Portland's micro coffee roasters and our D.I.Y. spirit in the press is nothing new. And last week The New York Times' travel section gave another tip of the hat to what it called Portland's "D.I.Y. coffee culture."
Did The NYT cover a few of our great, local micro roasters? Yes.
But our D.I.Y. coffee culture? Not so much.
As Mr. Green Beans, Portland's "Do-It-Yourself destination" where you can learn to roast your own beans or take classes from coffee coaches, was quick to humorously point out via Facebook:
Not sure how they are defining D.I.Y.! The only roasters mentioned are commercial roasters. Really good roasters, Sterling Coffee Roasters, Coava, and Heart, but they produce coffee for others, not really the idea behind do-it-yourself. Maybe 'buying your own' is how they define D.I.Y. in New York.
Still, being the proud Portlanders that we are, it's nice to see some of our local favorites noticed by one of our nation's most prestigious news outlets. But beyond the rich coffee and trendy culture, there's a better reason for all this back patting.
The New York Times taking note of Portland micro roasters highlights another facet of our robust, small businesses community—one that not only fuels our city with java but also economically. And, you too can stimulate our local economy with your money, voting with your dollars by supporting local coffee roasters rather than corporate coffee like Starbucks.
It'd be quite a task to feature them all (one count put the list at more than 30 local micro roasters), but we have to start somewhere. So, here are three Portland micro roasters with coffee shops that support local and in turn energize our economy through collaboration.
And, must we say it again? Each is a superior, local alternative to Starbucks.
Courier Coffee Roasters
Local and sustainable (it's called Courier because most deliveries are made by bicycle!) have been fundamental practices for Courier roaster Joel Domreis for eight years. Even though the coffee beans may come from afar, all of the shop's baked goods are made from scratch on-site using as many locally sourced products as possible—except the bananas, of course. Fresh produce often comes from the PSU Farmers Market and includes what's in season (strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, mushrooms), honey from Sauvie Island, and other ingredients from around the northwest, like Shepherd's Grain flour or organic products from Portland's Dovetail Bakery and GloryBee Foods in Eugene.
The shop also support local artists, whether that's featuring prints from rotating artists, hosting small events, or letting friends sell items, like the Pendleton wool mason jar koozies currently available. Courier's traditional brown coffee cups may be exported from Italy, but "we've been getting batches of cups from [local ceramic artist] Gretchen [Vaudt] for a year and a half," Domreis says. And the Oregon-harvested, walnut bar came from "no more than 100 miles away," according to Domreis.
With almost 100 regular wholesale clients, Domreis' product never leaves the city of Portland. You can find his joe at some 15 bars, restaurants and coffee shops and more than a handful of private businesses, but most of his clientele are individuals and Domreis' bike delivery team will leave a fresh bag of beans on your doorstep if you'd like. Those custom cargo bikes and parts come from the Eugene-based Center for Appropriate Transport while Courier itself tries to support other roasters by servicing espresso machines.
"People know that we have parts inventory for certain things, so other roasters and other owners of businesses will call me up to borrow things," Domreis explains. "We're going out and helping other people out with their equipment problems."
Courier is currently helping the local economy by employing seven people, creating seven local jobs—two part-time and the rest full—and making those jobs as busy and sustainable as possible. Without much money for an advertising budget or extraneous operating costs, Courier does what it can to save money on its own. Cutting out the need for a printer, Courier creates its own packaging labels using rubber stamps and cuts up recycled trimmings from architect plotters to make business cards, also stamping them before handwriting in the business hours.
Domreis and other local roasters even take the collaboration to another level by sharing freight charges. Recently, Courier and Extracto have been putting freight on the same semi-truck to save a $100 here and there. "In general, I think, there's a feeling of goodwill with the other roasters," Domreis says. "We're all willing to help each other out."
Courier Coffee Roasters, 923 SW Oak Street, 503.545.6444
Owner/roaster Din Johnson's principles of local and livable have percolated his Ristretto Roasters across town. From his beginnings on Beaumont in 2005, where Ristretto did all its roasting in a 600-square-foot shop, to opening a third location in NW at the end of December, all three cafes are stocked with baked goods from Kim Boyce's Bakeshop (who recently won the James Beard book award for her first cookbook: Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours).
