Guest post by Sonia Ruiz of Portland Coffeehouse Journal.

Did you know that there is no official definition of "micro-roasting"? It loosely means coffee beans that are "roasted to order" or that the roaster is only roasting enough to fill a particular order for a particular customer. Whereas larger roasters will roast huge lots to store in large warehouses and hope that most of it sells, micro-roasters craft each batch of coffee for customers they have built close relationships with. But what does the terminology mean for Portland's artisan roasters?


Bridgetown Coffee Roasters

Behind the scenes at Bridgetown

Don Jensen of Bridgetown Coffee, located in the Northwest Industrial District of Northwest Portland, has been in the micro-roasting business since 1990 and says that in the early 1980s the term "micro-roaster" was one that got picked up to try to attach a "gourmet" quality to a business.

"With the number of micro-brewers and micro-vineyards around it was easy to say micro-roaster. Basically it has meant quality," says Jensen.

Jensen has spent many years crafting his coffees and is one of a few businesses around that will roast specialty coffees for the exclusive use of certain restaurants and cafes. (Although Bridgetown coffee most often bears the private label of the restaurant where it's served, you can ask for it by name at Dockside Saloon & Restaurant and Seres in the Pearl District.) When done on a small scale, a professional roaster can hone in on the exact flavor profiles he or she wants from their coffee.

But it seems just about anyone nowadays can buy a roaster and start churning out their own coffee. This being Portland however, where coffee-drinkers take their brew seriously, new roasters will need a lot of patience, mechanical aptitude and high attention to detail in order to be successful in this town.

Coffee beans used to make Bridgetown's coffee blends


Coava Coffee Roasters

 Behind the scenes at Coava

Matt Higgins has been roasting coffee for a couple of years now and his coffees all share a distinct quality that is apparent from the first sip. Higgins' coffee business Coava Coffee Roasters, located in North Portland's Piedmont neighborhood, is new to the coffee scene but has certainly made an impression in its short time here in Portland. Available in Northeast Portland's Humboldt neighborhood at the Red E Cafe and Coffeehouse Five (both located on NE Killingsworth) and on the rotating menu at Barista in the Pearl District, Coava is a distinguished line of coffees that have been cultivated from seed to cup.

Higgins remarks that small batch roasters will roast small lots of green coffee at a time, some that are in very limited supply. "I know of larger roasters who could roast through that coffee really quickly—in just a few days-and the product would likely be overlooked by their customers. I tend to think of these smaller lots as very special showcase coffees and love introducing them to my customers."

Matt Higgins of Coava


Courier Coffee Roasters

Behind the scenes at Courier

Giving Portlanders something new is just one advantage that micro-roasters have over their larger competitors. By being a small and nimble roaster, many companies are finding they can stick closer to their values and priorities through their coffee. Such is the case with Courier Coffee Roasters, Named so because all the coffee is delivered by bike.

Roasting out of Sunnyside in Southeast Portland, Courier can be found all around town from Little Red Bike Cafe in North Portland's Portsmouth neighborhood, to Half and Half downtown, to Perierra Creperie in the food cart pod at Southeast 12th and Hawthorne. These businesses are also small, unique and unafraid to step outside the box to give their local communities something different.

Joel Domreis of Courier


Cellar Door Coffee Roasters

 Behind the scenes at Cellar Door

Every micro-roaster has a special personality that comes through not only in the coffee but also through the restaurants, stores and cafes that carry their coffee. In something that can almost be called "values roasting," Cellar Door Coffee roasts small batch coffee for cruelty-free cafes. Their own retail location in Southeast Portland's Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood serves up vegan baked goods and in the evening turns into the vegan trattoria Portobello.

From their humble beginnings selling their coffees at the Montavilla Farmers Market, Cellar Door Coffee has become a quality coffee business in just a few years. Their coffees (which come from all women-owned coffee farms) can also be found at the new vegan bakery Back to Eden in Concordia and at the vegan grocer Food Fight! in Buckman.

Andrea Adams of Cellar Door


Heart Coffee and Roasting

There is quite a lot of buzz growing about Portland's newest roaster, Heart Coffee and Roasting. Located on 22nd and East Burnside in the Kerns neighborhood, Heart is convinced that Portland could use another high-quality micro-roaster. Equipped with one of the largest and most sophisticated roasters, Heart places the roasting right out in the middle of their coffeehouse for all to see and admire. However, time will tell whether having to roast in the middle of a cafe will make a difference in the coffee. When roasting specialty small batches, the difference of even a few seconds can have a huge effect on the beans. So far, Kerns neighbors are flocking to this spot to try the espresso shots, drip and siphon brews.


Schondecken Coffee Roasters


A discussion about Portland micro coffee roasting would not be complete without mentioning Schondecken Coffee Roasters hidden away in Sellwood-Moreland. Started back in the mid-eighties, Schondecken has been serving their coffee, teas and spices to Sellwood and a few restaurants and cafes all over Portland. While the newer, younger Portland roasting companies' coffees are audacious, bold and complex, Schondecken churns out smooth and balanced flavors that still maintain a full body. Some coffees will just fall apart and turn bitter and off-color as the cup cools. Schondecken's roasts are always consistent with a bit of earthiness to them.

The next time you venture out to find that next great cup of coffee, there are a few things to note. Higgins suggests that if you are able to speak to a micro-roaster you should always ask what kind of relationship the roaster has with the farmers who grow their coffee. Also, it's important to ask how to brew each coffee since each has particular features that can be enhanced by using different brew methods.

And never turn down the opportunity to participate in a cupping. Coava coffee is cupped often at Coffeehouse Five on NE Killingsworth and Heart Coffee and Roasting will be holding some tastings of its complete line of coffees in the near future.

Finding your favorite roaster may take some time, but you should enjoy the journey and never be afraid to introduce yourself to your neighborhood coffee roaster. You may have a friend for life.

(Top) Behind the scenes at Schondecken (bottom) Schondecken's cafe



Resource List

Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters
7901 SE 13th Ave

Bridgetown Coffee
2330 NW 31st Avenue

Coava Coffee Roasters
6604 N. Mississippi Avenue

Courier Coffee Roasters
SE 40th and Hawthorne

Cellar Door Coffee Roasters
2001 SE 11th Ave

Extracto Coffee Roasters
2921 NE Killingsworth

Heart Coffee and Roasters
2211 E. Burnside

Schondecken Coffee Roasters
6720 SE 16th Avenue

Spella Cafe
Corner of SW 9th and Alder

Trailhead Coffee Roasters

View the slideshow for more images of Portland neighborhood micro-roasters, or visit our Flickr gallery:

Photos © 2009 Kenneth Aaron Neighborhood Notes