Friday, May 15, 2009

Barista: A Land of Vacuum Pots, Better Beans, and Otherworldly Mocha Mustaches

It was early this morning when I arrived at Barista, a tiny gem of a coffehouse in the lobby of the Gadsby Building on NW 13th Street in the Pearl District. The normally buzzing neighborhood was still pretty sleepy, and so was I, so coffee was in order.

I'd been meaning to visit Barista for ages. I'd pinned the NW Examiner's blurp about it to my desk's Wall 'o GottaGetThere, right above my tape dispenser and the picture of a lecherous leprechaun that my coworker Rob drew for my St. Patrick's Day cards this year.

Then I read the very recent Frugal Portland article in the NY Times, where fledgling Barista got a glowing mention--well, more than a mention, more like a whole paragraph--which gave me the push I needed to finally make it in. 

Barista occupies the space formerly known as Acorn Cafe, and while I miss Acorn, I love Barista. It is beautiful, with an old red brick wall to the east, big bright windows, warm blonde wood throughout, and quite a variety of seating for such a small place--indoor bar stools along the brick wall, a long row of lobby tables, and a handful of outdoor bistro tables. A table for everyone, even my exhausted brother, who was in town visiting and was being exceedingly good-natured about being dragged out to eat three to five times a day, because I kept thinking of yet another amazing eatery he "just HAD to try" before he left. 

Barista owner Billy Wilson, formerly of Albina Press, is the man behind the Barista bar, turning out deep, rich, melodic espressos (selection varies, and is posted on the chalkboard), French Presses, lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, americanos and mochas using his holy coffee trinity of Stumptown, Ecco Caffe and Intelligentsia coffees. 

The black and tan coffee list on the counter reads more like a tasting menu than a typical coffee board. "Made with Intelligentsia's Black Cat blend...made with whole milk. It's better that way.," explains the description for Barista's latte. 

It seemed to me that coffee is more than at Barista, it's a way of life and a drink rife with philosophy and possibility, judging from the series of coffee-thought-provoking questions that appear on the Barista website, including: 

What if we carried multiple roasters, and you could choose your espresso roast?
What if we created a conversation about coffee, instead of merely serving it?
What if we turned the job of being a Barista into the profession of bein
g a Barista?

This was too much profundity for me this early in the morning, but after tasting my brother's Intelligentsia Cappuccino when it came up, I knew this much: Billy Wilson makes some damn good coffee. 

Also on the menu is a selection of Vacuum Pot brewed coffees, the apparatus for which is pictured below. Each of the three coffees comes with a description that would do the back of any wine bottle proud, with detailed descriptions of each vacuum pot coffee's flavor profiles, like "exceptionally clean flavors of dark berry and sugar cane," and "sure to please those who like a little less fruit in their coffee and a little more brawn." If you, like me, didn't know beans about vac pot, also known as siphon-brewed, coffee, you can learn a little more in this very informative article on

Taking a peek around the small shop to see what coffee accompaniments might be available, I saw that Billy graciously stocks my favorite Two Tarts cookie--the marvelous Peanut Butter Creams, along with the Chocolate Chip Fleur de Sel and Cappucino Creams. 

Barista, obviously a paragon of good taste, also sells a full assortment of superlative Nuvrei pastries, so I was able to buy my beloved Nuvrei ham and cheese croissant, which has been rumored to be the secret to happiness.
By now, I was pretty awake. But nothing could have prepared me for Barista's Valrhona Mocha. According to the Barista menu, this gorgeous, creamy, slightly frothy concoction of coffee and 61% bittersweet Valrhona chocolate contains 20 grams of chocolate per each 8 ounces. I was hooked, although at $4.50 a cup, the Valrhona Mocha is a pricey habit indeed. Well worth the occasional Friday morning splurge though, methinks.  

Sated beyond all expectations, I finished my ham and cheese croissant, wiped away my Valrhona Mocha mustache, and we set off into the warm late-Spring morning, both caffeinated and somehow bettered as human beings. Thanks, Barista. You're the beans knees. 


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