Bram Pitoyo, Interlude, Links

A Field Guide To Coffee Shops Around Northwest Portland, Particularly The Pearl District Neighborhood

Good afternoon.

As a freelance designer-turned-brand strategist-turned-hacker-turned-community manager, I spent most of my times working either at home or around coffee shops. Notwithstanding the fact that beverages are now becoming my biggest monthly expenditures, I still chose to work around gathering places, and places around Northwest Portland. Why? Because the presence of people (and particularly, hardworking Twitter users) compels me to work harder, too—and Northwest Portland because the area offers that cliched “urbane,” or “hip,” or “rustic meets industrial meets Bauhaus” atmosphere that so many people with good taste crave.

But, first things first, let me clarify that this post serves to answer one question (and one question only):

Which coffee shop is appropriate for which occassion?

Now, having spent adequate time in various coffee shops around this area in specific, and Portland in general, I feel that I am able to identify some factors that are present in most, if not all of them.

The analysis are offered in this format:
Name of Factor
Relative Importance
Explanation and/or Anecdote

They are:

Hipster Barista

Extremely important
It should be noted that, in most cases, a hipster barista not only bikes everywhere, drinks PBR and watches indie music concerts—she also consumes coffee in copious quantity, and therefore actually cares about the quality of the coffee, from the beans to the mugs. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, the relative degree of “Hipsterness” is directly correlative to quality of cup served. Bonus if barista is spotted wearing shirt with a flashy —either yellow, hot pink or bright blue—color (male), shirt with the name of a band or club from the 80’s (female) and skinny jeans (both.)

At a certain coffee shop in Southeast Hawthorne Street and 38th Avenue, I have had a barista prepare a cup of Americano and delay the delivery of the double-shot after briefly sniffing the bouquet and declaring that the shot was, in fact, inadequate for his standard before proceeding to dump the cup, apologizing profusely and restarting the process. If that doesn’t show devotion, I don’t know what else.

Indie music

Mildly Important, although bonus if band is one whose name you have never heard of before and is so obscure that mentioning it at the Sasquatch music festival generates “I don’t know”s and “what the hell is that”s. Also bonus if music is being played extra loudly, or contains either synthesizer instrumentation, guttural vocal and/or cheap-sounding drums that the volume doesn’t matter.

The presence of coffee shop and music has become synonymous to one another. Whether the music is pumped through iPod or a conventional stereo system, there are certain factors that indicates the coffee shop’s relative attitude, friendliness of barista, fitness for a workspace, fitness for a conversation and quality of food items.

View the Table Of Relationship Between Kind Of Music Played In A Coffee Shop, And What It Influences

Furniture with Mid-Century Modernist leaning

Optional, but nice to have
What is a coffee shop without a decent chair or table to lounge and do work on? Some claims to only pay attention about “the coffee, and nothing else,” but do not be fooled. A good coffee shop would care about the beverages as much as the wall decoration. This is not considered to be pretentious in The Pearl District.

Aesthetics can range widely, but always fall within these three general patterns:

  • “The Couchsurfer,” low-budget, spare and IKEA-ish
  • “The Next Door Neighbor,” sofa-dominated, low chair (with padding) and flowers
  • “The Upscale Hipster,” some designer furniture, roof generally left open and floor unfurnished

Notably, I have spotted an Eames Lounge Chair (without the ottoman) on a coffee shop in Northeast Belmont Street and 37th Avenue. The aesthetics was exactly Upscale Hipster, and the sandwiches were quite good, if not a little bit expensive for such a small quantity.

Outdoor seating

Very important for about two months out of the year, then negligible, bonus if the said seating have electrical outlets nearby, and is sheltered, but otherwise facing direct sunlight

Hailing from a place where the temperature rarely hits below 80°, I’m a natural sun worshipper. In the summer, this is the one feature that I judge every coffee shop by—and to my knowledge, only one place could do this (which is coming in the review, so be patience.)

Stumptown Coffee beans

Arbitrary, but this is Portland, therefore: Very Important

Reliable wifi connection

The most important of all, as well as the reason why this post was written in the first place
Here in Portland, we expect that wifi be fast and coffee be good—on all coffee shop at all time. After all, if we nomad knowledge workers want to actually get things done and be productive, we need a connection with a decent download and upload speed, and one that doesn’t block any port (such as, you know, email or FTP access.)

