JoLa La!

Having traveled around most of Portland between I-205 and the West Hills, I rarely encounter “undiscovered” cafés, and it always enthuses me when I hear about a café serving high-end coffees hidden in some corner of the city. Monday morning, I happened upon the JoLa Café, named after the Johns Landing neighborhood where it resides. (Unfortunately, and perhaps unforgivably, I left my phone behind when I left the house, so I am unable to share any pictures. My words will have to suffice for now.)

South of downtown, stretching from the Willamette River on the east side to I-5 on the west side, Johns Landing has long been popular place for Portlanders who find it close enough to the city center for easy access, yet far enough away for a more relaxing lifestyle. The neighborhood also appears in Portland’s coffee history. Several decades ago, David Kobos set up his first shop in Johns Landing.

Buried deep inside the residential part of the neighborhood, JoLa would be hard pressed to get enough foot traffic solely for coffee to support the business. Attracting a lunch crowd and even a light dinner crowd (the café is open until 7pm and serves wine and beer) would be important for long-term success. Therefore, it was unsurprising that the café smelled more like breakfast than coffee. Still, the three-group Synesso sitting on the bar signals that the café takes its coffee seriously.

JoLa café serves Stumptown coffee, but not exclusively. Coava was the alternate on the day I visited. I ordered the latter, and my espresso had the typical characteristics of a Coava roast profile. It was bright but smooth, hitting my palate with a bold acidity that melted away as it washed across my tongue. A slightly bitter aftertaste lingered, reminiscent of a stout black tea.

JoLa Café is set up in two distinct parts, in a space that appears to have once been two separate shops. The right side (as you enter) is deep and wide, with a left-facing L-shaped coffee bar about half way back. Rectangular tables for twos and fours line either side of the aisle. At the very back of the shop, a long conference table sits two steps up, somewhat segregated from the rest of the café. A small sign on the table politely asks individuals to sit elsewhere in order to accommodate larger groups. The left half of the shop is more comfortable, with a few stuffed chairs and some toys for kids in addition to more tables.

I parked myself at the front window, electing a location where I would not be tempted to watch the rest of the café. Fewer distractions equals more writing, and these days, writing is what I need to get done. (I’m working on my first book and it is taking longer than I thought. Mostly my own fault, but that is a story for another day.)

Over the café’s speakers, Eric Clapton and B.B. King bent strings and softly serenaded the café. Later, the music transitioned to classics from the ‘60s. The music stayed at a reasonable level, providing an pleasant background energy without blasting customers’ eardrums, a problem I have noticed in several other cafés lately (maybe I’m showing my age in complaining about music volume, but it seems like some baristas have forgotten that people actually have conversations over coffee).

Open since July 2011, JoLa was new to me, but it was obviously not undiscovered. A steady stream of people passed in and out of the café. Some came in for a late breakfast, but many just came for coffee. A few Laptopistanis set up shop for the morning, some poring over the latest market news and others tending to their latest creative project. The open space provided an apt environment for both. I don’t spend much time in Johns Landing, but when I do, I will likely return to the JoLa Café.

Address: 5915 SW Corbett Ave., Portland, OR  97239 (map), Bus line 43
Phone: 503-244-1812
Hours: Monday-Sunday 7am-7pm
Coffee: Stumptown + a guest roaster
Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommendation? Arrive early to get in a productive day

Xpression Coffeehouse - jazz and java

The other day, I went searching for a different café in Southwest Portland. I had a couple hours to kill before I picked my daughter up at preschool, and although there are a couple cafés fairly close to the school, I have not been overly excited by either of them. I knew there was another coffee shop in the area I wanted to try out, so I went looking for it. It wasn’t easy to find, though, and I was about to give up when I glanced over and saw the sign for Xpression Coffeehouse to my right.  It turned out to be a nice discovery.

As I entered the café, the first thing I noticed was that it felt very welcoming. Soft jazz music was playing and a strong scent of coffee filled the air. The barista greeted me as I came up to the counter. She was working on a drink for the person in front of me and said she would be right with me. I waited, listening to the music that was playing, reading the information screen located behind the register. I was surprised to read that the music was original and composed specifically for the café.

“That’s one way to get around the music-industrial complex,” I thought, recalling an article I had recently read discussing coffee shops and music copyright issues.

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Fehrenbacher Hof

Fehrenbacher Hof is a Portland coffee house located in Goose Hollow, just outside of downtown. I would probably never have found it, but some of my friends who live in the area said that I should check it out. The café is a converted old house with lots of the character that comes from being built a long time ago. As you walk around, you hear the wooden floorboards creak beneath your feet, tired from years of service. The space is pretty intimate and it feels like you are in someone’s house.

Fehrenbacher Hof, a great name--if you can spell it

I made it to the Hof on a Thursday afternoon. When I asked the barista what the espresso was like, she seemed a little surprised by my question and told me that it was dark. Hmm. . . That’s not always a bad sign, but the shot I received was a big for a double and was a little watery. Still, I could tell that the coffee was a smooth, low-acid blend that is just slightly chocolaty.

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