Exploring The Coffee Community Of Portland, Oregon

9 min read FEB 28, 2023

Nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest lies Portland, Oregon’s largest city, known for its waterfalls, gorges, trails, forests, breathtaking mountain top views, and vast expanses of green space.

Time magazine has described this town as “one of America’s greenest cities…nature at its finest.”

Portland has also been dubbed a hipster city, this gem teeming with local markets, a booming art scene, distilleries, scenic bike trails, food trucks, both historic and eclectic brick and mortar establishments fitting for any foodie, and fabulous arboretums.

But, for those unfamiliar with Portland’s natural aesthetics and eclectic feel, you just might recognize the city with many names by one of its more popular titles. By locals and visitors alike, Portland has been called:

- The City of Roses, this most famous nickname referencing The Portland Rose Society started by Georgina Pittock, wife of publisher Henry Pittock

- Rip City, a title most recognized by and linked to the town’s NBA team, The Portland Trail Blazers

- Bridgetown, a common label that gives a nod to Portland’s 14 bridges including car, train, bicycle, and pedestrian crossings spanning the Willamette and Columbia river systems

- PDX, which pays homage to the city’s airport, the largest in the entire state

- Portlandia, referring to the city’s large copper statue, second in size only to the Statue of Liberty, which pays tribute to Portland’s seal which pictures The Queen of Commerce.

But, it’s the nickname, Stumptown, that leads us to our topic today: Portland’s Thriving Coffee Community.

In the city's early years, as trees were cleared for the newly developing town, settlers found themselves navigating the muddy, unpaved streets by hopping from stump to stump, the remnants of downed trees littering the newly urbanized landscape.

But today, most recognize Stumptown as the name that’s housed among a lineage of America’s original and best coffee roasters, from Stumptown (of course) and Courier Coffee to Coava, Extracto, and Coffeehouse Northwest.

And, this is where we’ll begin our exploration today, looking at the rich history that dots Portland’s timeline and how it’s contributed to the thriving coffee community enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

A Ride On The Timeline

The birth of coffee in Portland can be traced back to the 1850’s, when roughly 60 merchants developed a small coffee, tea, and spice trade.

Though many recognize the first official coffee company as JF Jones and Co, a coffee and spice business founded in 1865.

In 1883 the Closset & Devers coffee roasting plant opened in Portland, where they roasted beans and delivered coffee off their covered wagon for roughly 28 years, eventually rebranding to Golden West Coffee.

Then by 1900, PD Boyd, a well-known name in Portland’s coffee history book, founded the Boyd Tea Co. which would be transformed into the Boyd Coffee Co. within 7 years, offering in-home coffee delivery.

However, this west coast coffee hub might just have the government’s efforts to rid the country of alcohol to thank for their well-known, booming coffee industry today.

By 1920, when the prohibition was in full effect, coffee became the hot commodity, with sales increasing significantly all across the country thanks to a nationwide ban on intoxicating beverages.

After the nation’s failed attempt to snuff out booze, Boyd’s Coffee Co, now thriving, would soon become the brew of choice at many diners and coffee shops by the 1950’s.

Around the same time (1953) Folgers built their custom roasting plant in Portland, and shortly after, the west began to explode, with well-known coffee roasters and companies dotting the coast from San Francisco to Seattle.

The first micro-roastery hit the Portland coffee scene in the early 70’s, and within a few years Coffee Bean International, the specialty coffee division of the Farmer Bros Co, would call this city their home as well.

But, it was during the 1980’s, a decade often known for its epic fashion and music as well as Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, that the city of Portland set itself apart as a leading coffee community.

During this time, dozens of craft roasters set up shop in Portland, establishing a tradition still thriving today. That’s right, one of the hallmarks of this Oregon town’s bean scene is the combination of coffee shops and roasters, with many roasting on site, including the famous Stumptown Roasters, established in 1999.

Within this timeframe (1990), Portland also became the home to the nation’s first drive-thru coffee house!

At the time, Motor Moka, described as the ‘motorist’s espresso bar,’ was such an innovative idea that the first customer pulled up to the window and ordered a hot dog, the concept of ordering a cup of joe through a drive-thru being one folks had not yet seen.

But, it’s what happens inside Portland’s coffeehouses that’s been setting this city apart for years.

So, let’s switch gears for a bit and journey into life inside Portland’s bean scene.

In-House Roasting Inside Portland

When Stumptown Roasters was sold to Peet’s Coffee of Berkeley, California, microroasters stepped up all throughout Portland to fill any void potentially left behind.

In fact, as of 2017, Portland had more roasters per capita than any other top US city, dominating those same charts for the number of cafes in the city as well.

And, while we’re talking rankings, Portland natives also topped the internet charts, googling ‘coffee’ more than anyone else in the country!

So then, what do Portlanders find when searching the web, or their city, for coffee?

As any true java connoisseur knows, when it comes to producing a great cup of coffee, freshness is a necessity.

And here’s where Portland’s microroasters set this community ablaze.

