Dovetail Coffee Roasters – Changing the Suburban Coffee Landscape

Conventional wisdom says that compared to downtown Portland, the suburbs surrounding the city are a wilderness for good coffee. Suburban coffee culture is best known for its gargantuan lattes, loads of syrups, and scorched beans. The Starbuckification of the suburbs has made an average cup of coffee ubiquitous, and if you want something better, your best bet is to head closer to downtown, where the quality of a café is inversely proportional to its distance from the Willamette River (roughly).

But not all is bad outside the city limits. The coffee landscape is evolving, even in the suburbs, where it is possible to find people who care about coffee quality. Three of these are Cathy Zellmer, Matt Knight, and Adam Reid. Zellmer and Knight own Dovetail Coffee Roasters, a small wholesale roaster in Beaverton, and Reid owns Origins Coffee House (formerly Coffee’s On – Gresham) in Gresham, Dovetail’s de facto flagship café. Together, Dovetail and Origins are improving the coffee scene on both the western and eastern flanks of Portland. I spent a couple hours at Dovetail’s roastery in Beaverton, to hear what’s happening in the hinterlands.

Matt Knight, Cathy Zellmer, and Adam Reid, at Dovetail headquarters

The Original Coffee Brake

Cathy Zellmer’s plans never included owning a coffee business. For many years, she ran her own independent insurance business, and the only thing she knew about coffee was that she needed lots of it to keep her going each day. Fortunately for Cathy, her office was located across the street from the Original Coffee Brake, a roastery/café founded by Ron Davis in 1993 (one article quotes Zellmer saying that she and her husband, Chuck, would spend between $400-$500 each month on coffee).

In 2004, Zellmer went back to school, with the intention of becoming a lawyer. She earned a degree in Women’s Studies at Portland State, graduating summa cum laude. She applied to law school at Lewis and Clark and prepared for a career in law. Zellmer’s plans quickly swerved off the track in 2008, when Davis announced he was retiring from the coffee business and planned to close his café. Cathy was distraught. More than a café, the Coffee Brake was also a gathering place, a community hub. Zellmer was not about to let it close, and even though she was accepted into law school, she decided to purchase the café instead.

The Coffee Learning Curve

Zellmer had a lot to learn about the coffee business, so Davis stayed around to help her get started. He stayed on as roaster for an interim period, and showed her many things about coffee in general. Seven months after she bought the café, Zellmer attended Coffee Fest in Seattle, attending every educational session she could fit into the schedule. She also drank countless espressos from the booths on the trade show floor. The trip inspired her to improve the quality and consistency of the coffee she was serving, especially the espresso.

As soon as Cathy got back to Portland, she called Matt Milletto, working as a consultant out of the American Barista and Coffee School, to come to the store to train her baristas. “I called Matt and was like, we need your services,” Zellmer recalled. Milletto came to the café and did a training session with the entire staff.

Cathy was pleased with the results. “The next morning I came in to my café,” she said, “and the morning barista was covered head to toe with coffee grounds. She was making beautiful espresso shots and was excitedly telling every customer how we had just taken a giant leap forward and could do a better job than we did the day before. She was so excited.”.

Customers greeted the changes with skepticism, but it didn’t take long for them to come around. Zellmer recalled one customer who was very particular about getting only one shot in his drink. Cathy urged him to try something new. “I put one and a half in,” she said, “because I wanted him to be able to taste the coffee, and it wasn’t so bitter. It was smoother, it was better espresso, and he was looking at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him, I just want you to try this.” Cathy explained why she was doing things differently and told him if he didn’t like it, she would make him another, the old way. Not to worry. “He loved it,” she said.

Zellmer said the biggest key to gaining acceptance of the changes was the attitude of the staff. “If you’re café’s a community, and the community loves you and your people, they’ll follow you anywhere,” she said.

