Imbibe Hour

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Starting out in a Portland morning the right way. Breakfast espresso hits the spot

One thing about imbibing, not everything is limited to spirits, beer and wine. For when I want to start my morning off right I want an espresso, and I want a good one.

This for me is very hard. Try as I might I can't duplicate the technique much to make the perfect espresso yet. It probably has more to do with my machine which is ok, but it is a little limited in making quality espresso that you can find in most coffee shops. I got my grind, tamps, all that but something else needs to better. Or maybe it's just me...

However, I figured that if I am in Portland before hitting the wine trail, I should definitely be able to find good coffee, and luckily I did. Nevertheless, my wife didn't doubt I'd have any problem with this hunt. She had arrived to the area earlier, traveling around a bit and succinctly told me, "In Oregon it's easier to find an espresso, than a gallon of gas!"

I walked through downtown Portland, a most easily walkable city to go to Barista. Not only was there espresso ... there were choices. I approached the counter surrounded by young urban hipsters, yoga mats, manicured framed glasses and tattoos everywhere. "What will you have?" a young man asked me across the counter. Pretty much all the baristas behind the counter were all decked out in tattoos along with their patrons. The vibe was infectious, enjoyable, cheery, full of warmth.

"I'll have a double espresso" which is what I always ask for, only to cheerily be greeted with,

"What kind?"

In all my espresso hunts this has NEVER happened to me. What kind? I get a CHOICE? Suddenly my mind clicked back to a board posted in the area I saw earlier. I had arrived early enough, the lines kept growing behind me, I needed to make a decision, this was not a time to be dilly dallying with locals behind me desperate no doubt for their caffeine fix and not ready to be patient for this "outsider" to make up his mind. :) In the end there was only one way to do this.

"Pick one for me!" I said with enthusiasm and jumping for joy. With that the barrista behind the counter felt enthralled to be putting his personal spin and opinion in front of me.

I was given the Hairbender, described as having toffee and citrus notes. It was presented with one big brown dark piece of crema that I don't think I've ever seen on an espresso. It was pretty intense and I realized that searching for the notes of aroma and flavors was fun, but it was just better to consume it and just take in the Pearl District with the sun blaring in my face. Never in my life have I had a great cup of coffee while wearing Ray Bans indoors but there are firsts for everything. Isn't is suppose to RAIN in Portland all the time? It became apparent that I was presented with an opportunity. I had the ability to try all of these which in a short morning span I would normally never do. But heck... I figured I'll try the other one. I ordered the "black cat" searching for peanut butter, only to find similar notes as the first one but not as enjoyable a taste. However, this was fun and I think I just had more enjoyment going up to the counter just as an excuse to talk to the baristas who seemed genuinely pleased to see me back.

"You again?" one quipped. "Yeah I guess I am back, now I guess I'll have to try all three!" It seemed I was overdoing it but these things happen when on vacation. The black cat seemed to lack more of the complex aromas the board described, but everything was just excellent so far. My eyes glanced to the far side of the counter where the bags of coffee were all for sale, except for the first one I tried. It made me feel like I wanted that first espresso more. By this time though there was no turning back. I returned asking for the Helsar. "Here" the barista replied, "This one's on the house". So there you have it free coffee!
More importantly it was the best one. While it had the similar profile as the other 2, it had to me a distinct fruit finish specifically of bitter lemon. This was pretty amazing since many times when having espresso you are served a slice of lemon rind. I am never sure what to do with those, but I always love chewing on them after I finish my coffee to freshen up my mouth. I've heard all sorts of theories as to what you're supposed to do with them, or where the came from, but chewing on them afterwords just seemed to make the most sense. Perhaps if I am wrong, I probably don't care cause now I am so use to it. While imbibing this espresso though, it was as if the lemon rind was being tasted after the coffee's lingering finish. Wow pretty dang impressive!
Now espresso is not for everyone I think, and I don't think many people were ordering it just straight as I was. But there were plenty of nice looking latte foam art to be had. One person was kind enough to let me take a pic of his coffee. OH DUDE shoot I spilled part of it I am so sorry man! Apologizing to me for your coffee? oh heck no need man. Before I knew it, he was suggesting I should come around when the owner was in, or talk to so and so (I forget to be exact). I soon began to realize that in Portland people really actually like to have conversation.

Problem was I couldn't stick around because a) I had to hit the wineries and pick up the rental car b) I had 3 shots of extreme coffee and was wired beyond believe that if I had more I would probably never shut up talking to this guy.

The reality is there are only so many espressos you can have in a day. No I take that back, there are only so many espressos you can savor... IN A HALF HOUR. The good news, is if you're lucky maybe you can find a place that makes a real good one, or just try to grab a bag and see if you can do it better yourself at home. I think I know already that answer, but I'll let you know how it goes... and I always add a bit of sugar, cause I am not that hardcore... ya know ;)

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