Unfortunately, I found this to be the most unpredictable factor of all. This is why I will devote the rest of this post to review not only which café is appropriate for which activity (client meeting, coworking, reading, watching time go by, finishing up that intensive project that was due this morning, etc.) but also which one offers the best service, food and beverage, amenities and—perhaps most importantly—wifi connection.

Here we go.

Stumptown Coffee nearby Powell’s Books

Address

1022 SW Stark St.
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 224-9060

Amenities

  • Bar stools
  • Comfy couches
  • A big table
  • A bathroom so clean you may as well polish it while you’re doing your business

Atmosphere

Mellow, warm and dim

Ideal for

  • Lounging about
  • Meetings with friends
  • Place to stop by on a date

Wifi rating

☝ ½
Never fast, but Google searches in proper speed, so that’s something, right?

Pro tip

Out of seating? Need to get away with the date when the mood strikes? More couches and chairs around a table—that no one ever sits on—are available when you take the stairs beside the hotel reception desk to the 2nd floor. Amber Case, the Cyborg Anthropologist who holds the title of Most Tabs Open In A Browser Window, told me that you can further take this stairs to the 4th floor, where seating nirvana supposedly lies. You’re welcome to prove or debunk this story.

Aside

They will serve your Americano in a small glass, and, to my knowledge, had no tall ones available.

Stumptown Coffee on 3rd Avenue

Address

128 SW 3rd Ave.
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 295-6144

Amenities

  • Bar stools that are actually located around the bar
  • Medium tables and chairs
  • A set of couches at the end of the room
  • two outside tables frequently occupied by hipsters

Atmosphere

Airy

Ideal for

  • Individual work sessions
  • Small client meetings

Wifi rating

☝ ☝
Slightly better than Stumptown in the Pearl, but only for light browsing

Pro tip

Come early in the day and grab the couches, an ideal coworking space thanks to skylight and enough separation from the rest of the room. It’s also elevated slightly by a platform, so you feel that your job is more important than maxing out a level 70 Night Elf Dark Knight on the side of the room whilst sucking up all the bandwidth—but only slightly.

Aside

Speak softly, I’ve heard that the room amplifies your voice

World Cup Coffee and Tea at Powell’s Books Yellow Room

Address

1005 W Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 224-4905

Amenities

Plenty of chairs and tables

Atmosphere

Serious and literary, even though they have the comics in there, or whatever the heck they categorize McSweeney’s humor category as

Ideal for

Working alone, and, to a lesser extent, coworking—because the place is, more often than not, noisy

Wifi rating

☝ ☝ ½
Decent. Suited for medium browsing, but not for flash-heavy website

Pro tip

People always thought that there’s no outlet in this space. Well, here’s a secret: make a left immediately after you enter the room, past the bookshelves and onto the long-table facing the window. Look closely, and therein you’ll see several outlets. They are the only set of outlets in the room. There, I just increased your productivity by tenfold

Aside

A Go club meets every Wednesday night for games. 5 to 6 boards are usually played simultaneously, and we all know that watching Go brings zen, right?

World Cup Coffee and Tea at the Ecotrust Building

Address

721 NW 9th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 546-7377

Amenities

  • Long plush chairs
  • A set of couch
  • Bar stools
  • Medium tables
  • Sun-drenched outside seating
  • Hot Lips pizza next door

Atmosphere

Sunny and chic

Ideal for

  • Both individual and coworking sessions
  • Small to medium group meetings
  • Small to medium client meetings

Wifi rating

Anywhere from zero on the rooftop, to ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ on the back of the room

Pro tip

The Ecotrust rooftop is, as far as I’m concerned, every sun worshipper’s wet dream, as long as she doesn’t need to go online. It has movable tables, easy chairs, great view of the Jamison Park and the Pearl District, and even a fireplace as a shade if she ever changes her mind.

Outlets are located nearby the wall. Look for the small, metal boxes.

Also, go to the back of the room “under the Blanket Of Warmth,” as Christina Williams put it—which really means “the right back table, on the chairs facing the front door”—to get better wifi connectivity.

Aside

How many coffee shops have non-standard (black) tea prepared in their fridge? This World Cup keeps a secret stash of cold Mango Ceylon in summer months, so you don’t have to order one with 80% ice and 20% tea, or pour a hot one over ice—thus drowning the sweet, sweet nectar with water to a tepid result.

