I intended to give Coffeehouse Northwest a review the other day, but when I arrived and asked what espressos they had available, the barista informed me that they only had Hair Bender (from Stumptown) available. Actually, they had two different Hair Benders available, each with a different roasting date. While it might have been an interesting exercise to compare how the roasting dates affected the flavors, I was hoping to try something different. The barista suggested I go to Sterling, a few blocks away on NW Glisan. She said it doesn’t have any tables, but that if I wanted to I could bring my drink back from Sterling and sit down at the café and hang out. Though it was a nice offer, I decided to come back to Coffeehouse Northwest another day.
It took me about five minutes to walk over to Sterling, and when I arrived, I found what appeared to be an old-fashioned coffee bar, built in the style of the 1920s (at least that was my impression). The kiosk was sandwiched into a small space by the entrance to a flower shop.
Tim, the barista, greeted me and I asked him about their espresso. He recommended that I try the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (YUR-guh-chef) coffee. It was a little more expensive than the house blend they had available ($2.50 for a double), but it was more interesting too. He described the espresso as beginning with blackberry flavors, continuing with a smooth middle and creamy finish that was like Baileys (Irish cream). That sounded interesting enough for me, so I ordered one and watched him prepare the espresso.
It took a while, because he had to pull the shots several times just to make sure he got it right. When I asked him why he did that, he explained that the volume at the kiosk was inconsistent, making it hard to maintain a constant temperature. Slight variations in temperature require adjustments in the dosing and tamping and it can be hard to hit the right combination if there has been a break between customers. Therefore, it was no surprise that the first shot warmed up the machine, the second pulled a “little loose”, and the third was just right.
Another factor that complicated the coffee-making process was the fact that the grinder was not set to automatically grind a certain amount of coffee, so Tim had to measure out the proper amount by himself. This can be tricky, because temperature and humidity play a part in the requirements too. Making the perfect espresso is a challenge in the best of times and a near impossibility in the worst, so I appreciated his diligence in getting it right.
When I tasted the espresso, I was able to pick up on the berry flavors, but I didn’t get much of the Baileys finish. It was another unique coffee experience, however, and I enjoyed chatting with Tim. He was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about coffee and the craft of preparing it.
While the Sterling kiosk wasn’t the sit-down café experience that I had expected when I left the house, I did enjoy my trip there. It’s too bad they don’t have any tables, but if you happen to be walking through the area or shopping at Trader Joe’s and need some coffee, stop by Sterling. They will make sure you get the quality buzz you are looking for.
Address: 2120 NW Glisan Portland, OR 97210 (map shows Trader Joe’s, kiosk next door)
Hours: Sunday-Saturday 8am-6:30pm
Free Wi-Fi? No, but there aren’t tables either. Your laptop wouldn’t be much use.
Recommend it? Yes, for coffee.
Website: http://www.sterlingcoffeeroasters.com/ (not much there yet)