By Jamie Caulley
For the Hollywood Star News
This time of year, the longing for comfort, heat and something that will transcend me far away from the dreary Northwest rain becomes intense. Although a trip to the equatorial belt would be ideal, a less expensive way to experience something warm and soothing, something that awakens you from the melancholy and incessant grey mist and fulfills your taste for adventure, is through coffee.
I visited three local micro-coffee roasters, all of whom roast small batches of beans with extreme skill and talent, and all of whom can take you on a mini-adventure into the world of coffee.
“Don’t be afraid to get a little coffee on your nose,” Jill Purdy, quality control specialist at Ristretto Roasters, said to me during the staff’s morning cupping at their roastery on North Flint Avenue.
I learned about smelling the coffee cap, the crust formed by the grounds as they steep in hot water. After four minutes, we used a spoon to break the caps, releasing a burst of aromas and steam from each of the five coffees in that morning’s cupping.
“The majority of what you perceive in coffee is the aromatics,” Purdy explained, which is why a cupping consists mainly of inhaling the dry and wet aromas and less of tasting.
But of course, we did taste. Though not in a manner I had ever tasted coffee before—with a quick and hearty inhalation.
“You’re sucking it off the spoon to create a spray pattern in your mouth, covering your whole palette at the same time,” explained Din JohnsonMicro-roasting: A journey with java. Owner of Ristretto Roasters, he operates three cafes on North Williams Avenue, Northeast 42nd Avenue and Northwest Nicolai Street.
The staff at Ristretto (the business name refers to a short but intense and sweet pull of espresso) cups coffees every morning in order to sample new varietals, check quality and experiment with different roast profiles.
Boozy. Effervescent. Like drinking flowers. “We try to roast to the profile of what we think that coffee should feature,” explained Johnson in reference to the variety of flavor descriptions flowing from staff.
Ristretto also hosts free cuppings each week at its cafes, for anyone looking to take their own journey within the cup.
Extracto Coffee Roasters
“First and foremost, I want my coffee to taste like really good coffee. I want it to taste like something customers want more of,” explained Christopher Brady who, along with his wife Celeste, owns Extracto’s two cafes on Northeast Killingsworth Street and Northeast Prescott Street.
The warmth from their German coffee roaster, visible at the back of the Killingsworth café, created a cozy ambience on an otherwise cold, soggy Northwest day.
Neil Mead, co-roaster, meticulously monitored the beans while Brady explained that the roasting process caramelizes the sugars in the coffee beans. How fast or slow you roast a particular bean gives the resulting nuances of flavor—fruit, earthy, chocolate, caramel or toffee.
Like Ristretto Roasters, Brady specializes in medium roast coffees, attempting to showcase the bean’s special flavor characteristics, rather than imprint a particular flavor on the bean. Brady likened roasting coffee beans to showcasing a beautiful type of wood.
“I am trying to put the right amount of varnish on that coffee to bring out the highlights,” he explained.
For Brady, coffee has been a lifelong journey, starting at the age of 12 with his first cup.
“I used to hang out in a coffee shop in Alaska. That was kind of my high school,” he explained, about the place where his love for coffee developed and where he met his wife.
As we chatted, I learned that coffee beans take their own journey after being roasted, developing dimensions of flavor and then quickly losing them within about ten days. Therefore, he encourages his customers to buy coffee fresh weekly and enjoy how the taste changes.
“That is one of the reasons I love coffee. It’s endless,” he said leaning back against the bags of stacked coffee from around the world, waiting for their turn in the roaster.
Happy Cup Coffee Company
As I entered the Happy Cup roasting space on Northeast 28th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, I was greeted by the scent of fresh roasted coffee and a jovial crew busily stamping, labeling and filling coffee bags.
Happy Cup’s journey into the coffee world is different from most. Owned and created by Rachel Bloom, also the founder of Full Life — a recreational and vocational program for adults with developmental disabilities — Happy Cup creates meaningful jobs for a population that carries a 78 percent unemployment rate.
“We’ve got a really good response from the public. You get to do something good just by buying a cup of coffee,” explained operations director Adam Bray.
Production employees are sourced from Full Life and complete a variety of tasks, including preparing, filling and labeling bags; packaging orders; completing janitorial work; and helping with retail demonstrations.
Roaster Charley Austin creates a full spectrum of roasts from light to dark, single origin to blends, with beans from all over the world. His tasting notes go on each bag, along with a unique name such as Flying Unicorn, Boom-Boom or Morning Maniac (chosen by Full Life employees), roast date and name of the employee who packaged the beans.
“When you pick up a bag, you know exactly who you are helping support,” Bray stated.
If you go
Cafés: 3520 N.E. 42nd Ave.
and 3808 N. Williams Avenue.
Extracto Coffee Roasters
Café and roastery: 2921 N.E. Killingsworth St.
Café: 1465 N.E. Prescott St., Suite B
Happy Cup Coffee Company
Roastery: 2850 N.E. Sandy Blvd.
Café: 3331 N.E. Sandy Blvd.