I don't think of myself as a coffee snob, in that I won't think any less of you if you don't appreciate well-made coffee. But I am somewhat particular about what I drink myself, to the point that I have a real (Gaggia Classic) espresso machine at home instead of one of the pod or steam things. So with a conference located in a city that rivals Seattle for its coffee fanaticism, I felt that I had to at least try some of the local coffee shops.
- Peet's Coffee
Washington & Broadway. As a national chain, this wouldn't have been on my list at all, except that it was my backup plan for Sunday breakfast after discovering that City Coffee is closed Sundays and hearing (incorrectly) that Public Domain had no pastries. But Peet's does have a large selection of pastries, the almond croissant I chose was good, the barrista obviously took pride in her cappucino craft, the store ambiance was pleasant and uncrowded, and the cappucino itself was as good as the ones I tried at other more pretentious coffee stores. I didn't try their espresso this time, but I've had decent ones from their other locations (in contrast to certain other national chains, from whom I would only buy milk-based coffee drinks).
- City Coffee
Salmon & 4th. Not much in the way of ambiance (just a counter and some seats). Not much pastry selection, either, but the cheese bagel I had was good. Unlike the other places I tried, the barrista made no attempt at making art with the coffee and milk foam of my cappucino, but he still took care with making the foam well and it tasted just as good. It was also the least expensive of the places I tried. I didn't end up going back to try their espresso, though.
- Public Domain Coffee
Alder & Broadway. The ambiance in this one is a lot more pretentious (lots of bare wood and metal, no decoration to speak of, and a floor plan with the customer space stretched around a big central island to show off their fancy coffee-making and coffee-cup-cleaning equipment) and the price is higher. The pastry selection is a small afterthought, and the almond croissant I tried, while still quite edible, was too dense, without the proper flaky/buttery croissant texture I expected. This place seemed very particular about what kinds of drinks they made: if you ordered an espresso, you would only get a single ristretto shot, and if you ordered a cappucino, you would only get an 8 ounce cappucino (what you actually want is probably a dry latte). The espresso cup was a bit oversized and the espresso itself was a bit bright, but still very good. The latte art was by far the best of the places I tried, filled with nested layers like a Georgia O'Keefe flower. And the latte itself tasted as good as any of the others.
- Stumptown Coffee
Stark between 10th and 11th (in the lobby of the Ace Hotel), one block from Powell's Books. This one just looks like an ordinary coffee bar, familiar without trying to be pretentious. There is only limited seating in the bar itself, but a big comfy couch in the hotel lobby through an open doorway, surrounding a huge square coffee table loaded with recent newspapers, backed by a big shelf of old books. A photo booth adds a bit of a hipster touch but otherwise it all just feels very relaxed and welcoming, and the staff were also friendly. The pastry selection looked limited but the danish I chose was perhaps the best one I've ever had (some sort of cranberry-orange compote on a beautifully flaky croissant pastry base). The latte art was perfunctory, just a white heart in a darker field, but as usual that made no difference to its flavor. And the espresso was outstanding: well balanced flavor, just a hint of grounds in the mouthfeel, in a perfectly sized small round cup with a pleasingly-thick rim that the barristas carefully cleaned of excess coffee drips before handing to me. This is the one that, if it were somewhere near me, I would keep coming back to.
If I had more time I would have tried some others; there was a donut and espresso place across the street from the hotel that looked intriguing...
A coffee based drink that has milk or any other non-coffee ingredients (excepting H2O and perhaps sugar) in it has nearly the same problem as white chocolate in that the former robs a drink of its natural flavor while the latter is an abomination in that the product has no relation whatsoever to cacao.
I am calling on you to desist from canvassing for adulterated merchandize :-).
I take it you do think of yourself as a coffee snob. In your zeal for not changing things from their original state, though, why would you drink coffee instead of just eating unroasted coffee beans?
I'm sorry I missed the chance to steer you toward Coffee House Northwest, but you must check it out the next time you're in Portland. The people there are coffee snobs in the best possible sense; I'm not one, I just like an espresso that tastes good and they make a darn good one. It's at 1951 W Burnside on the corner of Trinity Place, just a few blocks up from Powell's and right before Fred Meyer. I used to live on the block and went there all the time.
Thanks, I'll have to keep that one in mind for next time (and I hope there will be a next time relatively soon; Portland was a pleasant place to have a conference).