Tuesday, August 28, 2007

St. Johns is So Lucky

There's a lot more to see recently in the tiny neighborhood of St. Johns. A new gelato shop that looks interesting and two new coffeehouses.

Ladybug Organic Coffee Company is opening soon. They are going to be perhaps the first 100% organic coffeehouse in Portland. They really love organics. Really.

Just from viewing their site, and the 5 page employment application, you can see they take this organic/sustainable/local thing very seriously.

While I can appreciate and commend this new company for their endeavor, I can't really see this being their best selling point. Since so many other coffeehouses are already doing their best to offer local and organic products, showcasing this practice isn't that much of a draw on its own.

However, if they also happen to make the best scones, or pull the best shots, or have the friendliest baristas then it will make them a place worth visiting again and again. Otherwise it's just another day in Portland when a green business opens its doors.

As well, the much blogged about Little Red Bike Cafe is now open. I haven't been there myself and so am a little unclear as to whether this place crosses the line between "restaurant" and "coffeehouse" or "coffee shop". Semantics will be the death of me some day.

Can't wait to try it out though, they are the newest place in Portland to serve Courier Coffee. Bravo Courier and Little Red Bike! More small-batch coffee Portland!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Never Too Much Information

Recently Ben Worthen posted on the Wall Street Journal's Technology Blog that:

"The first mistake that companies make when they’re designing a Web site is copying features from competitors. Bells and whistles are worthless if they don’t help a customer find what he’s looking for. Manning says that too few companies take the time to sit down with customers and find out what they’re using a Web site for and what information would make a site more helpful."

What does this have to do with coffeehouses? Businesses where customers are naturally spending a larger amount of time and money on, year after year, need to be able to tell the public as much information as possible about their business. Especially since the number of coffeehouses in Portland has reached near-saturation, the public's choices are so numerous that the smallest bit of helpful and easily accessible information can mean the difference between snagging another regular customer or watching someone walk by to the coffeehouse down the block.

Just because the purchases are smaller, doesn't make the business any less important. I think Starbucks is a pretty important business that makes its billions one $2.00 purchase at a time.

While it is true that location is still the number one reason a customer will patronize one coffeehouse over another, when there are several "near-by" coffeehouses to choose from, which one wins out and why?

Take the three coffeehouses within blocks of each other on Alberta: Random Order, Star E Rose and Concordia Coffee House. I think it's a given that if you want to find out some info on a local business, or any business, or anything in the world you are going to hit the internets first. So I did. (What else would someone do? Find the Yellow Pages?)

Star E Rose has no website that I could find. Furthermore, I didn't see any posted hours of operation when I walked by the other day. Isn't posting your hours Small Business 101? (The counterperson said they close at 10pm.)

Concordia Coffee House does have a website. They have plenty of info on their site like a list of menu items, their "coffeehouse" philosophy, and photos of the space. They even mention that they are "open late for the night owl". Fantastic! But I could find no hours of operation on the site. What does "open late" translate to in real time? Apparantly 8pm. At least those business hours were written down on paper and taped to the front window.

Random Order, however, has a smokin' website. Looks very expensive and is loaded with great graphics and tons of info on the food, coffee, art, crafts and neighborhood. Best of all they have their hours right there on the home page: "6 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday". Except they actually close at 9pm.

In the end I stopped by Star E Rose as it was the only place left open when I was out and I dropped over $6.00 on a brownie, iced coffee and tip.

I have coffee money I want to spend! Finding a place to spend it shouldn't be hard to do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Shout out!

Thanks to the Food Dude for giving a shout out to this blog!

It's still in the early stages, but soon there will be snapshots, more links, and most important - a list of the hours of operation for the coffeehouses of Portland.

Because there is nothing worse than trekking out to visit a new coffeehouse spot only to find a CLOSED sign instead of a latte.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Half and Half

Last weekend I tried out Half and Half for the first time. I guess anytime I'm near the Pearl or Downtown I don't immediately think to stop by Half and Half for coffee. It's kind of hidden away, which is great - makes it a special treat when you wander past it on your way to Powell's.

It's a tiny location, perfect for it's style and coffee. They brew Courier Coffee, a small - very small, roaster in Portland. David to Stumptown's Goliath.

A friendly, hulking figure greeted me and my coffee partner. From the look on his face, I think he thought we were tourists. There was a group of tourists at the end of the block following a man with a megaphone who was trying to explain the concept of "Zoobombing" without much luck.

I probably looked as wide-eyed and confused as the tourists when I ordered my coffee and asked what was in all their pastries. When I go to a new coffeehouse and there is no line allowing me to poke around a bit before I order, I get a little flummoxed. I settled on the lemon muffin, with a nice, tart glaze on top.

The coffee took a bit to come up and when it did I wondered over to the milk and sugar bar. My coffee partner was in a hurry and as we left I was certain I didn't see any half and half! The amazing irony I thought! Was this purposeful? Was it an unfortunate oversight?!

"No," my coffee partner explained, "it was on the table behind you."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Albina Press

I don't often visit Albina Press because of the hype. And the anti-hype. Some of the public chatter about the coffeehouse has been that the baristas are both snobby and drop-dead gorgeous, that the coffee is the best in town and totally overrated, that you can see rock stars there and that there are too many hipsters. It's a mixed bag of reviews though most are glowing reviews of the actual coffeedrinks themselves.

Since so many people in Portland have such strong opinions about Albina Press I have been scared to either love it or hate it, and therefore tried to keep my experiences with the coffeehouse ambivalent.

I did drop by this past Friday morning before a weekend drive to Seattle to fuel up. That would have only been my fourth or fifth visit to Albina Press and so far I have not been snubbed by a barista, they were relatively attractive, I did see a rock star once, and the coffee drinks are certainly the best-crafted ones in Portland that I have tasted so far.

The even-keeled coffee kept it's great flavor all the way to Centralia. The day-old pastry I bought with the coffee did not. (Pastry note: Crema's Morning Buns, or "A.M." Buns as some coffeehouses refer to them, are not day-old worthy.)

The drink was encouraging and since I now live the NE 'hood, I'll keep going back to taste and to try to explain here why I think the way Albina Press pours Stumptown beans is better than even the Stumptown coffeehouses themselves. Maybe it's the extra hype included with every cup.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Busy Coffeehouse? Save Your Seat!

There is another interesting food service-related discussion on the Portland Mercury blog about coffeehouses. Particularly the "homogeneous" and "daylit only" coffeehouse and bakery Crema.

I agree with the majority, if the coffeehouse is busy and you have come specifically to sit for a while with your coffee mug and food item, then yes, saving a seat is necessary. Beyond that it is not against any rules, spoken or unspoken.