As the weather turns colder and wetter and the days shorter and darker, it’s time for Portlanders to cozy up at coffee shops with a hot beverage loaded with caffeine. Therefore, it’s also appropriate to spotlight Portland's coffee culture, specifically our local micro roasters who are small businesses producing small batch, crafted coffees and sharing them in their own coffee houses as well as cafes across town.
Why frequent corporate coffee chains when every quadrant of this city features not only an abundance of local coffee shops but also locales where you can see your beans roasted before they become your brew?
With more than 30 local micro roasters in Portland, here are a couple more local alternatives to Starbucks that support local and in turn energize our economy through collaboration.
Sterling Coffee Roasters + Coffeehouse Northwest
Making his home in NW Portland, micro coffee roaster Adam McGovern is the man behind two compact coffee shops: Coffeehouse Northwest, which began in 2007, and Sterling Coffee Roasters, which opened on Valentine's Day 2010 as a 50-square-foot stand next to Trader Joe's on NW Glisan Street. But as the grocer looked to expand, McGovern teamed up with friend Jeremy Campbell, who owns the equally petite M Bar around the corner, and moved into a newly devised collaborative location on Father's Day 2012.
While we've loosely used the word "collaboration" in this series to signify local businesses and individuals supporting one another, whether that's selling local baked goods or featuring artists on coffee shop walls, McGovern likes to "reserve the word ‘collaboration’ for times where we work in some equal capacity with another business or individual to produce a good or service we both offer at a retail level, or at least to which we both supply branding.”
With that in mind, McGovern and Campbell’s shared space is truly collaborative and decidedly unique. Sterling is open each morning and afternoon while M Bar takes over each night.
“Because the space is so small,” McGovern explains, “Sterling will set up and break down the entire service area, except for the espresso machine, every day.”
From a handshake to a sublease and lease negotiation, the process “ultimately strengthened our commitment to working together,” McGovern says. “The lease gave us a chance to consider every aspect of the partnership and to codify the ways in which we'll support each other.”
Another Sterling collaboration includes the Coffee Roasters United project “where several small roasters pool buying power to purchase micro-lot coffees each could not afford on their own,” McGovern explains. Partners include Portland coffee shops and roasters like Red E Café, Case Study Coffee, Seven Virtues, and Clive Coffee.
But, there’s one other venture that McGovern would also consider, by his definition, a collaboration—and it has nothing to do with coffee. Sterling recently launched a “line of men's and women's ties, designed for us by Crispin Argento of PINO,” McGovern says. “We hope to continue collaborating with designers to produce apparel and accessories as we grow.”
Now, back to the more all-encompassing NN definition of collaboration: McGovern's two coffee shops do use goods and services from plenty of local vendors—everything from insurance to paper products to food supplies (like Sunshine Dairy, Tracy's Small-Batch Granola, Bakeshop pastries, Two Tarts cookies, and Holy Kakow! chocolate).
"Supporting the local community for us means creating a space where that community is served," McGovern adds. "Coffee bars are hubs for the neighborhood and places to visit, so our task is to make that visit as pleasant as possible. At Coffeehouse, we feature a changing selection of local art curated by a local art historian. While that culture isn't an emphasis for us, it certainly underlines our commitment to stay involved with the community that supports us and which we support."
Supporting that community economically, Sterling and Coffeehouse Northwest currently employ nine, stimulating the local economy simply by thinking and buying local. "As most of our vendors and employees live in Portland, that income is recirculated primarily in the local economy," McGovern says.
Sterling Coffee Roasters, 417 NW 21st Ave., 503.248.2133
Coffeehouse Northwest, 1951 W Burnside St., 503.248.2133
Coava Coffee Roasters
From humble garage-roastery beginnings, Coava owner-roaster Matt Higgins moved way up in the world when "a really synergistic brainstorm idea" led to him and longtime friends at Bamboo Revolution creating "a really cool shared working space and showroom,” according to former Coava Wholesale Account Manager Sam Purvis.
The collective of environmentally friendly designers, developers and builders and the coffee specialists teamed up, and Bamboo Revolution's Accelerated Development division shepherded the effort to repurpose an old retail space on SE Grand Avenue.
Purvis says the thought was: "What would it look like for Bamboo Revolution to have their showroom and for us to also have our coffee bar and our showroom for the coffees that we roast, all in the same space?"
The result is a completely shared building that includes not just an open, beautifully minimalist-industrial showroom to display both businesses' offerings, but also individual workspaces and offices.
"They [Accelerated Development] can showcase the design side of things because they do restaurant build outs and general contracting on old industrial spaces, which very much fits the bill for what they pulled off in our space," Purvis explains.
Coava has also mutually supported the Portland-made KONE coffee filter producer Able Brewing, crafted by one-time business partner Keith Gehrke, by using the second generation version of the reusable stainless steel filters “to make all of our regular coffee,” says Coava's Matt Brown.
It also supplies beans to numerous local cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and "a number of quality-focused coffee and equipment retailers that sell our coffee online," Purvis adds. But each of these business must "fit with our core values," he stresses. They must care about running a sustainable business and “representing the product in a way that we're really proud to communicate back to the farmers that we're working with,” Purvis explains. They must “do the coffee and the farm justice,” he says.
The brew bar also makes efforts to use local products, like milk from Sunshine Dairy and baked goods from Nuvrei.
"Aside from us really wanting to support our local economy, it also makes a lot of sense on paper to keep what you can in the city," Purvis says.
Employing 13 Portlanders, Purvis proudly describes Coava’s ability to provide workers with a versatile and diverse experience.
"It's a very cool life stage right now as a company,” he says, “to be as small as we are and to be investing in people and their skill building on a lot of different levels—not just making coffee as a barista but also doing other things in the roastery," as well as wholesale tasks like packing and shipping.
"There's a really vibrant and alive craft community in Portland, and we're always looking for people to partner with," he continues. "We’re always looking at ways that we can be involved with the community."
"I think that's it's very easy to follow through on the ideal of localism based on just how much it actually makes sense," he says.
Coava Coffee Roastery, 524 SE Main St., by appointment only
Coava Coffee Brew Bar, 1300 SE Grand Ave., 503.894.8134
We'll continue our list, but you likely have your own favorite micro roaster. If you missed previous installments in this series, we might have mentioned them there. If not, tell us who your fave local alternative to Starbucks is in the comments below.
Visit photographer Jelani Memory's website.