Leaving Retail and Gaining a Business Partner

For about three years, Zellmer ran the café (with some help from her husband, himself very busy as an engineer/manager at LSI) before changing courses again. The retail business was not Cathy’s passion, so she decided to sell the café and focus on the wholesale roasting business, calling her new venture Dovetail Coffee Roasters.

Around the same time, Knight, who has his own insurance business (he and Cathy shared an office for eight years), gradually entered the business. When Cathy and Chuck went on vacation, Matt would help out, making deliveries and shadowing Davis, to learn how to roast. “I worked in it for a few months before I said, ‘I like this,’” he recalled. In 2011, Knight became a co-owner, and now splits his time between roasting coffee and running the insurance business.

For Knight, being a roaster fits his personality. “I focus in and drill down—that’s what I like. I can take the raw product and turn it in to something you enjoy,” he said. In addition to learning from Davis, he also got some lessons from Brandon Smyth, Water Avenue Coffee’s co-owner and head roaster. (Water Avenue’s roaster was broke down one time, so Smyth came to Dovetail to roast while it was getting fixed. Knight used the opportunity to learn as much as he could from Smyth.)

Neither Zellmer nor Knight was worried about the business hurting their relationship. “We’ve always been really good work friends,” said Cathy. “We’ve always had a good business relationship, so we got to know each other that way.” If something goes wrong, they can work through it. “We have a nice foundation, and we’re able to communicate,” Matt said.

Zellmer does not regret her decision to forego law school. Although she says law still interests her, the coffee business fits her personality better. “The thing I love about coffee, is that it’s so organic,” she said. “It’s never the same. The business, the product and what I get to do every day is really organic. I get to be challenged, I get to learn something new, I get to experience something new, I get to grow. For me, it can’t get more interesting than that. I can’t imagine being a lawyer.”

Changing Suburban Coffee Culture

Zellmer and Knight’s goal for Dovetail is to improve the coffee in the suburbs around Portland. They have a willing partner in that vision in Adam Reid, who bought his café in 2011. Reid is clear about his focus for the café. “Our core value is around the coffee, and one of our fun points is showing the customers what we can do with it,” he said.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Originally, Reid planned on running a bubble tea shop, but Zellmer says she convinced him to focus on coffee instead. “He hadn’t developed a palate for coffee,” she said. “He hadn’t learned to appreciate lighter-roasted coffee.”

When Reid first bought the café, it was a typical second wave café, with a wall full of different syrups and lots of dark-roasted coffees. One of the first things he did was to reduce the number of available syrups and lower their visibility.

The coffees changed too. For the first few months they worked together, Zellmer said she and Reid pushed each other over the roast profiles. “Adam would call me and say, ‘You’ve got to roast the coffee darker,’” she said. Reid’s customers were used to darker roasts, and they complained. At first, Zellmer went along, roasting the coffee darker than she liked to. Gradually, however, they slowly changed the roast profiles, lightening them up as customers became accustomed.

Adam brought in Brandon Arends (one of the people who piqued my interest in specialty coffee) to train his baristas. To start coffee conversations with customers, Adam placed a Yama cold brew tower on the counter. In addition, Origins typically offers a single-origin espresso alongside its blend, something of a rarity outside of Portland.

Zellmer was pleased with the changes she has seen at Origins. “In the beginning, they didn’t have the greatest equipment, they didn’t have the greatest baristas, and they didn’t have the greatest coffee,” she said. “So we got to the point where we improved the coffee, and trained the baristas. I walked in there one day…to make some espressos with their people, to make sure we were on the same page. It was very clear to me that they had a high level of skill, that they knew what they were doing.”

Although I spend most of my time in Portland, I probably should not be surprised that better coffee is moving into the suburbs, through the efforts of people like Cathy, Matt, and Adam. As more people are exposed to good coffee in centers like Portland and San Francisco, they will come to expect it in other places too. Entrepreneurs will see an opportunity to stand out in the surrounding areas. If the suburban scene continues to improve, good coffee might someday be as accessible in Beaverton as it is in Downtown Portland (in my caffeine-induced, utopian coffee vision). At the very least, it will be much easier to find.


