Having traveled around most of Portland between I-205 and the West Hills, I rarely encounter “undiscovered” cafés, and it always enthuses me when I hear about a café serving high-end coffees hidden in some corner of the city. Monday morning, I happened upon the JoLa Café, named after the Johns Landing neighborhood where it resides. (Unfortunately, and perhaps unforgivably, I left my phone behind when I left the house, so I am unable to share any pictures. My words will have to suffice for now.)
South of downtown, stretching from the Willamette River on the east side to I-5 on the west side, Johns Landing has long been popular place for Portlanders who find it close enough to the city center for easy access, yet far enough away for a more relaxing lifestyle. The neighborhood also appears in Portland’s coffee history. Several decades ago, David Kobos set up his first shop in Johns Landing.
Buried deep inside the residential part of the neighborhood, JoLa would be hard pressed to get enough foot traffic solely for coffee to support the business. Attracting a lunch crowd and even a light dinner crowd (the café is open until 7pm and serves wine and beer) would be important for long-term success. Therefore, it was unsurprising that the café smelled more like breakfast than coffee. Still, the three-group Synesso sitting on the bar signals that the café takes its coffee seriously.
JoLa café serves Stumptown coffee, but not exclusively. Coava was the alternate on the day I visited. I ordered the latter, and my espresso had the typical characteristics of a Coava roast profile. It was bright but smooth, hitting my palate with a bold acidity that melted away as it washed across my tongue. A slightly bitter aftertaste lingered, reminiscent of a stout black tea.
JoLa Café is set up in two distinct parts, in a space that appears to have once been two separate shops. The right side (as you enter) is deep and wide, with a left-facing L-shaped coffee bar about half way back. Rectangular tables for twos and fours line either side of the aisle. At the very back of the shop, a long conference table sits two steps up, somewhat segregated from the rest of the café. A small sign on the table politely asks individuals to sit elsewhere in order to accommodate larger groups. The left half of the shop is more comfortable, with a few stuffed chairs and some toys for kids in addition to more tables.
I parked myself at the front window, electing a location where I would not be tempted to watch the rest of the café. Fewer distractions equals more writing, and these days, writing is what I need to get done. (I’m working on my first book and it is taking longer than I thought. Mostly my own fault, but that is a story for another day.)
Over the café’s speakers, Eric Clapton and B.B. King bent strings and softly serenaded the café. Later, the music transitioned to classics from the ‘60s. The music stayed at a reasonable level, providing an pleasant background energy without blasting customers’ eardrums, a problem I have noticed in several other cafés lately (maybe I’m showing my age in complaining about music volume, but it seems like some baristas have forgotten that people actually have conversations over coffee).
Open since July 2011, JoLa was new to me, but it was obviously not undiscovered. A steady stream of people passed in and out of the café. Some came in for a late breakfast, but many just came for coffee. A few Laptopistanis set up shop for the morning, some poring over the latest market news and others tending to their latest creative project. The open space provided an apt environment for both. I don’t spend much time in Johns Landing, but when I do, I will likely return to the JoLa Café.
Address: 5915 SW Corbett Ave., Portland, OR 97239 (map), Bus line 43
Hours: Monday-Sunday 7am-7pm
Coffee: Stumptown + a guest roaster
Recommendation? Arrive early to get in a productive day