Coffee Culture

I’ve sort of forgotten about my blog here recently as I’m still trying to find work and a place to live and get settled here in Portland.  I’m sure all four of my readers are very upset at this.  I apologize.

It’s very much cliched that the Pacific Northwest is a heavy coffee culture.  Like most cliches, there is a strong ring of truth to it.  People here love their coffee.  People are loyal to certain brands, certain coffee shops and certain baristas.  I think I mentioned in an earlier blog post that it surprises me that the “chain” stores like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best can stay in business since everyone seems to prefer their local corner shop, but apparently they do well enough.

Lisa and I got coffee yesterday evening while we were grocery shopping, jet lag for her and just a lack of caffeine for me, interestingly at a Starbucks, since that was what was available in the store, and Lisa was beside herself giddy that I ordered my coffee with no room for cream.  She said she takes enormous pride in the fact that she has (quickly) converted me to a black coffee drinker.  A combination of “pressure” from her (not really), my desire to try things, and I think the largest part is, access to fresh, good quality coffee, have contributed to this transition.  My first cup of black coffee was at Lisa’s favorite shop Rain or Shine at the corner of 60th and Division.  The store allows you to pre-order refills and knowing we were going to be there a while I ordered two cups.  They had two styles of coffee to offer and I just picked one at random and made my normal cup with milk and simple syrup.  When it came time for the second cup I wanted to try the other style and I figured if I wanted to taste the difference I should try it with nothing in it.  I figured if I didn’t like it I could take a few sips and then add the stuff to it.  Well, I ended up not needing it.  The coffee was mild and smooth, not bitter at all, and even had a little bit of natural sweetness.  Now when I go back to Rain or Shine, this is the coffee I get and it doesn’t need anything added to it.

The coffee in question that blew me away was the El Salvador coffee from Portland Roasting.  Portland Roasting, along with Stumptown Coffee Roasters, is one of several local coffee roasters that hail from the Portland area.  The fact that the coffee was roasted fresh only a few days ago and shipped locally, rather than sitting in a can on a grocery store shelf since God knows when makes all the difference in the world!  This is not Folgers.  Some coffee shops, such as the Water Avenue Coffee Company and McMenamin’s roast their own coffees in house.  The smaller local places also create a relationship with the farmers and know exactly where their coffee comes from.  Some of them will even pay a premium for a farmer to grow and supply coffee beans ONLY to them.  Higher quality coffee and higher pay for the farmers is a win-win all around.  Dealing directly with the farmers also ensures the farmers are actually getting paid and not getting ripped off by a middle man or distribution company.

On the other side of that coin of course is the fancy, expensive espresso based drinks like mochas and lattes.  Lisa doesn’t drink these very often, but I occasionally indulge.  I like a good mocha from time to time.  One of the first mochas I ever had was from a coffee stand in EPCOT and it had such a strong flavor of chocolate that I couldn’t even taste the coffee, which at the time I liked it that way.  Lisa says around here that’s just known as hot chocolate.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a couple other mochas and they’ve run the gamut of being very chocolatey and dressed up with whipped cream and chocolate syrup, down to the traditional drink with foam only and just a slight chocolate flavor on top of the espresso.  The mocha I had at Water Avenue (which I wish now I had taken a picture of, but that just seemed very out of sorts) kept the design in the foam all the way down to the last sip, which is a sign of a perfectly pulled espresso and well made foam.  It was delicious, and it was the one previously mentioned that only had a slight chocolate flavor, you could still very much taste the coffee.

I still don’t see any point to drink the godawful iced whatever stuff from Starbucks that’s laced with sugar syrups and milk and 2000 calories, but a good traditional mocha or latte or cappuccino can be a nice treat without breaking the waistline.  100 calories or so for the added milk is really all you’re looking at.

And yes… if you walk into a non-Starbucks and try to order a “Frappaccino” which is a nonsense drink that doesn’t exist, yes they will laugh you out the door.  For example, a macchiato is a cup of espresso with a very small amount of milk.  This will be served to you hot and in a small cup.  What they call a macchiato at Starbucks is some monstrous iced thing with milk and whipped cream and who knows what else.  Lisa’s barista friend Jeremy says depending on how nice you are, he may give you exactly what you order (which is not what they are trying to order) or he may give you what you really want, which is actually an iced caramel latte.

So when you come to the Pacific Northwest make sure to try some good fresh local coffee! You’ll be glad you did.

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  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.