So, a few days back the weather was blissfully perfect — spring come early, while it lasted anyway. . .
In an attempt not to waste such an ideal day, I walked deep into the Pearl District to Jamison Square Park, a.k.a. “Screaming Child Park.” Jamison Square looks and feels like a life-sized CAD drawing. The kind of thing I would expect to see as an entrant to a park design contest, but not the kind of thing I would see winning. . . oh well. . . On one side of the park is a barren sandy field broken up with very young trees on a symmetrical grid. On the other side sectioned off by a series of rough cut granite slabs, is a paved area with a shallow conical depression in the center ringed ringed by a small lawn and more symmetrically placed saplings. In poor weather, which around here is most of the time, the park is desolate — gruesome sandy mud on one side, and a bleak paved moonscape on the other. During these seasons, the Square’s function appears to be as the bathroom for the thousands of small dogs which live in the surrounding condos. Thus, for half the year, the park is a mire of partially dissolved dogshit and urine — even the homeless avoid it. But, in good weather the bottom of the cone fills with water which pours from holes in the granite slabs and drains out again from a drain at the bottom of the cone. Inevitably, the whole area is overrun with shrieking children, splashing in the “pool” and running in the sand and on the well-fertilized lawn — hence Screaming Child Park. On a nice sunny sumer day it is so loud that even headphones and earplugs do little to dampen the wailing of young children at play.
Surrounding the park are fancy condos, which have a variety of boutique business on the first floor, and one of these retail operations is a cafe. A couple years back when I lived in the Pearl (in a little loft over my Art Gallery), I was mere blocks from the park and thus spent some considerable time at Sip N Kranz, the cafe. The whole milieu was the perfect environment to socialize and condition my Mastiff puppy for urban living. But my ex got the dog and now I live deeper in the Northwest on Nob Hill, and I have been there only very rarely of late.
Upon arriving at the Square, I learned that Sip N Kranz had been replaced by another cafe in the same location: Cloud Seven Cafe. The new management had done a minor remodel and replaced some of the furniture but the space was essentially the same. But, they feature Intelligentsia espresso, instead of the increasingly ubiquitous Stumptown. So, I ordered a Cappuccino, and took it outside to one of the sun-dappled outdoor table.
The Cappuccino was built around a shot of Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso, one of my personal favorites. But, anyone who knows the Black Cat knows that it is not a stable commodity, but rather an ever changing blend which is always good but sometimes sublime. This iteration was good, but very light and sweet.
No doubt this was a major factor in the the Cappuccino itself, which was very weak, at least for my palette — more the strength I would associate with a Latte. My mother would have probably liked it, but she is a tea drinker. . . This was clearly an intentional choice — the drink itself is very well crafted with nicely patterned foam. I’m guessing their target market is Latte drinkers, and that for them a Cappuccino is a just a baby Latte. I think given the character of this batch of Black Cat, I would have been happier with just a shot of espresso and bottle of mineral water.
So, I sat in the glorious weather drinking my mini-Latte and watched the people and read a book. Pretty ideal actually. I can’t wait for spring to begin in ernest — I’ll be back, and I know what to order next time.
About 10 years ago in early 2002 when I left Seattle and moved to Portland, I found myself in the position of finding a place to live in a city which was entirely new to me. I quickly discovered the NW/ Knob Hill neighborhood, and soon decided it was one of my favorite urban neighborhoods of all times: old Victorian houses from the mid-to-late-1800s, classy brick apartment buildings from the early 1900s, old large trees on every street, and a few streets of shopping, groceries and restaurants within walking distance. And cafes. Lots of cafes.
It was sitting at one such cafe that I both decided to live in this neighborhood, and found the apartment that became my home, and I found it via a newspaper advertisement, which dates this story. The cafe was Ken’s Artisan Bakery on NW 21st street. At the time it was a relatively new business, having been open for only a handful of months. I had a walnut roll and a cappuccino, and I discovered that I could get a good espresso drink in Portland.
Ten years later, I’m sit in the same place in the same cafe. On the surface, nothing has changed, although the furniture is a bit more worn. But now Ken’s is now a very popular fixture of the neighborhood, and getting my table required some effort. My cappuccino is excellent (they use Stumptown espresso now), and my walnut roll is a perfect facsimile of the one I had so many years ago. And, it is every bit as good.
I am deeply skeptical about tea in a can.
Whereas the Japanese (and later Starbucks) have gotten canned coffee to a relatively drinkable level, canned teas, especially greens, whites and oolongs, have been pretty universally gruesome.
So, buying a can of Itoen’s Sencha Shot was a somewhat masochistic action. I was expecting a thick, bitter, acrid, bright-green foulness that I would be able to graphically malign. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be rather decent.
Marketed first and foremost as an anti-oxidant supplement, the tea is produced by a proprietary brewing process which somehow manages to give it a good healthy green tea flavor with no bitterness, something hard to do with traditional Sencha. There are no added colors or flavors, no sweeteners, no genetically modified ingredients, and no calories. It is obviously a japanese domestic market product which has been slightly repackaged for the American healthy-hippy-gourmet market — I found it in the health food section of a Fred Meyer’s with the supplements.
I’m a believer.
On Tuesday I went to Seattle with my younger brother Adam to help him assess a hotrod, which he subsequently purchased. On the way back, in an attempt to avoid the horrific Seattle rush-hour traffic, we stopped over in my old Capitol Hill neighborhood for dinner with some old friends and a coffee before the long drive home.
