Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coffee for the Greater Good...of Business

I've often wondered what it is that people say to loan officers when they want to start a coffee business in Portland but don't have enough capital to go it alone.

"Yes I know there is a lot of coffee in Portland, but my business will be different..."

"What Portland really needs and wants is just good quality coffee..."

"What!? How many other coffee businesses are there in Portland?"

But regardless, another coffeehouse, roaster, retail brand, or coffee service company keeps popping up.

Hence, Citizen Coffee. Citizen Coffee currently only services the Ecotrust building in the Pearl District, but I imagine their ambitions are greater.

Citizen Coffee's website purports to be "the only Portland coffee venue that features Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers direct-relationship coffee beans."

Sustainable Harvest tries to close the middleman gap between coffee farmers and roasters. It's a noble endeavor with the assumed benefit of better financial structures for the farmer and roaster. But Sustainable Harvest is themselves a for-profit company that itself would benefit from large brokered transactions from an increasing list of farms and roaster-businesses.

Back in Portland though, the same folks that bring you all those lovely Laughing Planet restaurants are the ones who now bring you Citizen Coffee. All of Citizen Coffee's pastries are baked at the Laughing Planet in the Ecotrust building or at the Laughing Planet's commissary.

Oddly enough though you can't find Citizen Coffee at any Laughing Planet location. They are still serving Portland Roasting coffee. I've been told that is only temporary and soon all Laughing Planets will serve their Citizen Coffee brand.

I also assume that eventually the roasting will be done in Portland, possibly by Laughing Planet themselves. Right now all the Citizen Coffee beans are roasted by Dillanos Coffee Roasters up in Sumner, WA.

Laughing Planet has created a fantastic brand for themselves which is the best asset a business can have. The brand is recognizable, respected and trusted among Portlanders. From the Citizen Coffee website, it seems they are continuing their reach with a great brand of coffee that is trying to stand apart from the rest of the coffee pack.

If I was an investor, Laughing Planet would seem like a good place to park my money for the time being. They have a good sense of what it takes to be a successful food company in Portland and I imagine Citizen Coffee is only one item on their long list of possible ventures for the future.

I can't say much for the actual coffee in the cup. I've only tried it once and it was served at an extremely hot temperature. As it cooled though, it seemed full-bodied and pleasant, nothing too outstanding to mention. But I will say that the Cosmic muffin I tried was pretty incredible.

The Cosmic muffin is a vegan, fruit-juice sweetened bran muffin with what looked like apricot pieces scattered throughout. All the baked goods look pretty good actually and I will probably be back soon.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Neighborhoodie Coffeehouses: The Clearing Cafe

A lot can be said about the big-name coffeehouses in Portland. The Goliaths like Stumptown, BARISTA, and The Albina Press always sneak their way into The New York Times or national foodie blogs.

I think what makes Portland such an interesting place to live and drink coffee is that those big names can saddle up next to the smallest of the small coffeehouses and everyone can be successful.

So begins my small series on finding the "neighborhoodiest" of all neighborhood coffeehouses. The "neighborhoodie" coffeehouses are those that don't even rely on much advertisement or perhaps don't even have a website or blog. They do just fine with their surrounding homes or businesses and have carved out a specific niche market.

These businesses may not grab headlines but they are a necessary part of their hyper-local community. And what's Portland if not a patchwork of small communities sewn together to create most colorful and wonderful place to live?

The Clearing Cafe

2772 NW Thurman St.
Portland, OR 97210
(503) 841-6240

Monday - Thursday 6:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Friday 6:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Saturday:7:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Sunday:8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Located at the foot of a busy Forest Park trailhead, The Clearing Cafe is a small coffee space in the quite, colloquially known, "Nob Hill" neighborhood. (Technically it is the Northwest District neighborhood.)

This spot serves up Ristretto Roasters coffee, toasts Kettleman's bagels, and treats its customers to pastries from Nuvrei. In addition, there are some wholly nutritious "Essential Bowls" that will surely bring you back from the brink after hitting the Forest Park trails.

What I especially love about neighborhood locations are the little details that you won't find anywhere else. At The Clearing Cafe you can enjoy a drink called the Honey Cardamom Latte. This great, warming drink is kind of like a chai with a shot of espresso. The coffee takes a backseat to the cardamom and the honey smooths everything out making for a great sipping drink on rainy day.

If you're not spending your time working or visiting with friends, The Clearing Cafe has an interesting selection of books to pass the time. Most notably, I found a small, well-curated pile of poetry. A nice little find considering nowhere else will you find Robert Frost at the ready.

There are many nice little finds scattered all through the city and while The Clearing Cafe is not a flashy destination spot for tourist, it is certainly a must-see for any Portlander.