In multiple conversations with people around Portland, I have been told that one of the best espresso blends on the market is Black Cat—an espresso blend from Chicago-based Intelligentsia. In hushed tones, people discretely tell me that it might be better than Stumptown’s Hair Bender blend. It can be hard for a Portlander to admit that there is an outsider’s coffee that beats the hometown hero, but many do say they love Black Cat.
Since I heard about it so much, I knew I had to try it. The trouble was that Intelligentsia doesn’t have a café in Portland, at least not under its own name, so Black Cat is hard to find. Asking around, I was told that Crema used to have it, Barista has it some of the time and that Red E is the only café in town that consistently carries it. I hadn’t been able to make it to Red E yet, and my Black Cat dreams kept getting stronger and stronger until I finally went to North Killingsworth to find the Red E and its magical brew.
When I got to the café, I thought to myself that I was definitely in a Portland café. It has well-worn wood floors that were probably the original floors when the building was built long ago. Behind the coffee bar, there was a large, exposed red brick wall. The bar itself was built from reclaimed old wood and had a polished cement top. The café had a gritty feel.
By the front window, a high bar table let patrons study or work while watching people pass by. There were a mix of wooden tables and soft couches throughout the café—plenty of space to work or just relax. Located near Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, the café was full of students, eyes glued to their laptop screens. Most of the walls were painted white and many large and small rectangular canvases hung on the wall (they were “mixed media on canvas,” according to the website of Eric Adrian Lee, the artist who created them). World music was being played over the PA fairly loudly, but not quite loud enough to be distracting.
Red E is a café that focuses on coffee over anything else. In addition to Black Cat, the café also features single origin coffees roasted by Coava. There are a few pastries available, but if you are looking for lunch or more than a pastry, go elsewhere first, then go to Red E for some coffee.
I ordered my first Black Cat. The barista told me that the blend of coffees changes on a regular basis but that the flavor profile stays fairly similar. This week the beans were from Brazil and Honduras. I sat down with high expectations and was not disappointed. The coffee was rich and creamy. It really filled my mouth and when I added some sugar I noticed its chocolate notes. It was also somewhat nutty (or maybe that was just me).
A couple hours later I went back for another espresso and asked Weston, the barista, about the other espresso available, Coava’s Helsar. When he told me it was like cherries and chocolate, he nearly talked me into trying it. However, since I had come all that way to find the mysterious Black Cat, I decided to have another one. Again, it did not disappoint.
I left the Red E after having spent several good hours there. The coffee was very good, the baristas were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the Portland coffee scene (they gave me some suggestions of other places to try) and the café was very Portlandish. If you have the chance, check out the Red E. You can see for yourself if Chicago’s finest can keep up with the best that Portland has to offer.
Address: 1006 North Killingsworth Portland, OR 97217 (map)
Hours: Monday-Sunday 6am-8pm
Coffee: Coava and Intelligentsia (Black Cat)
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommend it? Yes