When I first started learning about coffee, I listened in awe as people led cuppings, talking about “bright acidity” or “earthiness.” At first, I did not have a clue about what they were saying. Over time, though, the tasting vocabulary began to make more sense and I enjoyed the challenge of distinguishing the various taste elements in a coffee. I became what you might call a “coffee nerd,” one of many in the industry.
Coffee is not the only beverage with highly-enthusiastic tasters. Wednesday evening, Marcus Young of Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters and Minott Kerr from Sterling Coffee Roasters organized an event that brought a wide variety of beverage companies together for an evening of tasting. Hosted by the American Barista and Coffee School, the Taste : Industry workshop was an opportunity to meet beverage professionals and learn how they talk about taste in their particular industry. We had the opportunity to sample coffee, coffee liqueur, bourbon, Scotch, pear brandy, hard cider, beer and wine.
For me, the highlight of the night was the cider. Jennie Dorsey, a former Portland barista who now works as a rep for Tieton Cider Works, took us on a short tour of four cider-making countries: Spain (Basque Country), France, England and the United States.
Each country has its own unique traditions for producing cider, and the four we tried were very distinct. The Basque cider was rough around the edges, with a savory tartness similar to green olives. The French cider had a strong sulfur aroma and tasted cheesy, like a strong brie. The English cider was bitter and sharp, while the American cider was more refined and sweet like sparkling butterscotch. Explaining the differences, Dorsey talked about how our sense of taste is influenced by culture in addition to our physiology. For example, she said many of the flavors in the Basque cider would be considered “defects” if they showed up in an American cider.
A couple tables down from the cider, Erika Degens from Stone Barn Brandy Works gave out samples of her Red Wing Roast coffee liqueur. Consisting of pinot noir brandy, a pear/apple spirit, spices and Yemeni and El Salvador coffees, the liqueur was lightly sweet and very complex. You would never confuse it with Kahlua.
At the Migration Brewing table, I learned how adding oats to the malt of a beer gives it body without changing the color. I also learned that IPA is the abbreviation for India Pale Ale. In the days of the empire, before refrigeration was invented, the British used to export beer to India. To preserve the beer on the long sea journey, brewers would add extra hops to the barrels. The hops acted as a natural preservative and gave the ales extra bitterness. Beer drinkers became accustomed to the taste of the hops, and the hoppy beers became a whole new category to serve the market.
Other bits of trivia I learned during the event:
- When Scotch whisky spends time in American oak barrels, it turns a deep golden color. Aging in Spanish oak gives the whisky a darker amber color.
- Oak imparts vanilla and caramel flavors into whisky.
- A whisky blend like Johnnie Walker can be comprised of 30 or more different single-malt whiskies.
- Anything over 80 proof burns (drink slowly!).
- When you taste coffee and wine, you’re not supposed to swallow, but with whisky you do.
- The Williams pear is another name for a Bartlett pear.
- Pear brandy smells sweet and innocent, but it is neither.
In addition to tasting a lot of new things and catching up with some coffee industry friends, I also met Hanna Neuschwander, who told me about her book coming out in August, Left Coast Roast, a guide to more than 50 coffee roasters on the West Coast. It sounded like a fun project (and a good reminder to get back to work on my own book!).
The Taste : Industry workshop was an excellent gathering, all in the name of “education.” Thanks to all the sponsors and the organizers. I am certainly looking forward to the next one.
Today, after a quick lunch at Pizza Nostra (Northeast 48th and Fremont – I highly recommend the pepperoni), I pedaled down through the morass of construction on Sandy Boulevard and stopped in at Case Study.
Unsure of what to order and feeling adventurous, I asked Ricky, the barista, for a recommendation. Case Study always has lots of interesting things going on – they bring in a wide variety of different coffees, some of which are very high-end. They like to experiment with different beverages and presentations too. One time they served me an espresso paired with slices of green apple and a small vial of honey. As a barista competition judge, I appreciate the creativity.
For this visit, Ricky recommended a “shakerato.”
