It is always a challenge for coffee companies to carve out their place in the market, and even more so in a town that has as many cafés and roasters as Portland has. Some companies distinguish themselves by offering a great café experience, some by freshly roasting coffee in their cafés and others stand out simply by being weird. Courier Coffee Roasters distinguishes itself in two ways: 1) it always has ultra-fresh coffee; and 2) it uses bicycles to deliver its coffee around the city.
Courier prides itself on providing freshly roasted coffee, freshly ground coffee and freshly brewed coffee every day. If you haven’t gotten the message yet (and we preach it a lot around here), freshness matters. Each day, Joel and Alex, Courier’s owners, roast the quantity of beans they think they will use that day (or perhaps in the next two days). It can be a grind (pun intended) to roast every day in small quantities, but if that is what it takes to provide people with the freshest coffee, they are willing to do it.
To make sure the coffee in the café is fresh, Courier’s baristas brew everything to order. They try to be as fast as possible too. During my visit to the café, a woman came in and ordered four coffees to go. Joel quickly lined up four basket filters on the counter and began brewing pour-overs with freshly-ground beans. It would be easier to have coffee sitting in an air pot on the counter waiting for customers, but that would go against the freshness that is the foundation of Courier’s principles.
Courier Coffee started out solely as a roasting company about five years ago. Originally, Joel wasn’t really looking to have his own café, but as the Little Red Bike Café and the Half and Half were shutting down (both served Courier coffee), he decided it would be good to have a dedicated café where people could get Courier coffee. Opened last August, the cafe is small, but it’s full of coffee vibe. The guys like to play classic rock on an old vinyl turntable and talk coffee with anyone who comes in.
As mentioned, Courier uses bikes to deliver its coffee. The “Courier” in the name is derived from the fact that the company uses bicycles to deliver its fresh-roasted coffee to its wholesale and residential customers. Joel said that he loved bikes and he loved coffee. He wanted a way to combine the two interests, so he started Courier Coffee. Courier has been roasting at 40th and Hawthorne for about five years now, delivering the coffee by bicycle whenever possible.
As a way of publicizing its bicycle delivery, Courier held a promotion in October where if you came in to the café and broke the record for the longest ‘track stand’ on your bike, you could get anything on the menu for free. Portlanders responded quickly and pretty soon the record was out of reach for the average cyclist.
“It got kind of crazy,” Joel told me. “Two guys came down here and kept trying to break each other’s record. Instead of just breaking it by a few seconds, they really tried to obliterate it. Pretty soon, the leader was up around 40 minutes, and no one wanted to try to beat that. I mean, who has time to stand around on their bike all day just for a free coffee?”
I don’t know, but that sounds like it would make a good Portlandia skit.
If you would like to try Courier’s fresh coffee, you can visit the café or pick some up from the roastery at Southeast Hawthorne and 40th. They roast every day, but only the amount of coffee they think they will need that day, so it is best to call ahead (they’ve had to turn people away before). If you can’t make it to either place, Courier will deliver coffee to your house by bicycle (within certain geographic limits). As you can imagine, though, this time-consuming method of delivering small quantities of coffee to scattered residential addresses by bike is not the most economical for them. Therefore, to help them out, try to work out a way to pick your coffee up at the café or from the roastery.
Courier Coffee is right around the corner from Powell’s books, so for an authentic Portland experience, go to the bookstore and spend some time getting lost among the books. Then when you get tired, take the half-block walk down the street and stop in at Courier. You won’t have to fight the crowds at Powell’s and you can get a great cup of fresh coffee.
Address: 923 SW Oak Street, Portland, OR 97205 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 7-5
Also open late for First and Third Thursdays and other events
Free Wi-Fi? Not sure
Recommend it? For some of the freshest coffee you will find