It had been a while since I had been to a new café, and I was feeling particularly motivated to try something new, so I headed to Northeast Sandy Boulevard to check out Case Study Coffee. Case Study is one of the newer cafés in Portland, having opened only eight months ago. The café sent two baristas to the 2011 Northwest Regional Barista Championship. Neither of the baristas made the finals, but the fact that such a new café would send two competitors to the competition shows that Case Study is serious about coffee.
While it may be fairly new, Case Study appears to not be a secret. During my time in the café, a steady stream of customers came through the door. The café was fairly loud—not with music, but with people talking. I overheard people brainstorming about their next big creative venture [on a side note, have you seen Portlandia’s sketch about creative ventures? It takes place in one of the cafés we have already reviewed here]. Several Laptopistanis were glued to their screens and some of them also had their smartphones glued to one ear. I watched a writer distractedly go between staring at her notebook and checking her email on her iPhone. It looked like she either had writer’s block or she was hoping that the phone would give her a legitimate reason to not be productive.
Case Study had two espressos on grind. One was Stumptown’s Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Adado and the other was Water Avenue’s Bolivia de Montana. The barista, who I recognized from the NWRBC, told me that the Bolivia was like “sweet and salty popcorn”. When I ordered the Bolivia, she offered me a glass of San Pellegrino sparkling water to go with it. Grazie.
The espresso was fairly complex. The crema was very thick and smooth, and it was surprisingly sweet. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the sweet and salty popcorn. I would add that it was a little buttery, too (of course, that might just be the power of suggestion—sweet and salty popcorn is going to be buttery, right?). The consistency was thick and syrupy and the coffee had the acidic bite that most single-origin espressos seem to have.
Case Study has a nice café space. It looks like another remodeled old mercantile or hardware store. The trapezoid layout makes the café look rather open, and one section of the window seats is almost its own separate room. There was a lot of exposed wood in the café—the old wooden floor, the long wooden common table and the wooden base of the coffee bar. The smaller tables were covered in smooth copper, a style I had not seen before.
My favorite feature of the café was the beautiful custom-made espresso machine sitting on the counter in front of the café. You have to pass by it when you go up to order at the counter, and the placement of the machine really puts the baristas skills on display. Directly over the espresso machine, an exploding spider light fixture hangs menacingly.
After writing for a while, I wanted something different for the second round and there were lots of options. In addition to espresso drinks, Case Study also has French Press, AeroPress, pour-over, vacuum pot, Chemex and cold-brewed coffee available. I asked the barista about the cold-brewed coffee. She told me it takes eight hours to brew and that the coffee is never in contact with hot water so you get a smooth, flavorful cup that is not acidic or bitter. They brew it as a concentrate and then pour it over ice. Coffee on the rocks.
“It has a lot of caffeine,” she warned me. “So if you are sensitive to caffeine, look out.”
I assured her that was not a problem and ordered one.
The only other time I have tried iced coffee was when I worked at Starbucks, and we used to brew the coffee at double strength using hot water before we added ice. The drink was really popular among customers during the hot Boston summer, but I was not a big fan. I thought it was too weak and not terribly interesting. My iced coffee at Case Study was different in many ways.
First, the coffee smelled very intense, like an unsweetened coffee extract. It reminded me of a coffee or dark chocolate liqueur without the alcohol bite. When I say dark chocolate, I mean 90%+ cacao extra-dark chocolate, almost bitter, but not quite (the finish was smooth). I tasted a few hints of almonds or cherries too. The coffee had more body than the average coffee. Some coffees have lots of body, but this coffee was chewy. The flavors stuck to the insides of my mouth. Picture drinking a glass of your favorite dark chocolate bar. As strange as it may sound, drinking the iced coffee was like that. I enjoyed it.
Case Study is a solid stop in Northeast Portland, just up the hill from the Hollywood District on Sandy Boulevard. Despite the fact that it has not been around long, the café has a bright future. It is a place where you get good coffee from people who are excited and knowledgeable about coffee. You can sit there and work on your next big creative venture, sit there and solve the world’s problems or you can just sit there and pretend to be productive. No matter which one you choose, Case Study gives you a good location to do it.
Address: 5347 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-5pm
Coffee: Stumptown and others (Water Ave, Coava and Sterling have all been featured here at times)
Free Wi-Fi? Yes, ask for password
Recommend it? Yes, especially the cold-brewed coffee
Website: www.casestudycoffee.com (not much there)