“A what?” I asked.
“A shakerato. It’s espresso and a little bit of sugar, shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker. The result is…magical,” he assured me.
Espresso on ice? Not something I would normally order, but why not? It is summer after all (though it has often felt like Junuary) and I’ve had plenty of cold-brew lately.
The shakerato had several characteristics of a quality beverage. First, it was visually interesting. In the clear glass, I could see a thick caramel foam resting heavily on the espresso beneath. It looked like a sampler of freshly-poured Guinness, though the taste was nothing like the famous Irish stout. The beverage was sweet and fruity, reminding me of white grape juice. The coffee flavor was fairly muted and the foam’s texture was light and silky. Overall, the beverage was very unique. There is also a latte version of the shakerato that sounds interesting, but that will have to wait for another day.
In addition to the shakerato, this summer Case Study is also cold-brewing a Geisha varietal from Colombia that is tasty. Like I said, they are always trying out new beverages, in addition to their traditional coffee lineup. When construction on Sandy ends, which should be soon, you will be able to roll in on the smooth new street and indulge your inner coffee adventurer.
Trader Joe’s decision to expand in Northwest Portland was good news for fans of the quirky supermarket, but the expansion pushed Sterling Coffee out of its space. Fortunately for fans of the coffee kiosk, Adam McGovern and Aric Miller, Sterling’s owners, found a new spot to set up shop. This week, Sterling moved around the corner from its original location into M Bar, a petite public house on Northwest 21st.
M Bar aficionados need not fret. M Bar did not disappear. Rather, the two beverage purveyors are joining forces. The space will be Sterling in the mornings and afternoons, and M Bar in the evenings. Sterling redecorated the bar to reflect its 19th century style. The new location gives customers a place to sit and enjoy—dare I say it?—“sterling” coffee without facing the traffic or the rain*. In a new twist, Sterling’s sharply-dressed baristas serve espressos in shapely snifters that send coffee aromas directly to your olfactory receptors. This is common in barista competitions, but it is the first time I’ve seen it in a café setting. Could coffee cocktails be next? We’ll have to wait and see.
On Sunday, June 17th, Sterling and M Bar are celebrating their new partnership with a public party billed as “the marriage of Sterling Coffee Roasters & M Bar.” Coffeehouse Northwest will be closed so that all Sterling Coffee family and friends can gather and witness the event. A live band playing Cuban music is scheduled for the reception. The party, open to everyone, runs from 8am-4:30pm.
VitalsLocation: 417 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97210
Hours: 7am-4:30pm Monday-Friday
*just because you dare, doesn’t mean you should
On my way to the bus stop the other day, I was walking down the street (some of the streets in my neighborhood lack sidewalks) when a crow flew up and landed on the branch of an old maple tree hanging over the street.
The crow was perched directly over where I was walking, so I proceeded with caution. It always makes me nervous to walk underneath birds sitting above me.
It’s not that I have some kind of bird phobia. After all, if you live long enough, you’ll probably get sh-t on at some point in your life, and you’ll find that you won’t die from it. Still, it’s no fun to walk around with splattered clothes.
Fortunately, I was granted safe passage below the branch. Or so I thought. This is where the story gets weird.
I hadn’t walked another ten yards when suddenly—whack! Something crashed onto my head. The object was not sharp, but it wasn’t dull either. At first, as I stumbled forward, I thought a branch had fallen on me. But a whoosh of air from the wings of the crow that had just dive-bombed my head told another story.
That’s right—the crow I had walked past decided it didn’t like what it saw, and it came after me. After strafing my noggin, it floated onto an overhead wire and sat next to another crow, cawing as if to mock me .
If I’d had a shotgun, that would have been the end of said crow.
But I didn’t, so all I could do to retaliate was weakly toss a rain-soaked fir cone at the offending bird. The crow flew off, and I walked away wondering what the hell just happened. I checked my head a couple times, for blood or any other wet liquids, thankfully detecting neither.
