If you happen to be out walking along Northeast Killingsworth Street someday, and the breeze is blowing just right, you might find yourself drawn to a small, white building with red trim and a couple tables out front. From that building, a rich, toasted-sweet aroma pours out onto the street, an aroma so attractive that you cannot help but want to find the source. There is no sign outside to tell you where you are, but you will have just found Extracto, one of Portland’s famous micro roasters.
The other day I went to Extracto to meet a friend and have a cup of coffee. I had read about Extracto being an important part of the Portland coffee scene, so I went with high expectations. Looking for espresso, I was not surprised that they had two available—one from Ethiopia and the other a multi-region blend. I chose the blend and enjoyed it. It was a little bit nutty (the coffee, not me) and slightly tangy. However, drinking the coffee was only a small part of my Extracto experience.
For the most part, the café was like many others. The seating area was nothing out of the ordinary. There were several wooden chairs and tables sitting on a brushed cement floor. The café was large enough that on most days, odds would be good you could find a table. There was enough of a buzz in the café that any conversations you had would not be heard by everyone in the café, but it was still quiet enough to study or write. You could buy pastries if you wanted to, and many people did.
The feature that distinguished this café from others was the coffee roasting area at the back of the room. Along the back wall, several large jute sacks of green coffee were piled up four or five layers high. While we were sitting there talking, I noticed a guy weighing freshly-roasted coffee and pouring it into small paper bags. Through an open window behind the coffee bar, a man was working around the coffee roaster.
As my friend left, I could see they were getting ready to roast another batch of coffee. I went over to the open window to get a closer look at the roaster and to ask if I could watch for a while. The man said sure, so I stood there for a few minutes gawking at the whole operation. After a little while we got to talking. It turns out that the man was Chris Brady, the owner of Extracto and another coffee über-enthusiast from Portland.
Chris was kind enough to explain to me (and let me watch) the coffee roasting process. It was the first time I had ever seen someone roasting coffee, and naturally I had lots of questions, which he didn’t seem to mind answering. He told me about his roaster, a German machine built in 1951 that had many stops in its lifetime before finding its way to Portland. Chris hoped that NE Killingsworth would be its last stop.
I watched him dump a new batch of beans into the heated drum, where they tumbled around past the viewing window, slowly turning from light green to dark brown. Occasionally Chris would pull out a sample of the coffee and inspect its progress, using both his eyes and nose. The color was important, but the key indicator was how the coffee smelled. He also kept a close eye on the air temperature inside the roaster, explaining to his assistant Neil (I think that was his name) how the coffee changed over time. At a certain temperature the coffee did its first “crack,” a process that is similar to (but less violent than) when popcorn pops. A trained ear can hear the coffee reach this point, but I have to be honest, even though I knew it was coming, I still missed it.
The two watched the coffee very closely until they were satisfied it had roasted long enough. At that point, Chris swung open the door on the bottom of the drum and coffee poured out onto the cooling bin, where three paddles swirled the beans around, making sure that the beans cooled evenly. The aroma that filled the café was spectacular. The coffee was from Buena Vista, Guatemala and produced a very chocolaty, nutty aroma. Chris told me that it was probably his favorite coffee, and if it tastes half as good as it smelled, it would be my favorite too.
Portlanders with very discerning coffee tastes are lucky to have so many high-quality roasters in town and Extracto is one of them. If you are lucky enough to be there on a day when they are roasting, not only will you get some good coffee, but your olfactory senses will be pleased as well.
Address: 2921 NE Killingsworth, Portland, OR 97211 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-6pm
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommend it? Yes, especially if they are roasting