Still Searching for the Perfect Cup...

If you know me or have followed the blog a bit you know I'm a big fan of coffee. Especially at 6am before work. Not only does it run in my veins - seriously, cut me and you'll know (that was a joke) - but I also just really like the taste. That statement right there should shock all my college friends, since I couldn't stand the stuff then and instead preferred the sugary caffeine of Pepsi.

Well, times change, you get older, and you realize soda pop is probably the single worst thing you can put in your body - and coffee has no calories. Well, until you add a dash of chocolate milk, as I do every morning.

Over the last few weeks we hit up a few different places for coffee during our travels (and somehow went the whole vacation without hitting up Portland's best, Coffeehouse Northwest). Here's a summary.

Rocking Frog and Spella Caffe: I touched on both of these briefly before since Spella is a cart and Rocking Frog is where Moody's doughnuts is located. A couple more notes on Rocking Frog: I love the building. It's an old house, probably close to 75 years old or so, in an older neighborhood of Portland. Each of the rooms on the main floor has been made into cozy areas for having coffee and a chat or just relaxing with a book. It's nicely planned, even if the design throws you off a bit. They also have a nice patio area out back (where Moody's is located) lined with bamboo and grape vines, which gives it a nice asctetic. The mocha, which they use Ristretto Roasters (more below), was average.

Ristretto Roasters: Speaking of Ristretto, we had heard good things but weren't that thrilled with our first experience with them at Rocking Frog. However, that doesn't mean we give up - instead, we went straight to the source. Ristretto roasts their own beans, but they also have two coffee shops as well. One hot afternoon we hit up the one on NE 42nd. We were just planning to get a mocha to sample the flavor, but they happened to be roasting some beans from Guatemala (which we have liked beans from there in the past from other roasters) so we bought a quarter pound of those as well. While it did seem as though the barista might have been a little, well, stoned, he made a very, very good drink. Honestly, it may be right there at the top as the best non-Cluizel mocha (tip of the cap again to Coffeehouse NW) in Portland. The beans also made excellent drip coffee at home. A few days later we were in the area and hit up the shop on N Williams. This store was in a new and very trendy stip mall, with lots of seating inside and out and a very modern feel (the other one was much smaller and while modern as well felt much homier). The mocha there was also good, but it was different. I'm not sure if it was the beans or just a nuance of having a different barista, but we felt the one from the NE 42nd store was better. Either way, good stuff.

Red Horse Coffee (Corvallis): We hit up Red Horse when we stopped in Corvallis on our way to Newport. They use a microroaster from Washington called Dillanos. We had planned just to get a mocha, but talked ourselves into something called the Red Horse Mocha, which apparently had four different flavors in it, one of which is "secret." It was sweet - sickeningly so. Honestly, I would never get that again...but I would go back. It seemed like a pretty nice little shop a decent ways from the Oregon State campus and I'd give it a second chance with something more basic. I should have known better...all those flavor syrups do not make my taste buds happy. But they were super nice, so they have that going for them. The barista tried to get us in on the frequent buyer card, which is fine, but I told her we probably wouldn't be coming in often. She says well, you never know. Nope, I'm pretty sure - maybe once a year at the most?

Nye Beach Market (Newport): We found this place on Newport's Nye Beach towards the end of the afternoon after visiting the aquarium and checking out this new area we hadn't visited before. The link was the only online presence I could find, from Trip Advisor. This little store was the only place around that had coffee mid to late afternoon on a Tuesday and they also had plenty of other meats, cheeses, and other fun stuff that would be great if you were staying in a condo nearby. The coffee was using Tully's beans, which was interesting because they sold other beans as well. And, well, it tasted burnt. Oh well. It's funny, I remember hearing how everyone used to say Starbucks always burnt their beans and I never got it because I hadn't tasted anything else. Now, after trying good stuff all over the Northwest, I get it. it's not the worst thing in the world - better than overly sugary - but it's still not a plus. Needless to say, this trip wasn't a good day for coffee.

Little T American Baker: We actually went here for bread but I needed a little pick me up so ordered a mocha as well (using Stumptown beans). The mocha was excellent. So was the salted slab bread (focaccia like), which makes very, very good sandwiches. Definitely will be going back.

Caffe Vita (Seattle): We hit the Capitol Hill location when we were in Seattle for the day. There was a line in this very uniquely decorated place - feels like an old rustic hotel entrance, with lots of dark wood - but it was completely worth it. In fact, I'm ready to call this the best coffee I've had in Seattle. The balance of flavors in the mocha, between espresso and chocolate, was perfect and the creaminess was right on. Lucky me - it's only 180 miles away from home. Oh well - there is one in Olympia, so that's a little closer.

Fuel (Seattle): We actually didn't stop here for the coffee, it was because this is one of the places in Seattle you can get High 5 Pie, which was supposed to be pretty good. Of course, since it is a coffee shop, I had to get a mocha to go with our berry "flipside" and apple "cutie pie." The flipside was sort of a pie pocket thing, with crust enclosing the entire thing, while the cutie pie was just a tiny one-serving pie. The mocha was pretty good, it just had the unfortunate circumstances of coming after Caffe Vita. The pies were okay - they didn't seem like anything better than we could make at home. Still, a nice afternoon treat.

Bipartisan Cafe: We checked out this place because, like Fuel in Seattle, it was supposed to have good pie. Supposedly their cream pies are the big thing, so we ordered a slice of chocolate peanut butter cream and one of key lime, plus a mocha. The mocha was pretty good (they use Stumptown) but the pies were excellent. Creamy, full of flavor but not overly so, and the crust was very good. Maybe a little heavy on whip cream, but that's hardly a negative on a cream pie. We'd go back.

Dragonfly Coffee House: According to the reviews this is a decent place, but they tend to be mostly reviewing their sandwiches, which they no longer have. The coffee? It was the most disgusting thing I've had in a long time. Honestly, I threw it out - which is something I never do. With so many good coffee shops in Portland, especially around that area in Northwest, don't waste your time.

The Human Bean (Roseburg): I've seen this drive thru coffee stops open up in various places around Portland but never checked them out, mostly because they weren't around when I wanted coffee and when they were around (drive by one every day after work) I wasn't in the mood. We stopped in here on the way back from Crater Lake because I needed a pick me up to last me the final three hours of driving. Not knowing Roseburg at all I figured we'd find a Starbucks - but never saw one. Now, Starbucks' website says there are four but I didn't see them, so there you go. I wasn't expecting too much from the mocha, but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't the greatest, but it was better than a lot I've tried. Now I know, if I ever need a fix this place makes the cut.

Parker's Waffles and Coffee: Last week I was walking through downtown on a break from work and walked past the food carts at 4th and Hall, not too far from Portland State. I had seen this place and was thinking about coffee, but decided against it. Then as I walked by the woman in the cart offered me a free waffle. Apparently she made too many or something - and who am I to turn down a free waffle with maple butter on it? Since I stopped, and since I did get free food, I got coffee anyway - so if waffles are the loss leader, it worked (don't think that's a sound strategy though - she probably just made an extra on accident). They serve just french pressed black coffee (sugar available) and you get 16 ounces of it for $2. Normally I don't drink my coffee black, but I figured what the heck, less calories. It was a Panamanian blend from Stumptown, so I figured it wouldn't be horrible. Guess what? It was excellent. Brought it back to work and let it cool a bit and sipped it just fine, nothing in it. Who knew I could enjoy black coffee? Good stuff...and who knows, maybe next time I'll try one of their various varieties of waffles.

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