Coffee Note: When you visit a coffee roaster, it is rare to come away without tasting a few coffees. During the visit, Cathy prepared pourovers of two different Ethiopian coffees. The first, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, was almost tea-like, with a light body and hints of peach and citrus. The second, a natural processed Sidamo, stood out for notes of sweet plum. Adam brought some cold brew, a blend of three different coffees—the natural Sidamo, a Flores (from Indonesia), and a Peruvian coffee—that tasted like berries and chocolate. 

Nossa Familia’s New Microlots – Extending the Family beyond Brazil

It’s always fun to learn the story behind a particular coffee or café. For me, the people behind the coffees, whether farmers, roasters, baristas, café owners—even coffee drinkers—are the most intriguing part of the coffee industry and culture. The coffee is great, and learning about it is interesting, but hearing how much people care about what they do is even better. Such is the case with the story behind Nossa Familia’s newest arrival in the company’s Microlot Series. Since 2005, Nossa Familia (“Our Family,” in Portuguese) has been importing and roasting Brazilian coffees from farms run by the family of Augusto Carvalho Dias Carneiro, the company’s owner. Over the last year, Augusto decided to “extend the familia” beyond his family’s farms and into other countries. The latest of the Microlots comes from Finca San José de las Nubes, in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua. Finca San Jose’s owner, Bayardo Reyes, has one of those stories I find interesting. --WH

Bayardo Reyes grew up in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, a place his family called home for generations. In the early 1920s, his grandfather, Rigoberto, established a coffee farm in the mountains near Matagalpa. Bayardo’s father, Mauricio, later expanded it, but Bayardo’s prospects of carrying on the family legacy looked tenuous after 1979, when the Sandinistas took power. The new government confiscated the family’s land and divided it up among many campesinos (peasants). Knowing little about farming, the new owners did not tend to the land with the same care, and the land was eventually sold or abandoned.

Bayardo Reyes and his mother, Gloria

Nicaragua’s tumultuous times continued into the eighties, as the country went through a civil war (Americans might remember the televised hearings over the Iran-Contra scandal, where the U.S. was secretly selling arms to Iran and channeling the funds to the anti-Sandinista militias (the Contras) in Nicaragua). In 1984, Bayardo’s father died unexpectedly, a blow to the family. Bayardo was just heading into his teenage years, and his mother, Gloria, feared that her son would be pulled into the conflict by forces on either side of the political divide. To protect Bayardo, she sent him to live with an aunt in Miami. Bayardo attended school in Miami, and after graduating from high school, he enrolled in the U.S. Army in 1991, deploying to Somalia soon thereafter, the first of multiple tours in conflict zones (Reyes also went to Iraq in 2003, 2006, and 2009—so much for a mother’s wish to keep her son out of harm’s way).

While Bayardo felt at home in the United States, he wanted to maintain a connection to his roots in Nicaragua. He harbored many fond memories of being around the coffee farm, and wanted to somehow continue the traditions of his family. “It’s a way of life,” Bayardo told me, when I spoke to him over the phone. Reyes asked his mother, still in Nicaragua, to keep an eye out for an opportunity to buy some land that could produce coffee.

At the time, land was cheap in Nicaragua, and in 1991, Bayardo purchased approximately 150 acres in the Matagalpa region, an area well known for its coffee. The farm, at 1200 meters above sea level, was located in a cloud forest, well-situated for producing coffee. “I wanted to help people around there grow coffee and show them what I learned from my dad and granddad,” Bayardo said.

Spreading coffee to dry. Photo courtesy Augusto Carneiro Dias.Military life kept Reyes busy, but Reyes would visit the farm whenever he could, usually 3-4 times each year (except when he was deployed to war zones). Improving the farm was important, but improving the lives of the people in the region was the bigger goal. “The whole thing was never about coffee,” said Bayardo. “It was about helping people, and the coffee made it possible.” After his first stint in the Army, Reyes went to college and studied civil engineering. After getting his degree, Reyes returned to active duty, this time as an officer. Today, Bayardo is a major who specializes in logistics and operations.

