While I was planning which coffee shops I would be able to hit in the small window of time I recently had in Portland, OR, I received some great recommendations from Case Study operations manager and food writer, Emily McIntyre. Spreading some Kansas City love (her family moved to Portland relatively recently), she made a bunch of recommendations for me including The Arbor Lodge.
I was doing my requisite Twitter posts about my upcoming visit and “Tanager” replied, “I’ll be on bar tomorrow.” Tanager turned out to be CJ, who is a barista at The Arbor Lodge as well as the owner and guy-who-does-it-all at Tanager, one of many new roasters in Portland.
I was really excited to find out that CJ would be serving Kenya Gondo espresso the morning of my visit. I had just reviewed this phenomenal coffee from another roaster, Huckleberry. It is a very bright, acidic (in a good way), fruity coffee but I found it way too intense and puckering to be a solo-origin espresso at home, although I absolutely loved it with other preparation methods. I couldn’t wait to taste this coffee from the hands of a pro on a machine with more controllable parameters than my little Gaggia.
The Arbor Lodge was pretty busy that morning (it opens at 6:30AM on Saturdays, unlike the 7:00AM most other places in Portland hold to) so CJ and I were only able to exchange basic pleasantries. It’s a nice, inviting, comfy little shop with the bar taking up one corner and the rest featuring seating and a small window-front bar to people watch from. If you’re doing a caffeine crawl, the Red E and Albina Press are pretty close by.
DISCLAIMER: CJ did not charge me for my espresso shot reviewed below. The complimentary espresso did not affect the outcome of my tasting. KCcoffeegeek DID PAY for the bag of Tanager Zelele reviewed below and that also did not affect the outcome of the review.
TANAGER GONDO ESPRESSO (KENYA) – description + purchase
CJ first lined me up with that shot of the Gondo. He messed with the espresso machine for quite some time to get it dialed in, constantly tasting and tweaking things. I noticed this was common pretty much everywhere in Portland I happened to go, so it’s good to see that baristas there keep things dialed in throughout the day.
Once he served the shot it was intense. It was still super bright and he even warned me that this was “hot” even by Portland standards. The city definitely favors in-your-face, more tart espresso rather than the toned-down, more chocolatey/caramely/roasty traditional espresso many of us know. To that end, the Gondo shot was barely restrained but he definitely was able to knock the edges off of it where at home I was not. It definitely made the shot more palatable and better rounded, but make no mistake, this is not a tame experience!
Unfortunately, I was trying to cram so many places into such a short time that my trip became more about getting to these places than dissecting all the flavor nuances of the coffees I was drinking. I just did not have the time to sit and think and write. Referencing the notes I’d made on this shot in my pocket notebook (Field Notes, you know it!), all I wrote was, “Bright as [BLEEP].” LOL
TANAGER ZELELE YIRGACHEFFE (ETHIOPIA) – description + purchase
After my shot I asked CJ which of his coffees I should buy and without hesitation he said the Yirgacheffe ($14 for a 250g – just under 9 ounces – bag). He said it was a great example of how much a crop changes each year because the flavor profile had changed completely. He said it was very unique for a Yirgacheffe.
I brewed this coffee three ways and I didn’t get much different between the AeroPress and Chemex, so I won’t break those out into their own sub-reviews this time:
- AeroPress – Inverted method. 17g of coffee to 240g water. Immerse for 2 minutes then begin press, finishing about 2:30.
- Chemex – 30g of coffee to 480g water. I always end up with about a 5 minute total time.
- Espresso – 18-19g coffee, 40 second shot for a yield of 20g of espresso (tamping way too hard, I think)
My aroma meter was busted the morning I broke into this coffee. It had great aroma, but I couldn’t pull many nuances out. It smelled like coffee, and that’s a good thing! The aroma was sweet, too, rather than fruity, so I guess it was leaning toward caramel if I had to force myself to make a judgment call (side note: after writing my review I asked CJ what he thought of my basic notions and he did say “salted caramel” so we were definitely on the same page!).
In the warm cup I found this Yirgacheffe to lean heavily on the savory side. It had a slightly salty vibe but some acid, too, reminiscent in mouthfeel and character of tomato (although I wouldn’t say this coffee tasted like tomatoes). There was also a nice sweetness wrapping it all up, also lending it to remind me of tomato.
As the cup cooled toward room temperature the acidity seemed to get a little more pronounced and would open up my taste buds in a way that reminded me of umami, that elusive “fifth” flavor we can perceive. Again, it wasn’t salty and it wasn’t like sucking down some soy sauce, but the mouthfeel, flavor and mix of savory and sweet was pushing me strongly in this direction.
I found this coffee to be really complex in unexpected ways and like CJ told me, “This is one of the most unique Yirgacheffes I’ve ever had.” I would definitely agree. I really liked it and I think it could make a good, interesting daily drinker.
As espresso, the Tanager Zelele was intense, but not unpleasant. It was really bright, with a lot of acid but also had a thick body and mouthfeel. The espresso definitely made the receptors on the back of my tongue jump, but it wasn’t sour. I definitely picked up tart cherry in the flavor. I taste that so often in espresso at home that I started wondering if maybe my machine was doing it, so I gave it a good cleaning and picked it up both before and after with this coffee, so it’s definitely there and not a defect in my cleanliness! Several minutes after I was getting a nice roasty, almost peppery component to the aftertaste. It was still too amped up for my personal tastes, but this would be a GREAT component of an espresso blend, for sure.