My friend Anestes, who runs the remarkably informative blog the Portland Food Map, is also the go-to guy if you want to know where to get a cup of coffee that is more than just a caffeine fix. There is a whole coffee experience to be had; for folks like Anestes, me, and hopefully a lot of you – having a cup of coffee is a journey – a few moments where you pause during the day, take in the world, and okay yes get a little bit of a legal buzz to keep you from snoozing through that last memo (hey we’ve all been there!).
Earlier this year Anestes and I realized we had such a good time talking about coffee we wanted to do a series together for The Root – and did! We spent time with the folks at Speckled Ax (parts one and two), Bard Coffee (parts three and four), and Tandem (part five). As with any series there were limitations and I didn’t get to include all the places where one can enjoy a fine cup of joe.
When Anestes told me he would be directing a coffee tour of Portland last weekend of course I signed up. Following is my account of the day, which started at 12:30 and ran till about 5 p.m. Note, keep your eyes peeled this fall for more coffee tours with folks from the Maine Brew Bus.
It was a gorgeous day – blue skies, warm temperatures – perfect way to get Portland, Maine’s first coffee tour started. A group of about a half-dozen met up at the new Coffee By Design (CBD) coffee shop and roaster at 1 Diamond Street in Portland.
This was my first time visiting CBD’s new location so first impressions – it was really big, really airy, and really clean. Upon taking a closer look I loved that the staff took the time to post pictures from a past company trip to origin and find it worth mentioning that should you be looking for coffee prep equipment the shop is well stocked.
I was excited to learn some of the baked goods, which looked delicious, are made by their own Emily Roper who now has a small bakery business called The Frisky Whisk. They also carry Holy Donut’s gems.
James, a young and energetic barista, made each of us a “Frothy Salvador,” a double ristretto of CBD’s El Salvador Cerro El Tigre Finca Santa Emilia Bourbon poured over ice. Maine Root Ginger Beer is then added for a spicy and refreshing experience. Seriously, I loved it. According to Mary Allen Lindemann, one of the owners/founders of CBD, the El Salvadoran coffee is from the Santa Emilia Estate, which has been in the Homberger family for three generations. From Mary Allen’s email – “Their farm produces heirloom Bourbon and Pacas varietals…The farm has been Rainforest Alliance certified since 2006.” For more on the organization go to their website.
As someone interested in where my food and drink comes from I love being able to find out the name of the producer, the name of the farm, where the farm is located – then it’s not “just” a cup of coffee or a piece of bacon let’s say – it’s a story – an experience.
What all the coffee roasters we visited have tapped into is this idea – that spending time at the origin (where the coffee is farmed) and getting to know the farmers isn’t just good for marketing – it’s amazing for getting better coffee. Oh, and you’re doing a really responsible thing by making sure the farmers are using sustainable practices, treating their workers well…
Mary Allen also mentioned CBD helping build a dining facility for a school for children with learning difficulties in Jardin, a town in Columbia. Great things can happen when you spend time on the ground in places you visited because of food and drink. I have to pause here to thank CBD for the good work they are doing and to thank Anestes again for continuing to introduce me to opportunities where I get to learn about such cool stuff related to the coffee world. Thanks A!
She talked about choosing locations – did you know the area where The State Theatre is – and is where the first CBD opened – used to be a pornography district? The first day CBD opened, Bob Dylan played across the street and essentially provided enough sales to give them a huge opening. There were more fun tidbits, but you’ll have to go on the next tour or just visit CBD for those.
Mary Allen was the first of a couple roasters to point out not everyone they buy from is certified organic. That sticker on the bag can be expensive and doesn’t always mean it’s the best tasting product. I’ll leave the buy/don’t buy/what to know when buying organic products for another day…but will say I personally support growers who are not certified organic whose practices I respect highly.
At each location we learned about the roasting process, where the roaster’s emphasis is – whether environment, variety, education….as well how they make such good coffee. At CBD the focus is on providing something for everyone – the staff might drink light roast, but you like yours dark that’s what you’ll get.
Next stop – Bard Coffee at 185 Middle Street in Portland. Bob Garver, the owner/founder, is one of the nicest, coolest guys you will ever meet and if you get to talk coffee with him you will quickly find he is also one of the most knowledgeable coffee people out there and that his passion for the subject knows no bounds. I learned this writing parts three and four of the coffee series.
Bob spends a lot of time in origin getting to know the farmers, their best practices, their families (and introducing future generations of farmers to his children – future roasters), and tasting. The coffee Bard sources from Bertilio Reyes farm in El Cielito, Santa Barbara, Honduras is one of my favorites. I can be found sitting in the sunny window at Bard drinking a cup at least a couple times a week.
The staff explained the Chemex and Cold Brew Methods.
Brew Method: Chemex 50 g coffee 25 oz water 30 sec bloom w/ 2.5 oz water 1.5 min or less to pour all water 4 min total brew time Tasting notes: Sweet, balanced and buttery with notes of peaches and honey.
Brew Method: Cold Brew 1:8 coffee to cold water ratio Allow coffee to steep in cold water for 12 – 16 hours before straining. Tasting notes: Smooth and sweet with bright stone fruit.
We sampled mini cupcakes from East End Cupcakes made with frosting flavored with honey from Bertilio Reyes’ farm. Bob sent me this link showing the traditional method of honey making in Central America.
Speckled Ax at 567 Congress Street in Portland was our third stop. Matt Bolinder, the roaster/owner, talked flavor profiles and let us check out his Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel (to see something similar go here, which he uses to assign flavor profiles to different roasts so customers can get an idea of what they might order. We smelled Dirt, Sweet Pea, Lemon, and Apricot. And, the best part, before leaving he made us each a Fruity Pebble Latte (yes, using cereal milk made with the sugary cereal). It’s a good thing I don’t live within walking distance of the coffee shop or I might be getting one too many of those each day while on the menu.
Tandem Roasters at 122 Anderson Street (about 500 yards from where the morning began) was our last stop. Owners Kathleen and Will Pratt have created a welcoming environment in which strangers become friends – truly this happens a lot more frequently than one might think. Of the four stops they are the only without WIFI, which means people actually talk to each other. I’ve made friends there and heck a trip to Vermont was even because of a conversation I had there with a stranger who overheard my friend and I talking and joined in. Did I mention they have really good coffee? I’ve got a bag of theirs in my kitchen at all times.
Will talked cupping and Kathleen made Malted Iced Coffees.
As part of building Tandem’s relationship with the community, and to educate people who are interested in learning more about coffee, the café offers free public cuppings every Friday at noon. The primary goal of a cupping is for a roaster (or in a public cupping a consumer) to evaluate the aroma, flavor, body, and acidity of selected samples of coffee. To learn how one goes please check out part five in the coffee series.