Although he does not live on the farm, Reyes is able to keep a fairly close eye on what is happening there. Bayardo travels to Nicaragua a few times each year to work on new projects. His mother monitors the checkbook and makes sure things run smoothly in Bayardo’s absence. Reyes contracts with an agronomist to watch over the health of the plants and prescribe any recommendations. The agronomist, who oversees multiple farms in the region, visits Finca San José every couple weeks and sends Bayardo a status report.

To see more pictures of Finca San Jose, including more of the people who live and work there, click here. All photos in gallery courtesy Bayardo Reyes. 

The farm has undergone many improvements since the early nineties. When Reyes bought the farm, it had no buildings. Over the years, he has put up some structures, including a few houses for employees who work on the farm. Today, ten people live in the farm’s housing (about thirty people work full-time on the farm). Reyes imported solar panels, car batteries, an alternator and a small wind turbine to charge the batteries and provide some electricity. “It was really neat how Bayardo piecemealed it all together from scratch,” said Augusto, when I spoke with him at Nossa Familia’s headquarters. “He knows he can’t depend on the government to bring in power and water and all that.”Inside the office. Photo courtesy Augusto Dias Carneiro.

Helping others is an important part of Finca San José. “The U.S. has given me so much,” Bayardo said. “I want to give back, and this place is where I can make an impact.” Reyes has brought in a cupper to teach neighboring farmers how to gauge the quality of their coffees, so they have a better idea of what their coffees are worth, essential knowledge when negotiating with coffee buyers. Reyes has also helped the neighbors access credit to buy chemicals to improve their crops.

Bayardo encourages his employees to improve their education. He provides on-farm classes for both workers and their children. Having educated workers helps the farm run smoother. “How can I make someone a manager if they can’t read or write?” Reyes said. Five days a week, a teacher visits the farm and gives lessons, in a dedicated classroom area.

One of the challenges for farmers in the area is getting their coffees to the mills (beneficios) in a timely manner. Reyes bought a pickup to haul coffees from Finca San José to the mills. When neighboring farmers help Reyes during harvest, he returns the favor by letting them use the pickup to haul their own coffees.

Whenever he can, Bayardo also uses the farm to create employment for the locals. Before he could get the most out of the pickup, Reyes had to improve the main road leading to the farm. Until last year, anyone who wanted to visit the farm had to walk or ride donkeys the last mile. The soils in the area are mostly clay, and when it rains, the roadbed liquefies, making it impassable. As a civil engineer, Reyes knew how to survey the land and design a better road. Primarily, it needed a lot of rock to solidify the soil. He thought about hiring a company to do the work with heavy equipment, but while it would be done quickly, it would not provide as many jobs for people. Since labor costs were relatively low and the physical work was manageable, Bayardo hired a crew to haul gravel and spread it by hand. The crew spent weeks hauling in loads of rock in with the pickup, shoveling rock onto the clay roadway, until finally they made it up to the farm. “Foot by foot they built this road to access the farm,” said Augusto, admiringly.

Ready to head to the mill. Photo courtesy Augusto Dias Carneiro.Reyes is careful about protecting Finca San José’s resources. Approximately sixty-five percent of the farm has been set aside for conservation. Part of the farm is also dedicated to producing food and other cash crops for the workers on the farms. Reyes recently put in a gray-water recycling system and improved the toilet facilities, to make living conditions more sanitary. “People there looked at me like I was crazy because I spent $3,000 on a bathroom,” he said. Each new thing adds to the overall impact of Reyes’ efforts. “I can’t help a whole country, but I can concentrate on one region,” he said.