Ristretto also supports its community by hosting plenty of events and readings while constantly featuring rotating, local art at both the Williams and Beaumont locations, as well as going mobile and participating in events outside of the cafe.
But the collaboration at its newest location on NW Nicolai Street is the most intriguing. Joining forces with the Accelerated Development division of Bamboo Revolution, Ristretto now inhabits a corner of the restored, hundred-year-old Pacific Hardware & Steel Company warehouse, sharing the ground floor with Schoolhouse Electric. Brick walls are topped with an expansive ceiling supported by massive wooden beams while industrial gray, grated metal doors divide the businesses spaces within the same repurposed room. The small business collaboration within the building doesn't end there though: Kitty-corner to Ristretto is Anna Mara's floral shop and upstairs is Egg Press, which has teamed up with Schoolhouse to produce a variety of hand-painted sofa slipcovers and sheets as well as hand-silk-screened lamp shades and pillows.
Johnson says Ristretto does a "fair amount of wholesale" but is "pretty much Portland-based. Really, the furthest we reach is Vancouver, Wash." And intentionally so. Keeping everything close allows Johnson to maintain control over the freshness and quality of the coffee.
Still, the roaster and three coffee shops employ 25 people and follow Johnson's principles: to pay more than average and offer health care. "We want to offer them a real job, not a part-time job," Johnson says. "We want people to really feel like they can make a living." Which is also great for the business because Ristretto has low turnover rates. "We want to hire people that want to be with that job for a while," Johnson says.
Ristretto Roasters: Nicolai, 2181 NW Nicolai St., 503.227.2866; Beaumont, 3520 NE 42nd Ave., 503.284.6767; Williams, 3808 N Williams Ave., 503.288.8667
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Patronize Stumptown Coffee Roasters and support the local economy.
Last but not least—as in the least micro and the least local only—Stumptown is Portland's most recognized coffee offspring. Founded by Duane Sorenson in 1999, the SE Division-based operation has five PDX locations, two in Seattle, and one in each Manhattan and Brooklyn. Plus, there have been talks of opening Chicago, Los Angeles and San Fran shops. But you already knew that.
"Local" or not, sell out or opportunist (the company admits it brought on an investor last year but maintains it is still locally run), call Stumptown what you want—shoot, Time even queried if Stumptown was the new Starbucks—but here's how the coffee company impacts the local economy.
About 100 of Stumptown's total 200 employees are Portland based and the company is currently constructing new digs in SE Portland. Working with Works Partnership Architecture to repurpose the old MacForce building on SE 2nd and Salmon, Stumptown's headquarters will be a comfortable 37,000 square feet, which Director of Operations Matt Lounsbury says they hope to move into this summer.
The five Portland cafes continue to support local bakers Little T as well as sans-gluten options from Gluten Free Gem Bakery and the local Sunshine Dairy. Belmont-based MADE Studio has done cabinetry and bar work at Stumptown locations, while a collaboration with House Spirits Distillery produced a coffee liqueur, made from Stumptown cold brew, this last holiday season.
Stumptown is proud to offer health care packages to all employees, even baristas, including medical and dental. And Lounsbury wraps up the benefits by adding, "We have a masseuse in Portland on hand for our employees to get a free massage."
The continual growth of Stumptown may make the company less indie in eyes of purists, but the brand is stronger than ever. "We're hiring throughout the recession, and that's been a great position to be in," Lounsbury says. "It's exciting to continue to add jobs in Portland, Ore., at a time being what it is. People talk about 'job creation' and we're excited to be doing it."
Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Division, 4525 SE Division St., 503.230.7702; Belmont, 3356 SE Belmont St., 503.232.8889; Annex, 3352 SE Belmont St., 503.467.4123; Downtown, 128 SW 3rd Ave., 503.295.6144; Stark, 1026 SW Stark St., 503.224.9060
We'll continue this list in the coming weeks (read part 2), but you likely have your own favorite micro roaster. Who's your fave local alternative to Starbucks?