Being the coffee shop junkie/loiterer/aficionado that I am, I’m way overdue for one of these silly lists. The nice part was that it was actually pretty easy. Before delving in, it’s important to consider that I’m not a coffee connoisseur. My list speaks more to aesthetics and overall experience than the actual quality of your cup o’ joe. Secondly, I’m biased toward places that break the mold. There are dozens of great coffee crashes all over Portland, but I give precedence to the places that have something more to offer than the standard. There are too many coffee shops in this area that seem to be all cut from the same mold, as if Stumptown were making mandatory design stipulations for the retailers that brew their coffee. My list honors those that serve up an experience going beyond caffeine and pastries. What else you got?

Anyways, *ahem*. Should you find yourself in Portland, my top five recommendations for places to hang out and drink coffee are as follows:

5. Southeast Grind (1223 SE Powell blvd)

I’ve talked about them before, and I really don’t have to say much beyond “they’re Portland’s only 24 hour coffee shop” to justify their inclusion. They’re double-espresso only, so they certainly take themselves seriously. They’ve also got plenty of seating (couch, table, or stool) and some pretty hip old-school PCs with behemoth monitors. You’d think that Portland would have more 24-hour coffee shops, but if they’re drinking coffee at midnight, then they’re not drinking microbrew, and we certainly can’t have that. If only they sold books, then they’d be higher on this list than…

4. The Fresh Pot (3729 SE Hawthorne blvd)
Fresh Pot on Urbanspoon

Now, before you say it: Yes, you could always go to the ginormous Powell’s in downtown PDX with the ginormous cafe inside of it. Well, you know what? If I want a copy of the UK special box set of The Gum Thief, I’ll drive downtown to that book metropolis and get it (which I did). In the meantime, I’ll relish the cuisine (like, donuts, or something), comfort (wooden furniture), and caffeine found at the Fresh Pot. Being conjoined to mini-Powell’s Books, it can be hard to find a seat in the cafe, and I’m sure it hasn’t gotten any easier with the opening of the New Seasons market nearby, but it’s one of the more complete cafe experiences you can ask for. It’s also open late (10pm Mon-Thurs, 11pm Fri & Sat, 9pm Sun), and, as I’ve already mentioned, that’s rare around here. Whenever I go there, however, I really wish I was at…

3. Guapo Comics and Coffee (6350 SE Foster Road)
Guapo Comics and Coffee on Urbanspoon

Take the best elements of Fresh Pot on Hawthorne (graphic novel section of the bookstore and a coffee shop), multiply the comics by 10, subtract the sweet location, add some rockin’ interior decorating, and you get Guapo. Yes, I’m biased because it is essentially a comic shop and a coffee shop that have been in a transporter accident. The nice thing is, it does both well, with a good selection of comics and respectable menu options for coffee and food–which actually includes dinner-ish options. The bad thing is, you’ve got to sojourn all the way to Southeast Portland to get there. I ain’t complainin’, but I regret that I don’t get there as often as I get to…

2. Elevated Coffee (5261 NE MLK Jr.  Blvd.)

The waffles are great, the service is great, the coffee is great, and the interior is gorgeous. Computers for the laptop challenged and a white baby grand piano for the musically inclined. Lot’s of options, but the Honey Latte is especially tasty. It’s location also makes it easy for me to drop into. MLK blvd. is a slower alternative to I-5, but at rush hour it’s actually preferred. On top of it all, you might even catch some live music on the weekend. In fact, the place is so great I’m surprised I didn’t find it in…

1. Vancouver, WA

Located due north of Portland, on the other side of the Columbia River “fence” lies Portland’s wacky neighbor, ‘da Couve. Compass Coffee, Java House, Mon Ami, Paper Tiger, Rosemary Cafe, and even that Starbucks that stays open until 9:30 basically make it worth never heading south across the I-5 bridge again. Vancouver’s also got less traffic, a half dozen art galleries, an underground arts community, and even it’s own local satire column. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon for Washington and I live in the ‘Couve. Represent, yo.

Door logo of koffi cafe

I don't want to be that guy, but someone needs to tell them about their little spelling snafu.

