Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Public Domain Coffee

Ah, my first time…

It was in college, where many life-changing occurrences tend to happen. Away from home, with a boy I knew. But it's not what you're thinking. This isn't that kind of blog.

He pulled a bag out of his fridge and had me take a hit of the aroma wafting from it. (And it's still not what you're thinking…)

The rich, dark, roasty aroma bowled me over. Then he carefully measured the coffee, for of course that's what it was, into a paper filter and dribbled water over it to wet the grounds, and the steam rising from them started to fill the room. He poured in more water and we waited patiently for it to drip through.

I'd only ever had coffee brewed from grounds that came in a can, and these had come from a little shop near the university called The Coffee Bean, sold by a jolly bearded fellow named Jeff who'd roasted them himself. I drank his coffee for the rest of my university days, then moved on to enjoy the roasts from other artisans I ferreted out in the various cities I lived in.

The little Coffee Bean became Coffee Bean International, or CBI, one of the larger specialty roasters in the country, doing private label and wholesale business out of their headquarters in Portland. Now they've opened a café, Public Domain, a testing lab of sorts, downtown and filled it with not only their latest roasts and blends, but a staff of eager young enthusiasts who get giggly over toys like The Slayer, an infinitely adjustable espresso machine custom-made in Seattle and one of 50 in the world, or the arrival of a new tamper, which each barista proudly displays on a shelf when not in use.

They are also proud of their version of my early drip experiences that they're calling a "pour over" (photos, top and left), an exacting process where coffee is placed in a specially engineered cone (with, what else, a special filter) and water is dribbled over it, each cup made to order. And if you've never been to an official coffee cupping, they hold one every day at 1 pm where you can compare and contrast new and seasonal offerings, coffees from other roasters or, if you're so moved, you can bring in a personal favorite to try.

Geeky, yes, but also pleasant…so very Portland.

Details: Public Domain, 603 SW Broadway at Alder. 503-243-6374.


Anonymous said...

The bearded fellow from Coffe Bean started at Sat market in Eugene and went on to be Coffee Man first then Coffee People founded by Jeff and his wife. Picture for years on Coffee People mugs ads etc. He often went back to Coffee Bean and his wife ran coffee people, due to financial issues. Long story short eventually sold Coffee People to Coffee Bean Inc. with them keeping rights to picture etc and no compete clause for 10 years or more. Then they created this folksy imaage like Jeff and wife still in charge but actually a huge corporation. Side note: clause ended and they opened shop on Fremont (not sure if still there but loved by locals). Sad to say son committed suicide and neighbors near shop ran it without them for almost a month. They were loved by all from the early days of Sat market to more recent days on Fremont. Coffee Bean obviously sold Coffee People to Starbucks who now runs old locations. This couple was responsible for a lot of Coffee Beans rise to fame in early days. Original Coffee People (actually coffee man) was right off Uptown shopping center in and old converted house still there with a restaurant?

patrick said...

Cafe Velo uses this same brewing method to brew cups to order at their farmers market stand. I love it. At home I use a vacuum pot, which is the best of all.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Actually, Anon., I think you're conflating two stories. Jim and Patty Roberts started at the Eugene Saturday Market in 1974, then started Coffee Man in '76 followed by Coffee People in '83, which they sold to Starbucks. They still own Jim & Patty's on Fremont and have absolutely killer scones and breads.

Jeff Ferguson was a co-founder of The Coffee Bean Roasters with Gary Talboy in 1972. In '76 they moved to Portland and became "Coffee Bean Distributors," then in '83 changed their name to “Coffee Bean International.” They were joined in '82 by Paul Thornton who eventually became, and still is, roastmaster at CBI.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I have yet to visit Café Velo, Patrick, but I've definitely got to get there soon!

Pam said...

Very interesting post! There's nothing like a good cup of coffee!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Coffee (decaf au laits in the days before lattes) got me through my pregnancy. Whether it's the smell, the taste, the warmth (or the milk), it still makes the day a lot brighter!

Gayle said...

As I understand it, Coffee People sold to Deidrich Coffee. Starbucks only later took over the leases of the old Coffee People locations. Starbucks did not buy CP.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Looks like you're right, Gayle. In an article from 2006 announcing the sale to Starbucks:

"In 1999, Diedrich Coffee Inc. bought Coffee People and the hippiness slowly began to drain away…On Thursday, Starbucks announced it had purchased every last one of the Coffee People retail stores, 40 total and 15 in Portland, for $13.5 million. Deidrich is exiting the company-owned retail business entirely, but will retain the Coffee People brand names, including Black Tiger espresso, its Gloria Jean's Coffee brand, and the franchising arm of 168 retail locations."