We visited Cafe Vita, on Pike st. which was one of my favorites back in my Emerald City days. If the incomparable Bauhaus was Checkpoint Alpha, Cafe Vita was for first dates, biz meetings, and other events where I wanted a known-quantity, a class environment, and not be be so much a regular that I would be likely to have an acquaintance show up and interrupt.
They make a fantastic espresso from their own roast — indeed some of the roasting the equipment lives in the Pike store. I had a cappuccino and my brother had a late’.
My cappuccino was a modern free-pour variant, but sans artsy pictures in the foam. It was rather milky for a cappuccino, but the espresso was so strong that it worked very well. Indeed, despite perhaps 5-6oz of milk it was still a very strong coffee drink due to their robust espresso — fortunately, I like it strong.
Adam’s late’ was another story entirely. It was beautifully made with a classic leaf patterned pour. And, due to the strength of the espresso a far better balanced drink. I had a sip and was convinced it was the better of the two drinks, despite my general distaste for the late’. Adam claims it is up their with the finest he has had, and as a Portlander, that is saying something.
Also of interest was a beautiful and elaborate Japanese coffee cold-brewing system, which looked amazingly cool. But, it wasn’t operating during my visits. . . perhaps next time.
So, I’m at Coffeehouse NW again. This time I’m drinking a Pulse Brewed coffee — something I have never had before.
Apparently, the pulse brewing enables consistent brew temperature by forcing a finite quantity of preheated water through the grounds. It also uses an apparently superior filtration system, as the resultant coffee is almost as pure and clean as Vac-Pot coffee.
Pretty amazing actually.
The resultant coffee is a totally clear redish-brown liquid with a clean crisp taste and virtually no sediment (I poured a little in a water glass to demonstrate this). The North African coffee from Sterling Coffee Roasters (Ethiopia I think) is perfect for this application. I was skeptical at first, but now I’m a believer. Good show!
As someone who lives in the close in NorthWest quadrant, I have walked by Coffeehouse NW’s prime NW Burnside and Trinity corner location many many times.
I have never patronized them for two reasons. First, they have rather limited hours — M-F 6:30-6 & Weekends 8-5 — which means they are closing up just as I hit my stride. Second, every time I have walked past during their business hours, every single seat has been occupied.
But, this afternoon as I walked by I noticed a premium window table unoccupied, and the rain was coming down hard, so I jumped at the opportunity to test em out.
The ambience strikes me as a cleaner version a the grubby U-District cafe’s I spent so much time in during my Seattle days. Rough wood floors, uncomfortable rickety furniture and lots of big windows to watch the traffic through. Todays gloomy gray rain-mixed-with -snow weather adds to the associations.
When questioned, the nerd-chic barista competently described their offerings, and I asked him for one of their free-pour cappuccinos done on the dry side — my benchmark drink.
It arrived in a correct short-cap cup, and is excellent. The milk is well foamed and caramelized and perfectly mixed with the the excellent espresso –a single origin Brazilian coffee from the apparently in-house Sterling Coffee Roasters. Definitely an A-grade drink, and worth the slight premium charge of $3.50.
So, atmosphere and coffee alike point to a winner. If only the chairs weren’t so uncomfortable. . .
This afternoon I scored a vintage French made Hellem Vacpot at a local thriftstore. Amazingly, it is complete including the glass and lucite stand, and alcohol burner, and in nigh-on perfect condition. Hell, it looks like it was used a couple times and then put into storage.
They had absolutely no idea what they had, and sold it to me for $25.
It is actually a pretty striking design — all glass and chrome. There aren’t many things that can be put next to a La Pavoni Pro and not look shabby by comparison. But the old Hellem actually looks pretty darn slick.
I’ll have some vacpot vids up shortly.
So, after months of waiting I finally got the last of the advance reader comments back on my manuscript draft. In my excitement to dig into revisions, I decided to shake up my routine and drive the hotrod across the river to the Hawthorne strip, for a change of scenery and hopefully good coffee.
I started the afternoon at Peets for a workmanlike tradcap which could well have been the clone of the one I wrote about here. After a nice worksession (delimited by how cold the environs were and how the small tables didn’t allow me to spread out my marked up manuscripts), I decided to walk for a bit and clear my head.
I wandered around for a bit in the sub-freezing weather, and watched the hordes of holiday shoppers, until I ended up in the Powell’s East branch, home to the Freshpot, a nice little indy SE coffeeshop.
I used to come here a lot when I lived near 50th and Hawthorne, although I have been here less of late. My memories are fond, but often time will play tricks on one’s recollections. . . so it was with some pleasure that I found my very short little Cappuccino to be rather excellent.
My drink was a very strong ratio — probably not more that 1:1 milk and espresso. This made the character of the Stumptown Hairbender espresso rather distinct. I imagine that for the late’ crowd this drink might be a little much, but I found it be a nice change of pace from the mini-late’ so often passed off as cappuccinos in this town.
Score one for the SE!
So, yesterday I met up with a couple of the Brothers at the original Stumptown on Division, a place which figures prominently in my early Portland memories. That said I haven’t been there much of late, having been effectively seduced away by the shiny (and conveniently located) downtown branches of said company.
So, I had a good idea of what to expect when I ordered a Macchiato.
That said, it didn’t disappoint.
It was meticulously crafted, and beautifully presented — a specimen of a modern “free pour” Macchiato — 3-4 ounces of pure coffee excellence. The barista’s technique could have been used as an instructional video. And the barista, perhaps recognizing me from years of patronage, “accidentally” rang me up at the old (and significantly cheaper) price (which was folded back into a larger tip, TYVM).
Who could ask for anything more?