Either/Or Café – Sellwood’s new coffee star

Southeast Portland is known for having a lot of neighborhood commercial districts, tucked away inside residential areas. These districts are full of hidden treasures, if you can find them. One new destination worth seeking out is Either/Or, a brand new coffee shop in Sellwood. Either/Or takes up a few square feet in the Old Sellwood Square, a small commercial center on Southeast 13th Avenue, two blocks south of Tacoma.

Either/Or’s owners, Natasha Miks and Ro Tam, live in North Portland, but they fell in love with Sellwood on trips to the area shopping for antiques. Coffee aficionadas, they thought the neighborhood’s offerings needed upgrading, so they decided to start a café. They leased the former site of Love Cup, spent a month remodeling it, and opened in the middle of March.

Either/Or’s main coffee is roasted by Heart. Ro and Natasha had gone to a lot of coffee shops around town and found that Heart always seemed to be their favorite. “We feel like Heart’s coffee is cutting edge,” Ro told me. “We like the way they take a scientific approach.”

Elegant service

Heart’s owner, Wille Yli-Luoma, is very careful about who he works with for wholesale accounts, so if Ro and Natasha have his trust, you know they are going to take good care of the coffee. They pull every shot of espresso in a way that optimizes it for each beverage. Recently, they began pulling their shots served as espresso with a little more volume, to bring out more sweetness and complexity. 

In addition to serving Heart coffees, Either/Or keeps a guest roasters’ espresso on grind (so far, the guests have been Sterling, Coava, and Roseline). The café also serves pastries and treats from Bake Shop. Several outdoor tables increase the seating capacity, at least when the weather is pleasant.

Ro Tam and Natasha Miks, Either/Or's owners, behind the bar

The shop has only one drawback. It’s kind of out of the way. “Nobody comes to this side of Tacoma,” Ro said.

They should start. Either/Or is a treasure that should not remain hidden.

Address: 8235 SE 13th (map)
Phone: 503-235-3474
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-3:30pm
            Saturday-Sunday 8am-4pm
Coffee: Heart + rotating guest roaster
Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommendations? The espresso flight—two espressos side-by-side, paired with a small “tasting bite”
Website: https://www.facebook.com/EitherOrCafe?fref=ts

FoPo's Finest - Speedboat Coffee

When people think about Southeast Portland, they used to think of hippies, tattoos, and general Portland weirdness (okay, they still do, but bear with me). Over the last decade, Southeast has become much more fashionable—Hawthorne and Belmont, for example, are seeing an influx of people, pushing up rents and real estate values. Southeast Division is also experiencing a renaissance, with several new shops and condominiums (without parking!?!) planned or under construction.

One Southeast neighborhood you don’t hear much about, though, is the FoPo neighborhood. FoPo begins at Southeast 50th Ave, where Foster splits off from Powell (thus, the FoPo moniker) and heads southeast toward I-205. For most people, FoPo is only seen through the windows of their cars as they drive by. City leaders don’t seem to give a damn about the neighborhood either, and when talk of urban renewal districts come up, no one ever mentions this part of the city. About the only time FoPo makes it into the news is when a pedestrian gets killed trying to cross Foster (the most dangerous street Portland). This is too bad. The neighborhood has a certain gritty charm to it, if you slow down long enough to see it, and many people living in the neighborhood care about it and want to see the area thrive.

While the neighborhood lacks the renown of other parts of the city, you can still find good coffee (this is Portland, after all). One shop in the neighborhood that particularly cares about coffee is Speedboat Coffee, located at Southeast 51st and Foster. Speedboat sells single-origin espressos roasted by Stumptown, and has set the bar for quality coffee in FoPo. The shop is owned and operated by Don and Carissa Niemyer, two transplants who came to the Northwest six years ago in search of better coffee.

When the Niemyers moved to Portland from Colorado, Don was managing a Verizon retail outlet, but he wanted to get into coffee. Don soon left Verizon and purchased a small coffee kiosk (a “glorified concession stand that served bad coffee from Costco,” in his words) at the Gateway Transit Center. The couple soon switched to serving Stumptown, to the benefit of commuting coffee drinkers.

Don used the profitable kiosk as his “coffee lab,” a place where he could experiment and hone his coffee skills. A year later, the couple purchased Speedboat, with the intent to make it their “real” shop. When they bought it, Speedboat was the typical “second wave” café, serving mediocre coffee hidden beneath loads of syrups and milks. “They had every flavor of syrup you could imagine,” recalled Don. “They had twenty-four ounce snickerdoodle mochas, that type of thing.”

To avoid alienating their customers, the Niemyers waited a couple months to implement big changes, but it was not long before most of the syrups went into the trash. Carissa recalled the day with much pleasure. “On the day Don gave me the go ahead, I threw away seventy-five bottles of syrup,” she said.

Today, the Niemyers are working hard to build their business around better coffee. They set high standards for their baristas and have garnered a loyal group of customers. To make sure they are keeping up on the latest in coffee, the Niemyers became certified barista competition judges and judged at the NWRBC and the USBC last year. The couple is planning to judge at the NWRBC in Seattle this year.

Despite its growth over the last twenty years, Portland is still a little rough around the edges. Not every neighborhood in Portland is as trendy or as polished as the Pearl District, but that’s okay. In Portland, you can find solid coffee in places you would never expect it. FoPo’s Speedboat Coffee is one of those places. If you happen to be heading out Powell or Foster (perhaps you commute through there) and are in need of some good coffee, Speedboat is definitely the stop to make. 

