Thinking about a West Coast coffee tour? Here’s your guide.

If you want to experience the best coffee the West Coast has to offer, but aren’t sure where to start, check out Left Coast Roast: A Guide to the Best Coffee And Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle, by Hanna Neuschwander. The book profiles fifty-five coffee roasters in Washington, Oregon and California and contains a coffee education section packed with tips about how to navigate specialty coffee.

Neuschwander sat down with me to talk coffee and tell her story. Her eyes flickered with enthusiasm as she recounted her research.

Originally from Spokane, Washington, Neuschwander moved to the other Washington (D.C.) when she was eight years old. She returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2006, following a six-month road trip around North America that doubled as a search for a new home. When she arrived in Portland, Neuschwander was working as a freelance editor for a non-profit publisher, but tired of being alone at home all day, she soon found a job as a barista at Extracto, a then-new micro-roaster on Northeast Killingsworth Avenue.

“It was just the right environment for me to learn about coffee. I didn’t know anything about it at that point,” Neuschwander recalled. “It’s a family business, and I very much felt like I was part of that family.”

When Neuschwander left Extracto for her current position as director of communications for the graduate school of education and counseling at Lewis and Clark College, she did not want to leave coffee completely, so she started writing about it.

“Writing about coffee became a way for me to stay connected to both the community and also the world of ideas about coffee,” she said. Neuschwander’s articles have appeared in several publications, including Barista, Roast, Willamette Week and MIX Magazine. When Timber Press approached her to write a guide to coffee roasters on the West Coast, Neuschwander took the opportunity. After negotiating the structure and layout with the Portland-based publisher, she spent six months researching and writing the book.

Her travels increased her enthusiasm for coffee and brought some of the differences between cities into focus. There is not just one “West Coast” style in coffee.

“One thing that Seattle continues to do well that San Francisco and Portland don’t do that well is that it’s an espresso town. Espresso Vivace is a perfect example of this,” explained Neuschwander. “David Schomer has spent thirty years perfecting one flavor profile and just doing it right. It’s amazing—they have the most loyal customer base of any coffee company I have ever seen. It’s insane. There’s lines out the door every single morning.”

Neuschwander would not say who had the best coffee, although she did mention several Portland roasters when I asked her about it.

“People ask me all the time what’s my favorite place,” she said. “I’m not being disingenuous when I say I don’t have a favorite. What’s exciting to me is the fact that you can go to Spella  and get a traditional Italian espresso served on a lever machine, and they’ve got affogato. And you can go to the Stumptown Annex and pick from one of thirty pretty amazing single-origins. You can go to Heart and they’re going to have some crazy single-origin espressos. That’s what exciting.”

Neuschwander still marvels at the speed at which the specialty coffee industry is growing.

“I was in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, and over the course of the two days I was there, seven new roasters in Oakland started up. The roasters are very small, but things are happening. There’s something kind of special that’s still happening on the West Coast that’s different than the East Coast.”

Left Coast Roast takes some of the mystery—but not the mystique—out of specialty coffee. With friendly prose and an abundance of illustrations, Neuschwander gently and clearly educates her readers on sourcing, roasting, brewing and, of course,  searching out better coffee. She successfully makes the beverage more accessible to both the average coffee drinker and to those who want a deeper understanding of “that little marvel in your cup.”


[Side note: Hanna and I met for our conversation at Cascade Barrel House, a brewery in Southeast Portland famous for its lambic (sour) beers. A few minutes into the interview, Cascade’s owner rang a bell to get everyone’s attention. He announced he was going to break into a new barrel, which called for a celebration. The brew master for this particular barrel had the honor of pounding the tap into the barrel with a large wooden mallet, similar to the kind you might see at a carnival’s high striker (test of strength).

Being a taste aficionado but not much of a beer drinker, it was interesting to hear the owner talk about his product. He boasted of the new ale’s  “creamy bitterness, candied marzipan and maraschino cherry” flavors that were “off the charts.” The similarity to coffee was apparent, and I couldn’t help but think that, like coffee people, beer people are excited about what they’re doing.]

It's time to do the work

Does this ever happen to you? Last night I was so revved up by a book I was reading that I had a hard time sleeping. The book, by Steven Pressfield, was called Do the Work. It is a sequel to his book The Art of Work, which Seth Godin calls “the most important book you’ve never read” (I haven’t read it either).

The main theme of Do the Work is that you can be successful as a creator (entrepreneur, artist, writer, musician, etc.) if you are willing to overcome your own Resistance and—you guessed it—“do the work.” He pushes you to be creative and to do it now.

Pressfield writes about how Resistance holds you back from doing the things you know you should do. Do you ever have the feeling that deep down there is something that you have been holding back, some great project you could do if only you would stop hiding from it? I have that feeling all the time, though I don't like to admit it. Pressman gives that feeling a name—Resistance—and says that it is the most powerful obstacle we face when trying to be successful. He personifies the resistance as an actual force that actively works to hold us back, a dragon we need to slay to gain confidence and earn our freedom from our own minds, minds that we often let bully us into believing we are not good enough or talented enough to do something great.

The book is geared toward authors, screenwriters and others who create art for a living, but it is also appropriate for entrepreneurs and anyone else who wants to improve what they have been doing. Pressfield wants readers to overcome their Resistance to whatever it is they want to do. He wants to give us not only inspiration, but also a strategy for dealing with the Resistance.

Do the Work left me with my mind buzzing. I was left with a sense not of worry or dread, but of opportunity and possibility, two of the most exciting words in the English language. When that happens, it’s hard to get to sleep. Do you know what I mean?

[Do the Work is the first publication produced by the Domino Project, a new publishing venture that Seth Godin has undertaken in order to revolutionize the publishing industry. I am still not exactly sure what the Domino Project is doing that is so unique, but I trust that it is. General Electric sponsored the book. Perhaps this is what makes the Domino Project unique—they find sponsors for books, then give them away for free, at least the Kindle version. If you are interested, you can get the Kindle version for free too by clicking here (if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download free software from Amazon and read it on your computer).]

Book Review-A Sense of the World

It has been a while since I last wrote about traveling. That is mainly because I have not done any traveling lately, something that I hope to change soon. After all, traveling is one of the most valuable and invigorating experiences a person can have in life, in my opinion. If you don’t travel, you lose the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the wider world.

In an effort to take to the road without actually taking to the road, I recently read A Sense of the World-How a Blind Man became History’s Greatest Traveler, written by Jason Roberts. The book is a biography of James Holman, a fearless traveling Englishman, who, in spite of his blindness, was able to travel all over the world. What makes the story even more compelling is that he did his traveling in the first half of the 19th century.

Holman was not blind from birth. He was born in 1787, one of six brothers and the son of a pharmacist. In those days, class structures were very rigid in England, and Holman’s father had high ambitions for his son, whom he wanted to become a gentleman. One way for a commoner to do this was to reach officer status in the military, which is what James Holman did.

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