When I left the house on my way to Spella Caffè, it was one of those crisp fall mornings when you can see your breath. It started out sunny, but before long a cold fog had rolled in and it looked like it was going to be one of those gray days that drive Portlanders to drink lots of coffee. Fortunately, we have lots of options to help us deal with the grayness. Spella is one such place. I had heard good things about it from a barista friend and wanted to see if he knew what he was talking about.
As I walked down through the city, I had visions of stopping in, having some espresso and sitting down for a while. When I got there, I found that to be impossible, since Spella doesn’t have any chairs. In fact, the café has barely enough room to stand up if there are more than five customers inside, which there were when I arrived.
No worries, though. If I couldn’t sit down, at least I could savor the coffee. I asked the barista about the espresso. She told me they had one available—Spella’s house espresso blend—comprised mainly of Brazilian beans. I ordered one ($1.75) and she gave me a small glass of water to accompany it. This is customary at many places when you order an espresso, though I’m not sure why—perhaps they think you need something to cleanse your palate after drinking the concentrated coffee. At Spella, I was surprised to find that they give you sparkling water instead of still water. It was a nice departure from the ordinary.
My espresso was ready shortly. I put a little sugar in it and tried it. Of all the coffees I have tried in the last two months, this one stands out to me as having the most chocolaty flavor. It was a lot like one of those extra dark (>80% cacao) chocolate bars. Very tasty. In fact, it is probably my favorite Portland espresso to this point.
As I mentioned, the café was busy when I went in, and I didn’t want to bother the baristas with questions. After I drank my coffee, I went outside to wait for the café to clear out. A few minutes later, I went back inside to see if I could learn a little more about Spella.
Chiara (pronounced chee-AH-rah) told me that Spella has been in business for four years, and that the 5th Ave store has been open for nine months. She let me try the brewed coffee too. It was a very light roast, a peaberry coffee from southern India. I didn’t even know that coffee grew in India, but here it was, being served in Portland. The coffee was bright and sweet (not sweet like someone had added sugar—rather, it just barely stimulated the taste buds on the tip of my tongue).
I asked her about the odd-looking espresso machine. It had three large handles sticking up in the air, something I hadn’t seen before. She told me that the contraption was a hand pump machine, something that is not very common in the US. In fact, she thought it was the only one in the Northwest. With a little online research, I found out that it is a Rancilio Classe 6 LE3 Manual 3 Group Espresso Machine. Apparently, if you’re on the bar with one of these all day, you get quite a workout. You can also make some fine espresso with it.
I would have liked to hang out at the café for a while, but there was no place to sit and I had to get some writing done, so I left in search of another café. It was a good find, though, and the next time I go to Spella, I’m going to take a little dark chocolate with me to pair with the espresso. That would be a dynamite combination. If you’re downtown near Pioneer Square, it’s worth your time to make the short walk to find the café.
Address: 520 SW 5th Ave Portland, OR 97204 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30am-4pm
Free Wi-Fi? No, but there’s no place to sit either
Recommend it? Yes, for the espresso (bring some chocolate!)