My research have shown that a 20 oz. cup of non-iced cold tea will remain cold in direct sunlight for about 15 minutes—but I strongly doubt that it would last unconsumed for that long.

Also, Hot Lips, the pizza place next door, has great garlic parmesan and pesto basil breadsticks (I buy one each and pair them with a cold Mango Ceylon for a filling lunch), but very rarely will your waiter offer the marinara or ranch dipping sauces.

Ask for this, and you won’t regret it.

Backspace

Address

115 NW 5th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 248-2900

Amenities

  • Medium tables and chairs
  • A set of couches
  • Bar stools
  • Circular work table
  • Computers in the back room, for rent
  • Enough outlets to power your laptop, iPod, Blackberry, digital picture frame, and whatever gadgets you could possibly have

Atmosphere

Geeky and dank (in a good way) Rock ’n Roll Bohemian, says Mark Colman

Ideal for

  • Both individual and coworking sessions
  • Code sprints
  • Maxing out your level 70 Night Elf Dark Knight
  • Small group meetings

Wifi rating

☝ ☝ ☝ &9757: ½
Outstanding, but a lot of users are always on, so speed may be inconsistent at times

Pro Tip

Get a sour-laced, mango-creme-filled Voodoo Doughnut if the caffeine kick isn’t enough to pump you up to frag your opponents. Know someone from Vidoop, eROI or Planet Argon? Then you’ll most likely catch her getting a cup of joe.

Aside

Watch for hipster kids setting up their bands, particularly during the evening, around dinnertime. Backspace is one of the few places in Portland with a very diverse (credit: Reid Beels) music genre, which means that the possibility of watching a twee electro-pop and Brit-hair rock playing after a Klingon death metal band all in one night is quite high

Also, watch for Treasurelicious’ “Expose your treasures” sticker on the restroom

World Cup Coffee & Tea (nearby Mission Theater)

Address

1740 NW Glisan St.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 228-4152

Amenities

Tables and chairs

Atmosphere

“Very intense and full of people with laptops” was what I roughly heard from Kevin Chen.

Ideal for

Wifi rating

Unknown, here’s why:

I’ve only been to this coffee shop once, two years ago, to meet somebody from Wild Alchemy on a particularly gray September. This was my one of my first forays into Account Planning, and was then alerted that Wild Alchemy tend to be busy during the end of the year. I wore either a black or brown dress shirt, a black jacket, and had a Mango Ceylon that was so piping hot, I had to pour it bit-by-bit on the small plate and sip it from there. This was how coffee was traditionally drunk where I grew up. I was without a laptop then, and so wasn’t able to check on the wireless quality. The meeting went well.

Pro Tip

This place has free parking, says Brian Krejcarek (@treefern.) It should be noted that no other coffee shop reviewed in this series has this feature.

Aside

Nothing here yet. But I bet that you must know something that I don’t about this venue.

Caffé Umbria

Address

303 NW 12th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 241-5300

Amenities

  • Tables and chairs
  • High tables for coffee sipping around the bar
  • Plenty of Italian attitude

Atmosphere

Sleek and serious

Ideal for

  • Small, medium to large client meeting
  • Working alone

Wifi rating

Zero
As of my last visit, there is no wifi at this venue

Pro Tip

There are a lot of coffee shops suitable for coworking among friends or finishing up the novel you always wanted to finish but never had the chance to. Café Umbria is not one of them. My recent trip proved that the venue is filled with executives and pitching entrepreneurs, which can only mean one thing: Café Umbria is great for client meetings.

Aside

Any attempt to order an “extra hot non-fat grande pumpkin caramel breve,” while may only be replied with a condescending chuckle at Stumptown, will cause Café Umbria’s barista to give you a dirty, dirty look. Stick with the standard. You have been warned.

Urban Grind Coffeehouse Northwest

Address

911 NW 14th Ave.
OR, OR 97209
(503) 546-5919

Amenities

  • Tables and chairs
  • Outside seatings, sheltered from the sun
  • Some high tables and chairs
  • A black leather couch
  • The Famous Long Table On The Back Of The Room

Atmosphere

Geeky and studious

Ideal for

  • Working individually, and especially coworking
  • Small client meetings

Wifi rating

☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝
Solid. Go here if you need a reliable and fast connection, with good upload speed.