Local, small batch roasters in Portland supply many coffee houses with fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee, but there are also myriads of cafes that roast their beans in-house.

Why in-house? What’s the difference? Unparalleled freshness, flavor, uniqueness…that’s the difference!

- Roasting in house allows cafes the option to purchase higher quality coffee beans.

- In house roasting means the natural oils of the beans can be tapped into on site, bringing out the freshest, sweetest aromas and flavors in the brew not long before the beans are ground, brewed and savored.

- Roasting on site also means you’re bringing customers something unique and truly special, sometimes even evoking an emotional connection to an ordinary commodity that becomes extraordinary with these local, in house, last minute finishing touches.

While we’re not sure if the city’s rich coffee history is what has ultimately influenced the robust presence of microroasters here, we do know there’s an entire row of roasters in the city, with eight roasters located within mere blocks of one another!

On top of this, more than 17 notable Portland cafes roast their own coffee.

Some of these include Nossa Familia Coffee, a cafe which sources the majority of its green coffee beans from their family farm in the highlands of Brazil.

Super Joy Coffee’s (or In J Coffee) owner, Joe Yang, has trained extensively to provide customers with a precise brew, sourcing beans from traditional regions like Columbia, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua, as well as a limited supply of beans from China’s Yunnan region.

His accomplishments posted in the cafe include certification as a Gold Cup Technician and the first place winner of the 2020 US Roaster’s Championship.

Portland Ca Phe, owned by Dam, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, showcases at least three different roasts from Vietnam. Their house blend is half arabica-half robusta, resulting in a unique balance of fruity and earthy flavors.

And, at Abundancia Coffee, roasting and brewing precisely perfect cups of coffee seemed a destined path, as owner Faisal Mutua grew up in Kenya where he fondly recalls roaming his grandfather’s coffee farm “looking for ripe cherries ready for harvesting or branches in need of pruning.”

Folks, as you can see, Portland knows coffee!

From knowledge of craft and selection of the purest coffee beans to artisanal brewing practices, it’s no wonder locals describe some cafes as so popular that space for enjoying your cup in peace and quiet is as highly sought after as the java folks flock into the cafes for in the first place.

So, before we close out this journey, let’s highlight some specifics, you know, those unique gems showcasing great experiences, flavors, and atmospheres fitting for coffee fans of all kinds.

Portland’s Unique Gems

It’s said that “no matter where you are in the inner-city of Portland, you’re within easy walking distance of at least one decent (if not excellent) coffee shop.”

Some even describe the coffee scene here as more diverse than Seattle.

So, let’s take a look around the town and highlight some of the best, most unique, and exciting coffee house gems.

Enjoy house-made syrups to flavor your house-roasted coffee at Case Study Coffee, dubbed the perfect place to hunker down on a winter’s day for a “stellar gourmet mocha.”

Tov Coffee & Tea offers a unique experience as this coffee bar is housed in a double-decker bus. Here, you can stop in for a mint thing, cold brew coffee infused with fresh mint syrup and topped with your choice of a variety of milks.

The Dragonfly Coffee House serves up exceptional espresso, lattes, and perfectly paired house-made pastries in an atmosphere described as having “a lovely vibe, the coolest coffee shop you’ll ever step foot in.”

Roseline Coffee is a shop focusing solely on roasting truly great coffee, having received recognition for sourcing high-quality green coffee and for their “meticulous light roasting techniques.” Their pour-overs, espresso, and pink-peppercorn-cardamom lattes are just a few local favorites.

Kopi Coffee House is an in-house roasting gem that sources its beans from various countries throughout southeast Asia. Kopi’s owners are most knowledgeable of the unique and spectacular brews from this region as they lived and traveled throughout this area for nearly 15 years, learning about coffee farming and roasting.

Highlighting ingredients and flavors from this same region, a popular offering at Kopi is their Indonesian ginger coffee.

Then, there’s the neighborhood favorite, Never Coffee Lab, where patrons wait in long lines, happily, to savor creative lattes with ingredients like Cascade hops, saffron, and fennel seed.

And, awarded the coveted spot of Best Coffee In Portland in 2021, there’s the well-known Roseline Coffee cafe serving up a rose honey latte topped with a cardamom and rose-petal garnish, in honor of the city’s Rose City nickname, of course.

From the coffee merchants molding this city as far back as the pioneer days, to numerous famous roasters, to the first drive-thru coffee shop, continuing trends of in-house roasting, and eclectic, diverse cafe gems today, Portland has been leading the coffee culture world for decades, and likely will for years to come.

So, Portland, we raise a glass, or a mug, to your history, your precision, and your excellency that persists still today.

If you’re a Portland local, be sure to let us know all about your favorite cafe in PDX.

And, for those planning a visit to the city with many names, don’t forget to enjoy a freshly roasted cup of joe from one of the many in-house roasting cafes throughout the city, a pink-peppercorn-cardamom latte, an Indonesian ginger coffee, a Vietnamese half arabica- half robusta selection, or even a rose-honey latte.

Because, in Portland, the coffee possibilities are endless!

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Espresso.


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