In a city that takes coffee roasting and shot pulling as seriously as bicycles and beer, making a list of the best coffee shops is no easy task. Rather than rate quality against quality, then, here is a list of some local cafes that promise good coffee, and also fit or inspire a particular state or desire.
If you’re looking for a simple list rating cafes on coffee alone, go back to Google. But if you’re looking for something a bit more playful and mood-indulgent, read on for what I think are the six best coffee shops in Portland, for any mood:
1. Café for cheer: Oui Presse
1740 SE Hawthorne Blvd. | Website
This café is ideal for a drab afternoon when you’re in a funk and want out quick. Wide open space and playful décor make this Hollywood-set meets French corner-street café the perfect spot to get inspired. If simplistic happiness had a color, at Oui Presse it is mint green-swathed in natural light. This place is so guilelessly cute; even the twinkling, fluorescent shop signs are somehow far more cheery than kitsch—and that’s saying a lot.
Peruse a magazine you’d never buy from the amply stocked shelf, or sit by the window and watch Hawthorne wake up, as you munch on a PB and J Royale made with in-house milk bread and local strawberry jam. It’ll be an excellent complement to your cappuccino. You just might float back to your grandma’s kitchen. If you grew up in Aix on Provence, that is.
2. Café for the brooding insomniac: Southeast Grind
1223 SE Powell Blvd. | Website
There’s a fireplace you can stare into as you ruminate. A couch you can take the length of to contemplate your existence. Artwork to distract you from all the sleep you aren’t getting. Veggie-friendly snacks for the late-night munchies. And the best part: No closing time to guilt-trip your insomnia.
Through odd hours of the night, baristas maintain friendliness and quality service. Welcoming vibes have ensured Southeast Grind an eclectic clientele (read: great people-watching and writing material). While the drip might be hit-or-miss, prepared drinks are affordable and surprisingly good, whether they come at midnight, or just before dawn.
So if you need somewhere to think or study when everywhere else is closed and your roommate is watching that godawful television series (Pretty Little Liars) obnoxiously loud again, then get here, ignore the fact everyone else is sleeping, and reward your proactivity with a Dirty Lady (a specialty drink not to be confused with another nighttime form of entertainment).
3. Café before a hike: The Dragonfly Coffee House
2387 NW Thurman St. | Website
Tucked away in a more residential section of the Northwest, this cozy neighborhood stop-off is a must-visit if in the area. It can be either quiet and peaceful, or crowded and boisterous, but it’s always an easy-going affair. Get there on the early side so you can snag an Americano and house-made scone—baked goodies disappear quickly—on your way to explore Forest Park. A short walk ten or so blocks west on Thurston brings you to the Lower Macleay entrance, making The Dragonfly a perfect stop to fuel your outdoor adventure.
There’s an array of tables and cushy couch seating inside as well, for those chiller days when a shady walk doesn’t appeal. Don’t pass up a spot outside when the sun’s out, though; this is a lovely place to sip under tree bows and watch leisurely bicyclists glide by, or admire friendly dogs on their morning stroll.
4. Café to kill the time: World Cup Coffee and Tea Inside Powell’s
1005 W Burnside St. | Website
If you’re downtown and just want a coffee fix, check out Case Study or Barista—the coffee at these places is undeniably quality and just the right amount of leather-bound posh. But if you’re looking for a café in which to pass time—taste, in this case, being a secondary concern—then there’s no better place than World Cup Coffee and Tea, located inside Powell’s. Need to study for the GRE? Research Avant-Garde literature for that essay due tomorrow? Perfect! Over a millions books to peruse (without abuse) wait for you on endless bookshelves in color-coded rooms. I have yet to find an obscure topic that isn’t discoverable within the walls of Powell’s. Yes, you can take that as a challenge.
Bring what you find to your table, and sip on Joe as you delve and discover. If you’ve thought about reading a new author but are terrified of the commitment, try a chapter out first. Memorize a poem. Learn Spanish. Plan your next vacation. Explore your next vocation. The possibilities of killing time are limitless here. Just don’t spill, or you’re buying.
5. Café for free schooling: Stumptown HQ
100 SE Salmon St. | Website
Stumptown is as iconic as Portlandia for our dear City of Roses, and any legitimate Portland caffeine crawl really should include it. Sure, you could snag a free sample of the stuff at any New Seasons (or multiple, since they’re now in every neighborhood). Or, you could make that sample tenfold, AND acquire some pro tips on flavor complexity, by attending a free public tasting at Stumptown’s headquarters. Yes, oh yes: Free.
Tastings are held Mon-Sat at 3:00 and last around 50 minutes. That’s practically an hour of buzzing, of the learned variety. And you’re delving into the art of subtle brew appreciation from one of Portland’s most renowned roasters. I’d say this deal is rather unbeatable, and certainly should be taken advantage of while it’s around. So go ahead and ignore that potential caffeine crash looming over the evening’s horizon, and let your taste buds dance amongst all that sumptuous, full-bodied sippage.
6. Café for the hipster babes: Heart
537 SW 12th Ave; 2211 E Burnside St. | Website
If you have a friend in town and want to demonstrate just how hipster Portland is, your best bet is to head over to Heart for morning proof (save Dig a Pony for later). The mustachioed, dark-rimmed, collar-buttoned class of Portland awaits you here, either behind the counter or beside you in line.
It isn’t a show. Something about Heart—perhaps the minimalist décor or the no-nonsense menu—continuously draws in attractive, well-dressed, seemingly ever-ruminating individuals. It could just be the coffee, which won’t leave you wanting. Heart is known for its dedication to quality every step of the way, and continually makes lists for its excellence in the cup. Their apparent love of the craft may be where the name comes from, sure, but I’d like to think you’ll swoon for the gorgeous barista that so debonairly prepares it for you. When you experience palpitations, you’ll agree it’s the most aptly named coffee shop in Portland.
Think of this list as a taster tray of sorts, with all the potential for both excellent coffee and worthwhile experiences. If any one of these stops don’t pique your fancy, just remember this: You’re in Portland. There’s another option for you just a few blocks any which way, and it’s bound to be good.