Having grown up in Portland, Oregon, coffee is in my veins. In high school, my friends and I would spend hours in Old Town Portland at a hardwood-and-exposed-brick coffee shop drinking a pot of coffee each late into the night. We love our coffee here in PDX.
For those who are new to Portland, visiting Portland, or just want to gain more in-depth knowledge in the coffee experience, there’s a new set of tours available to guide you through these caffeine-driven streets: Third Wave Coffee Tours.
Launched by Lora Woodruff in August, Third Wave Coffee Tours is meant to introduce you to local coffee roasters and learn more about artisanal coffee. All of the tours include an educational element to them, such as introducing various brew methods, or comparing single-origin coffees from different parts of the world. Each tour ends with a cupping at the end of the tour, which is a traditional professional coffee tasting method.
Recently, I had the good fortune of taking one of the NW Portland/Pearl District Coffee Tours. It was a three hour tour (without the Skipper or Gilligan — and if you’re too young to get that reference, please enjoy the first season of Gilligan’s Island: The Complete First Season here. You’re welcome.), that consisted of seven different stops. All of Lora’s tours are three hour walking tours, so be sure to wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
Stop: #1 the Red E Café
With two locations –one in North Portland and the one we visited in the EcoTrust building in the Pearl District — the Red E Cafe serves not only as a cafe, but the Pearl District location also offers espresso catering, and they sell wholesale coffee. We met co-owner Keith and enjoyed single macchiatos in this lovely sustainable space.
Stop #2: Christopher David Design Experience
A visit to Christopher David is truly a full design experience. I hadn’t been in that space since it was the kid-friendly Sip & Kranz, and owners Chris, Cosmin, and Kevin have transformed this airy lot that faces Jamison Square Park into a lovely multi-sensory space. Christopher David is, at its heart, a commercial and residential design firm that expanded into floral & event design, and we the people of Portland have the luxury of enjoying the cafe space while soaking in creative design all around us.
I am absolutely in love with this space.
But let me get back to the coffee. Kevin introduced us to the pour-over method using Chemex, with a single-origin brewed coffee. This method takes a while, but results in rich, pure coffee.
STOP #3: Sisters Coffee Company
Our next stop was at Sisters Coffee Company, a warm, toasty cafe on the corner of NW 13th and Lovejoy. In 1989, the Durham family opened up the first Sisters Coffee in Sisters, Oregon. It has remained family-owned since, and the company continues its commitment to social responsibility while serving up fantastic coffee. Wholesale manager Jen guided us through another pour-over method, this time using a Hario V60, and a single origin “Cup of Excellence” Guatemalan coffee. The process from start to finish takes about 4 minutes, and allows you in the end to taste the different notes of the coffee better. Delicious.
Stop #4: Barista
Our tour then walked a few blocks southwest to BARISTA, a small shop on the corner of NW 13th and Hoyt. Here, we witnessed the Siphon Brew method, which looks a little like a mad scientist experiment in the best possible way. Invented in 1838, the Siphon Brew uses 12 ounces of water under a 300 watt halogen lamp. Total brew time is approximately 2 minutes. We again enjoyed a single origin coffee, this time an Ethiopian coffee from Heart Roasters.
Look how cool the Siphon Brew method looks!
Stop #5: Sterling Coffee Roasters
From BARISTA, we then walked a few blocks over the I-405 pass to Sterling Coffee Roasters, an awesomely quaint little space on NW 21st that is a coffee shop by day and then another tenant comes in and it turns into a bar at night. Here, we enjoyed the most delicious, award-winning hot chocolate.
Is that a thing of beauty, or what? I cannot express just how delicious this was. It was probably the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted in my life, no exaggeration. It was sweet but a rich sweetness that was full of cocoa flavor and not the typical bland refined sugar taste most generic hot chocolates have. Hot liquid heaven in a little cup is that that is.
We met with Anna, who is part-owner, who shared Sterling Coffee Roaster’s history with us. They also have an online store where you can purchase coffee and more.
Stop #6: Local Roasting Company
Local Roasting Company was our 6th stop in the 7-stop, 3-hour walking tour. Local Roasting Company has been roasting beans since 2012 and recently moved into space on NW Lovejoy between 19th and 20th streets. They roast in small batches two to three times a week.
At Local Roasting Company, we were treated to Shakeratos: a double shot of espresso shaken with raw sugar and ice. This is what I want to drink from now on during the summer. The mix of the raw sugar crystals with the espresso and the cool ice is a fantastic combo.
Final Stop: Nossa Familia
Our last stop of the tour was at Nossa Familia, a family-owned coffee operation run by Augusto Carvalho Dias. His family has been in the coffee business for six generations, starting with their family coffee farm in Brazil in 1890. Nossa Familia is committed to social responsibility in all of its business practices, from start to finish.
Here, we participated in a Cupping, the international standard for coffee tasting, lead by Lead Roaster, Rob.
The coffee is brewed here using the full immersion process. First, you start by smelling the coffee grounds. We each took turns deeply inhaling the different aromas.
Then, Rob immersed the grounds in hot water. While waiting for the coffee to steep, we inhaled the aromas again, noting differences in aromas while the grounds mingled with the hot water (they were minimal for some of the coffees; noticeable for others).
Next, we took turns “breaking” the upper crust layer that formed on each sample with the back of our spoons. Then we took spoonfuls of each and slurped in the liquid. It was interesting to me that one of the flavors I initially did not enjoy the aroma actually tasted much better than it had smelled, but the coffee that I loved from first sniff was also, in the end, still my favorite after being brewed.
The Third Wave Coffee Tour Experience
I have to say that this tour was so much more than I imagined it would be. Yes, it lasts three hours, and maybe that could be cut down a bit; after all, it is hard for most people to take three hours out of a weekday for this type of tour, even on a visit to Portland when work is not a factor (or, maybe even more so during an out-of-town visit when your time is limited). However, you should know that the time goes by quickly, and each and every stop was well thought-out by Lora and the participating businesses.
I love the diversity of information we received — the different brew methods, coffee origins, and philosophies. For someone who grew up in the Portland area and has been drinking coffee for more than 20 years here, it was an amazing, eye-opening educational experience. I really loved meeting and learning from each of the owners, managers, roasters, and baristas. There is an immense passion that goes into the coffee industry here, one in which I don’t think the average person sees or gets to necessarily experience in an obvious way when you’re ordering your daily cup of joe at your neighborhood coffee shop. Lora’s own passion for socially responsible, fair trade coffee fuels the spirit of the tour, and you can’t help but feel as enthusiastic about the subject as she is.
The Third Wave Coffee Tours would be fantastic experiences to gift to loved ones for the holidays. I’d book a tour with friends or family who are visiting from out of town, or even gift it to a good friend or co-worker who is a true coffee lover. The Sunday morning Streetcar tours would be great for groups of friends to go on as a weekend adventure. There’s even a city running group tour that you can join on Friday mornings — so fun, and so Portland. Love it!
Third Wave Coffee Tour
- Tuesday @ 10AM – Downtown Coffee Roaster Tour
- Wednesday @ 10AM – NW/Pearl Coffee Roaster Tour
- Friday @ 1PM – Eastside Coffee Roaster Tour
- Sunday @ 10AM – Streetcar Coffee Roaster Tour