Address: 5115 SE Foster Road, Portland OR 97206 (map)
Phone: 503-775-6628
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6am-5pm
            Sundays: 8am-2pm
Coffee: Stumptown
Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommendations? Ask for a coffee/pastry pairing
Website: speedboatcoffee.com or the Speedboat FB page

TaborSpace - Coffee and Contemplation

Starting on the north side of Mount Tabor, if you were to descend toward downtown Portland via Belmont Ave., you would find at a crook in the road a grand-looking gray stone church with a matching gray roof. The sign in front of the main entrance would tell you that the old building is the Mount Tabor Presbyterian Church, built in 1910. On one of Portland’s gray cloudy days, you might find it hard to know where the church ended and the sky began (which, in a metaphorical sense, is fitting). On a sunny day, though, with the bright blue sky in the background, the 100 year-old church jumps out as a landmark that is worth a second look.

Ever the explorer, you could hop up six concrete steps at the base of the church’s bell tower, through a set of double doors and into a room that might surprise you.

Atypical coffee shop

What is this, you might ask yourself, a coffee shop inside a church?

Yes. The café you would have stumbled upon is called TaborSpace, and it resides in one wing of the Mount Tabor Presbyterian Church. I made my first visit to the café the other day.

Walking in, the first thing you see is a row of small wooden tables to your right, along the wall beneath a row of stained-glass windows. When I arrived, they were full of people chatting over coffee. There did not appear to be space for me to sit down, but I was mistaken.

After the barista greeted me and took my order, she asked if I needed change. I was perplexed—baristas don’t usually ask that question (the only people who do are waiters, and they shouldn’t—but that’s a discussion for another day). After a quick glance at what was inside my wallet, I told her I didn’t.

“Have you been here before?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, not knowing any better.

“We operate as a non-profit,” she said, “so we only take donations. You pay what you want to and put your money in the box. We have suggested prices up here [pointing at the menu board behind the counter], but you don’t have to follow them. If you want to use a card, you can. swipe it and enter how much you want to donate.”

With only a $1 bill and a $10 dollar bill in my possession, I needed some change. The barista cheerfully made change for me from the cash register, and I put my $2 (the suggested donation) into the box while she made the espresso.

The tables were still full when I got my coffee. Looking for somewhere to sit down, I stuck my head around the corner and peered through a set of wide-open double doors. I was struck by the quiet beauty of the scene in front of me. The space was dark, with a mahogany brown color theme. Seeing few people inside, I hesitated.

“That’s the commons,” said the barista, who noticed my questioning look. “Feel free to sit in there.”

Taking her encouragement, I walked in and sat at one of the many tables.

The ‘commons’ is a great space. At first, you get the impression that you are entering a sacred area, a place for contemplation and deep thought. Large, imposing wooden beams hang overhead and brightly-colored stained-glass windows line the walls, adding an air of splendor.  Sitting there, I felt like I should keep quiet, or at least speak in hushed tones.

You don't see windows like this in most cafés

Unfortunately, once the awe of the space wore off, I realized it wasn’t quite as tranquil as I first thought. From a table along the wall, you could hear classic rock music from the café speakers filtering through the doors. Two men chatted across the room in front of a large white hearth. A few minutes later a group of retired men gathered around two tables pushed together and began to talk loudly, their voices echoing throughout the chamber. They looked like a crowd you would expect to see at a local diner, lingering over coffee and telling stories about fishing or home improvement projects.

Sipping a cup of Ristretto Roasters’ Beaumont Blend, I put Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto on through my headphones and got to work. The music helped restore some of the grandeur.

As I sat there, I thought it would be nice if the people would treat the commons more like a library, speaking quietly or not at all. The space is inspiring, and it would make the perfect place to write or to read a book.

However, TaborSpace is a meeting place—a commons, after all—so it is good that visitors feel comfortable using it as such. I just recommend you get there early, before they do.

Address: 5441 SE Belmont, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
Phone: 503-238-3904
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 7:30am-4:30pm
            Wednesday 7:30am-9pm       
            Saturday 8:30-4pm
            Sunday CLOSED
Coffee: Ristretto Roasters (pastries by Nuvrei)
Free Wi-Fi? Yes (ask for password) 
Recommendations? Arriving early to take advantage of the quiet
Website: http://taborspace.org/

Nailing the Hair Bender at Coffee Division

Recently, when I visited Coffee Division, in Southeast Portland, I had the best shot of Stumptown’s Hair Bender I have ever drunk. As a general rule, I avoid using superlatives (especially with Hair Bender, with which I have a complicated relationship), but in this case, the shot deserved it. The barista nailed it. The first sip was bright and tangy, as expected. The bold acidity quickly mellowed out into a caramel-berry-chocolate silk finish. It was smooth, and reminded me why so many Portlanders swear by Stumptown coffee.

The barista who made my expectation-exceeding shot was Chris Larson, the new owner of the café. If you live near Mississippi or Hawthorne, you might recognize Larson from Fresh Pot, where he worked for several years before getting out of coffee for a while.

A few months ago, he decided to get back into coffee, so he opened Coffee Division—with a mission.

“I started the coffee shop because I wanted to share my knowledge of coffee with others and feel like I was a part of something bigger,” he told me.

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