Coffeepreneurs: The story behind Water Avenue Coffee

The Portland coffee scene has changed dramatically over the last three years, as several top-notch cafés and roasters have opened their doors. The (mostly) friendly competition between cafés has pushed everyone’s quality standards higher, propelling Portland to the top spot in the country for being able to find great coffee. One of the best of these new coffee companies is Water Avenue Coffee. Located in Portland’s Inner Southeast Industrial District, the shop sells excellent coffees in a setting that welcomes you to the neighborhood.

When you walk into Water Avenue, it is clear a great deal of thought went into designing the café. The shop is spacious, with a hefty wooden bar made of reclaimed Oregon fir wrapping around the shop from front to back. Painted gray walls give the café a mellow, understated ambience. Sturdy cement floors remind you of the building’s industrial past. Behind the coffee bar, the roaster cranks out batches of meticulously roasted coffee, whirring and crackling as it transforms pale green beans into lustrous brown gems.

A wealth of coffee experience behind the bar

Water Avenue has only been open since 2010, but the owners’ coffee experience goes back much further. Bruce Milletto is a Specialty Coffee Association “Coffee Luminary,” well known for a lifetime of work shaping the specialty coffee industry. He founded Bellissimo Coffee Advisors in 1991 and partnered with his son Matt to open the American Barista and Coffee School (ABCS) in 2003.

Matt Milletto, Bruce’s son, grew up around the coffee industry and has worked in coffee steadily for the last twelve years. Since 2003, he has been teaching and training at ABCS, where he serves as vice president. Matt also founded Barista Exchange, a networking site for the coffee industry that has more than 13,000 members.

Brandon Smyth, Water Avenue’s third owner, has been working in coffee for more than a decade and a half. A former roaster for Stumptown, Smyth is the coffee buyer and the head roaster for Water Avenue. He also teaches a roasting class at ABCS.

Matt and Brandon were kind enough to sit down with me to share the story behind the company.

Brandon Smyth, Matt Milletto and Bruce Milletto, the co-owners of Water Avenue Coffee

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