Walking through the industrial district of inner Southeast Portland, you can find Water Avenue Coffee located in the same building as the American Barista and Coffee School. Bruce Milletto and his son Matt, who run the school, joined forces with Brandon Smyth to establish Water Avenue Coffee. Bruce Milletto is well-known throughout the specialty coffee industry for being an expert coffee consultant and Matt is an experienced barista/trainer/teacher. Brandon Smyth, a former roaster for Stumptown, is also part-owner and serves as head roaster for Water Avenue Coffee. With all of this coffee expertise, you would expect to find high-quality coffee and espresso drinks at Water Avenue’s café, and that is what you get.
I visited Water Avenue on a dark, rainy Portland afternoon on the second leg of a Portland coffee-drinking binge. Located on (surprise) Water Avenue, the café sits on the south side of what looks like an old factory building. The interior has high ceilings and large windows that once would have provided cheap lighting for workers. The walls are painted dark gray and the day I was there, the café atmosphere was very reserved. It seemed like the people inside were just glad to have an escape from the rain. I know I was.
When you walk into the café, the first thing you notice is the huge blue neon COFFEE sign that hangs on the wall behind the pastry case. The café’s website says you can see the sign from I-5 if you are traveling north through Portland. It makes a bold first impression for anyone entering the café.
The second prominent feature of the space is the large wooden bar, constructed from reclaimed wood. It stretches from the front of the café around to the left, past the espresso machines and toward the back of the café. A coffee roaster sits behind the front wall where the coffee sign hangs. Matt Milletto told us they roast most mornings, so if you want to enjoy the sights and smells of the roasting process, you can sit at the bar and watch the roastmaster work.
The barista told me that the espresso I ordered was comprised mainly of Brazilian beans and that I should expect some nutty flavors with lots of cocoa. It had a little zing for the tip of my tongue. I thought it was almost woody. I told Sam, the Australian who took part in the coffee adventure, that it tasted like the leaves of a maple tree. I don’t know why—I’ve never tasted a maple leaf before—but later it came to me that the taste was like bay (laurel) leaves. While I would not say the espresso was my favorite Portland espresso, it was interesting and memorable. I can still “taste” the espresso in my mind, several weeks after I drank it.
Water Avenue Coffee has only been open since the end of June 2010, but it has already become well-known in Portland coffee circles. With the nice space, the memorable coffee and the coffee knowledge of the Millettos and Smyth behind it, Water Avenue Coffee is likely to become an important destination for future Portland coffee pilgrims.
Address: 1028 SE Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-5pm
Coffee: Water Avenue
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommend it? Yes