Relationship with Nossa Familia

For years, Bayardo subsidized the farm with his own income, but over the last few years, he has grown the project to a bigger scale, with plans to make it self-sustaining. Production on the farm has  grown to 142,000 trees, and costs of running the farm are increasing, so he looked for avenues to increase profitability. In addition to improving the quantity and the quality of the coffees, Reyes also sought out new markets for his coffees. One of the first people he contacted was Augusto. Bayardo’s wife, Yurfa Glenny, had known Augusto since the early 2000s, when they studied together in England. When the SCAA Event was in Portland in 2012, Bayardo and Yurfa came to the show and met with Augusto. The discussions were productive, and it looked like the two sides would get along well.Will, Augusto, and Bayardo. Photo courtesy Augusto Dias Carneiro.

Augusto liked Reyes’ mentality. “Bayardo really wants to focus on quality,” he said. “He’s not doing this because he wants to make a lot from the farm. He’s taking a huge risk, putting all of his savings into this farm.”

Much of the coffee on the farm is shade-grown, which causes it to ripen more slowly and adds to the complexity of the flavors in the coffees. Workers selectively harvest the coffee, to keep underripe and overripe cherries out of the finished product. Reyes says these things are important to potential buyers. “It’s good-quality coffee,” he said.One of Reyes' upcoming projects is to replace the wood stove with a cleaner-burning biogas stove. Photo courtesy Augusto Carneiro Dias.

In order to be eligible for the Microlot series, at least one of the Nossa Familia employees has to have visited the farm before they will agagree to buy the coffee. In the case of Finca San José, both Augusto and Will Schaefer, Nossa Familia’s head of production and assistant roaster, visited, in January 2013. They arrived just in time for the tercera (the third and final round of harvest, that removes the last of the remaining cherries on the branches). Augusto and Will cupped coffees with Bayardo and selected a few lots to purchase. Nossa Familia bought thirty bags in total this year, with plans to buy more in the coming years.

The thirty bags were far from enough to fill a container, which complicated matters, since the cost to move a container is the same whether it contains thirty or three hundred bags. Augusto called the people at Sustainable Harvest to see if they knew anyone bringing a container in from Nicaragua. In a stroke of luck, Sustainable Harvest itself happened to be bringing in a container from Nicaragua, with extra space for about fifty bags. The timing would be a couple months later than Augusto had originally planned, but the money Nossa Familia saved by splitting the shipping cost with the Portland-based importer was worth it.

After Augusto and Bayardo settled on a price for the coffee, Nossa Familia added $900 to the final agreement, so that Reyes could build three new greenhouses on the farm. The greenhouses double as coffee-drying rooms during harvest. “It improves the quality of the coffee, and allows him to get a higher amount of coffee that’s really high quality,” said Augusto. The greenhouses are used only three to four months out of the year for drying and the other part of the year, they can be used to grow vegetables and new coffee starts. “It’s so humid and there is a risk of rain, so [the greenhouses] remove the risk of rain, increases the area you dry in, and then it has the social benefit of being able to produce better food for the people there,” explained Augusto. “For us, it’s the perfect fit—coffee quality and social aspect, which we really like.”

For Augusto and the Nossa Familia team, adding another country to the lineup adds a degree of complexity to the lineup, but it also adds a new dimension to the coffees that customers can try. The Finca San José coffee will be sold by itself, and also as a component of the company’s Full Cycle espresso blend. (When I tried the Finca San José coffee, it was very chocolaty, with a distinct flavor of orange peel.) Nossa Familia wants to work with growers like Reyes, who share similar values. “We want the coffee to be really good,” said Augusto. “We want it to be from…a place where people are treated fairly, and where we understand the supply chain and are comfortable there’s nobody getting exploited in the middle.”

Working with Nossa Familia is the beginning of a new era for Finca San José. In the future, Reyes wants to partner with additional roasters who share similar values and are also looking for long-term relationships. “I want to have a continuous relationship with people,” Bayardo said. “I want to be able to take people to the farm and show them exactly where their coffee was grown.”

If he can reach a point where the farm pays for itself, Bayardo will be happy. “It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the impact you can have in someone’s life.”