Pro Tip

Urban Grind Northwest is becoming the coworking venue of choice for many Portland creative and tech independents. Enter the space on almost any day of the week, towards the afternoon or after lunch, and you’ll most likely find any of these fine people working away at The Famous Long Table On The Back Of The Room:

In short, go here if you’re itching to meet a Portland Tweeter in real life.

Aside

Bring an extra layer. Thanks to the air conditioning inside, the temperature inside is, more often than not, colder than what’s outside. Also plan to be here for a while, if not for the great atmosphere, then for the relatively slow service.

Sip and Kranz

Address

901 NW 10th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 336-1335

Amenities

  • Medium and tall tables and chairs
  • Outside seatings
  • Kids play area

Atmosphere

Sun-drenched and raucous

Ideal for

  • Individual and coworking sessions
  • Small client meetings
  • Working with kids

Wifi rating

☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ½
Excellent, but FTP port is blocked.

Pro Tip

In my mind, there are only 3 criteria that any coffee hop must fulfill if it’s to make an ideal work environment:

  1. Great wifi
  2. Plenty of outlets
  3. Outside seatings in direct sunlight

For example, note how World Cup Coffee And Tea at Ecotrust only fulfills criteria 2 and 3, and Urban Grind Northwest, Backspace and Stumptown Coffee on 3rd Avenue only fulfill 1 and 2.

Sip and Kranz fulfills all three—and not only that, the seating outside has shades, so if you suddenly decide that the tan is, in fact, enough, you can simply drag the chair half a feet away.

Wondering if the same outlets that power the tree lights outside can be used to charge your laptop? Me, too. Just unplug the cable from the box, replace it with your laptop charger, and resume your work accordingly. If you ask me, the power is best used to power your laptop, who has tree lights on during the day, anyway?

Aside

Watch the merry gentlemen throwing small steel balls on the sand park.

Peet’s Coffee and Tea

Address

1114 NW Couch St
Portland, OR 97209
(971) 244-0458

Amenities

Tables and chairs, both inside and outside. Also: some high tables toward the front side of the room.

Atmosphere

Urbane and, unfortunately, cramped

Ideal for

Small client meetings. Definitely not for working.

Wifi rating

☝ ☝ ☝ ☝
Buying a cup will get you an access code valid for 2 hours of wifi access. Thanks to this, the connection is reliable.

Pro Tip

The heaters over by the seating outside turn up during the cold months, which shows that sitting in a 40° temperature while not entirely freezing yourself is, in fact, a viable way of enjoying a cup of coffee. Just sayin.’

And the list goes on

Do you have any Pro Tips and hacks on any coffee shop in Portland? Email me at brampitoyo@gmail.com or, better yet, add it to the PDX Coffee Shop Wiki!

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19 thoughts on “A Field Guide To Coffee Shops Around Northwest Portland, Particularly The Pearl District Neighborhood

  1. Great reviews – thanks, Bram!

    Just noticed that the World Cup at Ecotrust has closed; it’ll be replaced by Laughing Planet, who also promises to add a coffee kiosk (according to the paper sign on the door; no word on the wifi, though.)

  2. Awesome write up! I learned a few tricks n all from the list.

    Thanks for the listing at Urban Grind! Funny I only discovered the place because of you guys and I used to literally live 6 blocks west on Lovejoy! The things one doesn’t discover right under their nose.

  3. Well, done. Thanks for putting this list together. I’m going to put it to use. What if we have info to add to the list? wiki?

    I agree with pdxsays about resizing the headings.

  4. Andrew,
    I’m glad that the list is helpful!

    PDXsays,
    I’m working on it as we speak. I’m thinking to move the criteria (Hipster Barista, Indie Music, etc.) out of the unordered list tags, so I can style them with and

    Bryan,
    Somebody told me that the Ecotrust’s World Cup is closed, too. I haven’t been there for a while, though, so I didn’t confirm and ended up including it in my list. Thanks for letting me know!

    Adron,
    Glad the review was helpful. Urban Grind is an amazing place for coworking (and you found it!) I’m rather glad that there are more places around town that are better suited for different purposes. Going to the same place every day of the week, as you can imagine, can be boring.

    Clifton,
    Thanks! If you want info to add to the list, you can either leave a comment here, email me at brampitoyo@gmail.com or use the wiki at http://www.aboutus.org/PDX_Coffee_Shops

    On that note, I forgot to make a link to the wiki. Doh. Thanks for reminding me to do it.

