coffee nomad in pdx: java nation.

November 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

all of the elements that would procure my first coffee adventure just seemed to fall into place today. after yet another night of complete sleeplessness, along with the realization that i have lived in this city for exactly two months and had only been to one indie coffee shop… i decided i needed to start this week off right: with a good book, a new place, and (hopefully) some good coffee :)

java nation is a spacious coffee shop in southwest portland.

seeing as how i hadn’t slept, i was there for caffeine and only caffeine, but they did have a nice variety of non-coffee drinks: from smoothies to chai & other tea. they also serve pastries that customers seem to really love, including scones, croissants, cookies and biscuits. yum.

the baristas were friendly were even nice enough to bring my latte to my table after i had set up shop :)

atmosphere: the only thing that struck me as “off” was a guy camped out on a couch in the back — no coffee or anything — with his smart phone in hand and music blasting in his headphones, more than likely just taking advantage of the free-wifi. maybe he was a friend of one of the baristas? i don’t know. but as a former coffee-house employee, while very rare, it would drive me insane when people would come in just to use the wi-fi. of course, i was always too passive to say anything… but it’s just rude, ya know?! and to add to the strangeness, after about ten minutes, he just went ahead and lied down on the couch and i’m pretty sure he was sleeping. oookay. i’m sure paying customers would like to sit on the nice couch in the back and chat with friends or colleagues, but… oh well. and the staff didn’t seem to notice at all, so why wouldn’t he take a nap?

that aside, i liked the atmosphere of the shop.

the walls were adorned with paintings and photography from local artists (extra
points!) and the far back wall featured a creative, colorful mural (pictured above).i was only half paying attention to the music since i was focused on reading and enjoying my latte, but when i would tune in, it seemed as though the music choice was pretty eclectic! at one point, a song was playing that sounded like a mix between celine dion and bjork (never thought you’d see those two names in the same sentence, huh?) but i appreciated the world music and heard sounds that ranged from celtic inspired to arabian. very cool :)

now, one of the things i noticed before even setting foot into java nation… was the big starbucks staring right back at them from across the street.
as i mentioned before… i’m a former barista. i worked at the only locally owned coffee-house in the town. we roasted our own beans, made our own espresso blend, baked our own pastries, and were very proud of it! but… one of the golden rules was “don’t bash starbucks”… (even though most of the time, the customers did the bashing for us!) and here’s why: starbucks did a stellar job of bringing the coffee-house culture into the mainstream. say what you will about their coffee, or their formulaic shops, or their corporatism, but starbucks didn’t become immensely popular and successful for no reason, know what i’m sayin?

that being said… there was some serious barista-led starbucks-dissing going on!
i will say that i think the customers that were engaged in the conversation were genuinely interested in knowing some of the differences between a starbucks and an indie shop, and i will also say that the barista made some good points — for example: she brought up their use of espresso machine versus the all-automatic machines starbucks uses, and how the use of auto-machines makes it difficult to ensure quality espresso… but, with a non-auto machine, a trained barista can examine the length and color of an espresso shot, and if it’s no good, then the barista can adjust, since there are a myriad of controls (the grind, tamping pressure, etc). so, the barista was pretty much saying that a customer at starbucks gets what they get because auto machines are about efficiency instead of quality.
while i agree with this whole-heartedly (because it’s true!), it was the pretentiousness in how the barista was explaining these things that made it seem much more like a “diss” and less like a simple, factual explanation.

but, i guess, ultimately, it comes down to the coffee… and the coffee was real good.

i can’t say that i was surprised; they use the always wonderful stumptown beans, like many coffee shops in the suburbs do. i also appreciated the balance between the sweetness of syrup and the espresso — it was just right, meaning it tasted like a cafe latte… and not like a dessert!

overall, i had a very pleasant morning here and i got exactly what i set out to get :)
so… one coffee-house down, and many, many more to go.
ahhh, i wish i was getting paid for this!

cheers to good coffee!
– d.

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