopian like?” I asked, not sure what she just said.
“It’s a bright-tasting coffee with lemon and raspberry notes.”
“Sort of like raspberry lemonade? Which do you recommend? It’s my first time here.”
“Oh, this is your first time? Then you should definitely try the Ethiopian, since single-origins are more of what we usually do around here.”
It sounded interesting, but I hesitated for a moment, not sure which to choose. “What was the name of the Ethiopian?”
“Could you spell that?”
“W-O-L-L-E-G-A,” she said, without hesitation. She didn’t even give me a strange look for my request. Maybe she gets that question more often than I think, or more likely, she was just being polite.
It’s almost always a good sign when the baristas have an opinion, know where the coffees are from and care enough to learn how to spell the strange-sounding names of the coffee. She was three for three, so I expected good things.
“I might try both by the end of the afternoon,” I said, “but I’ll try the Wollega for now,” trying to not forget the name.
The espresso had a thick, rich crema and a fruity aroma. I could see why she said raspberry. The flavors were bright but not at all biting. You could drink it with or without sugar and be content, though personally I think it was better with sugar. Then again, I think most espressos are better with sugar.
Back at my table with my coffee, I sat and observed the café for a moment. It was designed to have a cool, modern look and a touch of Pacific Northwest charm. Black and white are the featured colors, and there is a lot of exposed wood. Heavy wooden beams hang overhead, reminding me of a ski lodge—appropriate, considering who the owner is.
The café layout centers around the shiny black Probat roaster in the middle of the room. An arc-shaped table sits in front of the roaster, gently mirroring the curves of the cooling bin. If you want to learn about the roasting process, Heart provides a front row seat. Unfortunately, they weren’t roasting while I was there, but that gives me a reason to go back.
Sometime, when you are in the mood for a high-caffeine day, I recommend that you check Heart out. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try out the Spunky Monkey just around the corner too. At both, you’ll find good coffee, and you will see two very different sides of the Portland café culture.
Address: 2211 E. Burnside, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
Hours: Monday-Sunday 7am-7pm
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommend it? Yes
PS, if you ♥ Heart, please share this article (sorry, had to throw at least one bad pun in there):