Nossa Familia sells coffees from Finca San Jose at Nossa Familia’s espresso bar, at New Seasons (on a rotating basis), and through the company’s website.


Stumptown’s Seattle heritage - a trip to Lighthouse

The 2013 Northwest Regional Barista Championship was held this past weekend in Seattle (Coava’s Devin Chapman won, defending his title from last year). Judging in last year’s NWRBC and USBC was so much fun that I volunteered to do it again this year. After going through judges calibration and certification Thursday, a scheduling quirk left me all day Friday to explore Seattle under sunny(-ish) skies. Naturally, I went looking for coffee.

My first destination was Lighthouse Roasters, in the Fremont neighborhood northwest of downtown. Visiting Lighthouse was a type of pilgrimage (minus the religious connotations) to one of the headwaters of Portland’s specialty coffee industry. If you have read much about Stumptown Coffee, you might recognize the Lighthouse name. Lighthouse is where Stumptown’s Duane Sorenson learned to roast, under the tutelage of Ed Leebrick. Going to Lighthouse was a chance to see the environment in which Sorenson forged his coffee skills.

Hopping off the bus at the corner of 43rd and Phinney, I first noticed how quiet the neighborhood was. Single-family houses and small apartment buildings lined the streets. Few cars passed by. Had it not been on such a large hill, the neighborhood could have been Southeast Portland.

Inside, Lighthouse’s décor was simple. The floor was a sage and pale green-gray linoleum, durable and functional. The wooden tables were sturdy, but plain. A short partition separated the back third of the shop, carving out the roasting area from the seating area. The other side of the low wall was crowded with jute bags of green coffee and stacks of large plastic tubs for roasted beans. Most prominently, a Gothot roasting machine whirred, its gas burner rumbling while beans swished and swashed around inside the drum. From time to time, the roaster opened the door and dark brown coffee beans cascaded onto the cooling table, crackling and popping vigorously.

Unlike the neighborhood, the interior of the café was loud and boisterous. In addition to the roaster, customers contributed a lot of noise too. Several people sat around the coffee bar on round stools, talking to the roaster and to the baristas. The majority of people who came in were actually there to converse. Surprisingly, no one was sitting in front of a laptop, a rarity in most cafés these days. Since I already stood out a stranger, I left mine in my backpack and jotted down a few notes on paper.

Sitting at my table, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between Lighthouse and Stumptown Division. Between the quiet residential neighborhoods, the simple furnishings, the lively atmospheres (Stumptown attracts a lot of Laptopistanis, but makes up for their silence with loud music), and the roasting machines sitting at the front of both cafés, you could see many parallels between the two shops. I felt like I had gained a small insight into Stumptown’s origins.

Then I tried my espresso.

For the record, I do not consider Stumptown’s Hair Bender to be a delicate espresso. Its lemony brightness and chocolaty finish were made to stand out in milk drinks, something it does well. On its own, Hair Bender has a complex taste profile that takes time to get used to.

However, Hair Bender is almost fragile compared to the Lighthouse espresso. Dark-roasted, with a rough, gritty finish, the Lighthouse espresso wanted to force my taste buds into submission instead of befriending them. The profile obviously plays well in that part of Seattle—the traffic in and out the door remained steady throughout my visit—but to my coddled Portland palate (and I admit it’s coddled), the Lighthouse espresso was almost too harsh to drink. Nonetheless, I’m sure it is something you could get used to if you drank it every day.

I found the trip to Lighthouse very informative. These days, as Stumptown grows and changes, the two companies have less in common, but at one point, it appears they were very similar. With humans, descendants never turn out exactly like their ancestors, but they often share a lot of the same traits. Coffee roasters, apparently, can be the same way.


Lighthouse Roasters
Address: 400 North 43rd Street, Seattle, WA 98103 (map)
Phone: 206-634-3140 (café only)
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-7pm
            Saturday-Sunday 6:30am-7pm
Wi-Fi? I think so
Recommendation? A cappuccino, perhaps

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.]