I have no idea why the crow decided to hit me. Unless it was omniscient, it couldn’t have detected any bad thoughts from me. Maybe it just didn’t like the way I walked. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad it wasn’t the beginning of this.
The Portland coffee scene has changed dramatically over the last three years, as several top-notch cafés and roasters have opened their doors. The (mostly) friendly competition between cafés has pushed everyone’s quality standards higher, propelling Portland to the top spot in the country for being able to find great coffee. One of the best of these new coffee companies is Water Avenue Coffee. Located in Portland’s Inner Southeast Industrial District, the shop sells excellent coffees in a setting that welcomes you to the neighborhood.
When you walk into Water Avenue, it is clear a great deal of thought went into designing the café. The shop is spacious, with a hefty wooden bar made of reclaimed Oregon fir wrapping around the shop from front to back. Painted gray walls give the café a mellow, understated ambience. Sturdy cement floors remind you of the building’s industrial past. Behind the coffee bar, the roaster cranks out batches of meticulously roasted coffee, whirring and crackling as it transforms pale green beans into lustrous brown gems.
A wealth of coffee experience behind the bar
Water Avenue has only been open since 2010, but the owners’ coffee experience goes back much further. Bruce Milletto is a Specialty Coffee Association “Coffee Luminary,” well known for a lifetime of work shaping the specialty coffee industry. He founded Bellissimo Coffee Advisors in 1991 and partnered with his son Matt to open the American Barista and Coffee School (ABCS) in 2003.
Matt Milletto, Bruce’s son, grew up around the coffee industry and has worked in coffee steadily for the last twelve years. Since 2003, he has been teaching and training at ABCS, where he serves as vice president. Matt also founded Barista Exchange, a networking site for the coffee industry that has more than 13,000 members.
Brandon Smyth, Water Avenue’s third owner, has been working in coffee for more than a decade and a half. A former roaster for Stumptown, Smyth is the coffee buyer and the head roaster for Water Avenue. He also teaches a roasting class at ABCS.
Matt and Brandon were kind enough to sit down with me to share the story behind the company.
A smattering of news from around the coffee world:
Oregon Public Broadcasting has a nice video about the USBC in Portland. In the article, the producer did forget to mention two other PDX baristas who competed, Laila Ghambari (Stumptown) and Tom Pikaart (Water Avenue), so we’ll make sure they get a mention here. If we're being picky, it's Brett Felchner, not Brett Fletcher (edits!).
Leave it to Philly – From a city that boos Santa Claus and throws batteries at its underachieving NFL team, this might not come as a surprise. A man who apparently did not want to pay for his sandwich threw his coffee at the cashier in a Philadelphia doughnut store.
At least he didn’t steal cash and cigarettes too.
It’s up, it’s down, it’s up, it’s way down. Investors holding Green Mountain Coffee Roasters stock have been on a quite a ride over the last year. The company’s stock price went from below $40 to $115 to back down to about $45 at the end of the year. This year has been more of the same. So far, the first five months of the year have brought changes of +19%, +22%, -28%, +4% and -50%, respectively. With K-Cup patents running out this fall, traders aren’t sure what to do. Then again, judging from the last two weeks, maybe they are.
Do you find it hard to carry your coffee around without spilling it? If so, you should probably slow down and keep your eye on the cup. You will be less likely to match the “sloshing frequency” of the coffee with your gait.
One of Japanese eating champion Takeru Kobayashi’s world records is eating 69 hotdogs in ten minutes, so he probably didn’t find his latest stunt too difficult. Kobayashi drinks 42 cups of coffee in about three minutes in a promotional video for Eight O’Clock Coffee.
Fresh-roasted (really fresh) coffee is coming to Detroit. Roasting Plant, the New York coffee company that roasts, grinds and brews coffee on demand is expanding out of the Big Apple and into the Motor City. I question the assertion that it is the “best coffee in Manhattan” but it would be interesting to see how the whole operation works. link
Tension is growing between people who work/study in cafés and those who go there to drink coffee or meet friends.