I’ve been told many times that Portlanders seem to have a certain, lets say, “hatred” of Californians moving to their beloved city. I find this somewhat strange since Portland essentially wishes it was San Francisco and since California has been quietly plucking coffee-related ideas from their Northwest neighbors. Okay, okay, so California isn’t copying the Northwest, but It’s just interesting to see a place like the koffi cafe in Palm Springs being praised for providing the the standard amenities that should be found any non-franchise coffee shop. Locally roasted coffee, sustainability, free WiFi, artwork by local artists on the walls. Did I somehow get on a plane for two hours only to land back in the the Northwest?

Berry tea by the lake.

Sippin' my berry tea thing next to the "pond." Am I with it or what?

No, because this place is clean. They’ve also got this trendy misspelling + lowercase letters thing going on that I’m not sure I’m cool with. Whereas in New York and Vegas they frequently miss the mark entirely, California takes the standard coffee shop core and dresses it up like a UCLA art history graduate student. Even my darling Elevated Coffee doesn’t look this good, and that’s about the classiest damned coffee shop in the greater Northeast Portland area. Not only that, but the folks chillaxin with their MacBook Pros in the koffi cafe actually dress like they could afford them. In the words of Mark Whalberg: “What’s that all about?”

Californians needs to take lessons on being degenerate from Portlanders. Pretentiousness doesn’t just sell itself.

Anyways, I’m taking my MacBook over to Tully’s and getting a Green Tea Latte to sip while I work on my novel. Ciao.

“Dolce Gabbana, don’t you know
Soy latte, shade-grown”
-Hot Buttered Rum

While there’s all kinds of reasons not to love franchising, it does allow you to get on a plane in New Jersey, land in Singapore, and still be able to satisfy your Double Whopper with cheese craving. Sure, I’ve never had that craving myself, but there’s something to be said for dependability. With so many franchises, regions must establish their individuality by filling in those spaces between with local flavor. The danger, however, of too strong a sense of identity, is that the local flavor falls into monotony that could make even Starbucks feel fresh (and by the way, this new Via tastes better than their normal brew…).

Masks. How expectedly random.

Masks. How expectedly random. The conveniently located power strip, however, is quite original.

Tiny's Coffee on Urbanspoon
The Portland condition seems to be defined by a push toward the kooky side of liberal. In fact, some locals run the risk of throwing their back out trying so hard to be individuals. Unfortunately, when everyone is weird, the dude on the corner decked out in LL Bean stands out. In the effort to become hip and 3dgy (because “edgy” just doesn’t cut it anymore), many Portland…ok, ok, Northwest coffee hotspots have begun to feel blandly predictable. The bouquets of event flyers, local artwork, eclectic color schemes, veggie vegan food selection, Voodoo doughnuts, chalkboard menus, and yard sale tables and chairs have all become…routine. What else can you offer me?

Have I been here before?

Have I been here before?

The clever places manage to follow the PDX template, but find unique ways to fill it in that aren’t always as obvious as “weird.” Tiny’s Coffee on MLK wins by being serving up a helping of accommodating eclectic with a side dish of eclectic accommodating. While my first impression of Tiny’s was all that I would expect, upon closer inspection, they found unique ways to color within the lines.  I had more electrical outlets than I could ever need (Seriously. Over a dozen), a menu more than happy to serve carnivore needs, lots of floor space with plenty of tables, arcade pinball,  and an ATM in the corner which was also a nice touch. The layout also does some fascinating work with levels that I don’t quite understand (“Is that a window? Is that a window? Is someone watching me from up there?”).  Tiny’s certainly has the Portland look and feel, but has an identity all their own…well, except for the other Tiny’s on Hawthorne.

That coffee table looks suspiciously like a baby grand piano.

That coffee table looks suspiciously like a baby grand piano.

Elevated Coffee on Urbanspoon
Elevated Coffee on way north MLK took a whole new route altogether. Like Tiny’s, they serve Stumptown Coffee (*yawn*), offer free WiFi (no-brainer), and adorn their walls with art (actually, you can’t really go wrong with that). The main difference is the decor, and I’ll be honest here: It’s been some time since I’ve seen such a well-decorated café. The black and white scheme and new(!) furniture stopped just short of swank, and settles nicely into sleek. The internet terminals , bookshelves, and local art provide a personable balance to the white baby-grand piano in the corner that provides a dollop of chic. Arts-wise, Elevated Coffee reaches out to the jazz-ish crowd, with shows on Saturday and Sunday, and I may just break my futon again just to have an excuse to stop by and stare at their decor. Seriously, this place is gorgeous.

…if only they could do something about that Twitter foolishness.