  5. I have to say, World Cup on Glisan has the most surly and uncaring baristas I’ve ever met. They manage to mess up my order on almost every occasion. How hard is it to do your job? It’s not my fault you’re a barista!
    I don’t need my barista to be perky. I just need them to be moderately human.
    Plus, where’s free parking? Out in front? Good luck with that.

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  7. Excellent list, Bram! Many thanks. Always searching for a good meeting spot. Just an update, I was told by several folks that the World Cup/Ecotrust location is closing its doors very soon, which is sad, if true. I’m always stopping there…not too crowded, not too loud…with the plus of sitting outside on good wx days.

  8. Bridget,
    Beyond my initial experience (and one or two subsequent ones) Wobld Cup Coffee & Tea on Glisan, the facts on this space was contributed by my friends. Thank you for letting me know!

    Melissa,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the article—and thanks for the opportunity! Which of the entry do you think would make a good submission for “Our Portland Story”? I was thinking about the Table Of Relationship: http://brampitoyo.com/music-in-coffee-shops.html

    Rebecca,
    Thanks for the compliment. I’m learning to write longer articles that adds to the community’s knowledge bank. Bryan Stearns posted a comment, and a reader emailed me about the World Cup closing at Ecotrust. I’ll update this information right away.

  9. To the most honorable author of the site. Nice Work. The list was a fun read.

    Yes, it is true that we have closed our Ecotrust location. Many factors to the decision but sad indeed. Thank you to all that have patronized that location over the years.

    Bridget,
    Sorry that your times at our Glisan have been less than stellar. Believe me every shop owner wants to know when a customer doesn’t receive the type of treatment the owner would give themself! Please let me know so I can make my locations a better experience for all.

    In regards to our statement of “Its not my fault your a barista” I think you are out of line. Being a barista is a nobel profession that many people make a grand career out of.

    In regards to your statement of “how hard is it to do your job?” Its damn hard! our current standards for our espresso are 19 grams, at 9 bars pressure, 30 pound tamp, tap, tamp, then polish, 25 second double shot pours, 2.25 ounces, at 205 degrees temp. This changes throughout the whole freakin day. I haven’t even got into the demands of our drip brews to gold cup standards, the quality we put into our cupping table, the training of how to steam the milk, the variety of drinks that gladly get modified upon request despite how iced espresso actually tastes crappy, the knowledge of how processing and location actually effect the cup…I could go on but that would be ranting.

    I understand that from your website you are an animal communicator. Such an alternative career path for yourself has no doubt created a need to defend your profession. That is my intent here. If you view our profession as below you then find another shop. If you wish to come back and you receive the same poor level of service, please let me know so that I may make the necessary corrections. No company is built on bad products and service and you should not be treated in such a manner. You are paying good money for your product and that includes stellar service and environment.

    To all,

    Enjoy your day

  10. Chrispy says:

    Bram, can I just say that this is the best article you’ve written..ever!! and Sarah loves it too!! Btw you should add Sydney’s to your list..

  11. pieter pitojo says:

    Chrispy & Sarah pencinta kopi, mereka pasti sangat menyukai artikel ini. Betul? Papa juga suka tuch!

  12. Chris,
    I went to Sydney’s three days ago, while thinking “I remembered this name from somewhere.” Little did I know that you made the reference two days before that. Ha!

    Pieter,
    Betul. Terima kasih buat commentnya.

    Cassondra,
    I hope the list is helpful. Want to contribute? I ported the contents to the wiki: http://aboutus.org/PDX_Coffee_Shops

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  14. Good article, should I ever decide I want to get some work done on the west side of the river. Incidentally, the Urban Grind in NE is unbelievably huge and always empty. I’ve had some wifi issues, and when there are actual customers the service can understandably get a little slow, and the music is hit and miss, and there are only so many outlets, but the ups trump the downs, absolutely.

    Huge space, MANY tables and couches. Kid’s playroom. Ping pong table in the back, even a proper conference room. Friendly staff. Bunch of free computers to use. Good coffee. I’m not sure how they’re still open, really, but the place is great, and it’s a lot easier to park (for free) in NE than anywhere downtown. And besides which, though that back table in the NW location sounds like seven kinds of awesome, Urban Grind NE is a fantastic place to get things done, I wish it were more popular.

  15. Ashley says:

    Hey, I’m looking for a ventue for the fasion show I want to put on. I thought a coffee shop would be a cool spot. Any suggestions?

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