Fairey was here - street art in PDX

Yesterday, around Northeast 20th and Sandy, this caught my eye:

Obey the Giant

Fans of the 2010 documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop, will recognize the image as a rendering of Andre the Giant, created by street artist Shepard Fairey. The film, nominated for an Academy Award, takes a close look at the world of street art. It tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a compulsive videographer living in Los Angeles, who finds himself so intrigued by street artists that he begins following them around, collecting hundreds of hours of footage as they create their art. Fairey is of the artists Guetta captures on video. 

Produced by legendary street artist Banksy, the film is mystifying. By the end, you are left wondering if is just a documentary, or if it is something more. Did Banksy, who was accused of selling out (for selling his art), create it just to sell more art? The viewer is left to contemplate that question, and two years later, there is still no definitive answer.

Whether or not you believe street art is a legitimate form of art, there is no question the film is entertaining and forces you to think about the ownership of public spaces. If it were my ad on Sandy that had been painted over and replaced by Fairey’s image, I would be mad. But, since it wasn’t, I can just appreciate the audacity of these artists to challenge us to think differently about the world.  

The Sensuality of Great Coffee

It is no surprise that people love to drink coffee. The café experience touches all of the five senses, deeply.


We are attracted to beautiful things, and coffee is no exception. A great café encounter begins with an opening glance. Upon entering a shop, our eyes inform us of the quality of the coffee that is to come.

Seated at a corner table, we observe the café surrounding us. A skilled barista works efficiently behind the bar, her hands moving deftly between machine, milk and cup. She gently sways the milk pitcher as she pours its contents into the espresso, casting delicate sepia-toned rosettes on the surface of a latte. Velvety foam rests on top of a cappuccino, blanketing the drink like a down comforter on a cold winter morning. The thick, brown crema on the surface of an espresso glistens with the flavor oils trapped inside it.

On the pour-over bar, steady-handed baristas pour delicate, even streams of water in smooth spiral patterns, coaxing out the complex flavors contained in the mahogany-colored grounds. At one end of the bar, a vacuum pot sits on top of the counter, a throwback to an earlier time in this modern setting. Brought to life by a brilliant orange infrared lamp, tiny bubbles cling to the side of the pot as the water heats up, glowing in the neon light. When the temperature breaks the boiling point, the pot transforms into a cauldron of angry lava, bubbling and bursting on the surface.  The vacuum pot mesmerizes all who gaze upon it and curious customers cannot help but stare in awe.   


Coffee has a bouquet of fragrances that attract people to it, and a good café delights your olfactory senses with the smell of freshly-ground coffee. The aroma is sweet and fruity, smoky and earthy. When the barista grinds a new batch of beans for the brewer, a wave of aroma washes out across the café. The smell envelopes you, enticing your taste buds in anticipation of the first sip of a freshly-brewed cup.


Beans rasp loudly as they fall from brown paper bags into the grinders’ hoppers. The grinder whirrs aggressively, growling out the fresh coffee into the basket below it. A loud thud reverberates through the café as the barista knocks spent espresso out of the portafilter Steam bursts out of the wand into the milk with a thump, then hisses and whooshes as it whips the milk into a cloud of frenzied bubbles.

Nearby, a miniature metal spoon scrapes the side of a ceramic cup, clinking softly as it mixes sugar into espresso. In some cafés, the din of a bulky black roaster dominates, and customers must raise their voices to be heard by the people across the table from them. Lovers longing to whisper secrets or engage in quiet conversation content themselves to communicate with their eyes and expressions. Coffee beans pop and crackle as they flow out of the roaster’s drum, each bean still burning inside. They calm quickly, as fresh air pulled by powerful fans is drawn across them.


Your hands gently cradle a cup that is too hot to hold securely. The crema of an expertly-poured shot of espresso is silky smooth, lightly coating your mouth with a delicate film of flavor that keeps the memory of the coffee on the tip of your tongue. When you lift a cappuccino to your mouth, your lips note the warm smoothness of the ceramic mug, followed by the billowy softness of the milk. It is like burying your face in the soft, warm crook of a lover’s neck. The flavors of a full-bodied French press coffee swell inside the mouth, continuing to expand even after the coffee has long since disappeared.


The climax of the coffee experience is the moment when the coffee finally reaches your mouth. Single-origin coffees can be refreshingly simple, with notes of stone fruits or berries or citrus. Blends are more complex, defined by the regions from which they came. Certain coffees are earthy, like the leaves that cover the ground in the fall. Other coffees are chocolaty and luscious. Some remind you of nothing more than coffee, but the flavor brings back something from your past, perhaps time spent with an old friend. Great coffee, whether it is brewed, poured or combined with milk delights the taste buds, sends them into ecstasy.

Sensory and sensual—both words describe the ideal café experience. Coffee satisfies the craving that began when you walked into the café, or perhaps when you rolled out of bed with coffee on your mind. It stimulates your senses and sometimes, even your soul.

Coffee(ish) Links for July8

It’s been a slow week around here for posting articles. I have had my head buried in a couple other projects, including learning everything I can about cold coffee, a summertime favorite.

Speaking of summer, it came and left this week. Hope you enjoyed it.

The biggest coffee news of the week in the Portland area was the fireworks-caused fire that caused thousands of dollars of damage to Barista (the café) on Alberta Street. http://bit.ly/pnjMNB The fire didn’t keep the shop closed for long, thanks to Stumptown, who loaned Barista its mobile coffee cart until the café is repaired (photo here).

This New York Times article discusses the growing market for iced coffee. Stumptown gets a mention for its new “stubbies”. http://nyti.ms/nYo8Dy

Investors in the stock market know the difficulties of trying to pick the correct companies for investing. An article from CNBC yesterday presents the arguments for and against buying Starbucks stock. One of the analysts interviewed was quoted as saying that “Starbucks needs to clearly define their long-term vision ‘to become a food conglomerate rather than merely coffee.’” Hmm... http://bit.ly/pbyihq

Is the use of the internet for news taking us back in time? The Economist compares interactive online news with the coffee shops of the 18th and 19th centuries. http://econ.st/pLH1Bc

When you go to a coffee shop, do you notice the art on the walls? Apparently, some coffee shop art in San Francisco has stirred quite a debate over what should and should not go up on the walls of a café. http://bit.ly/p2MZAA

Speaking of coffee shop art, I saw this not too long ago on a café wall around town. Rubber chicken art.

Let the debate commence.