By Jon Shadel
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
As a self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, I recently faced a bit of a challenge: a friend visited me in Portland, Ore., for a couple days seeking to experience the very best of the city’s café culture. I aimed to impress by showing off some my favorite spots. So I got a map and starred must-see spots with a red marker. I marked down Case Study Coffee Roasters, Heart Coffee Roasters, Coava Coffee Roasters, and BARISTA for a start. But it wasn’t too long until my entire map was an aimless constellation of red dots. In a city with this many hot spots, I hardly knew where to begin.
In pop-culture lexicon, Portland has become synonymous with premium, locally-crafted food and drink. This quirky Northwest gem has an especially notable history as a pioneer in the craft coffee scene. And as crowds of tourists descend on the city each year, the sheer number of craft roasters and specialty coffeeshops can be overwhelming. Even to a local café-hound like myself, Portland offers so much craft coffee per capita that there’s always a new roast to taste or an undiscovered café around the block.
Thankfully, a barista at Public Domain ”one of my favorite downtown coffee shops ”suggested I take my friend on a Third Wave Coffee Tour, Portland’s only coffee tour and one of only a few walking tours in the U.S. focused exclusively on craft coffee. It was an exciting proposition: spend an afternoon sipping through downtown Portland’s finest coffee spots, visiting a local roaster and seeing cutting-edge brewing demonstrations. I immediately called and reserved a couple tickets with the company’s owner, Lora Woodruff.
With Third Wave Coffee Tours, now in its second year of operation, Lora aims to do for Portland’s coffee scene what the city’s numerous beer tours have done for the local microbreweries: educate coffee lovers on premium roasting methods, introduce the city’s finest roasters, and contextualize Portland’s third wave coffee movement. On our tour, we will visit seven cafes, experience brewing demonstrations, enjoy a cupping, and meet owners of some of the city’s most influential roasters.
We begin on a brisk Saturday afternoon in downtown Portland. At our first stop, downtown’s Case Study Coffee, Lora briefly narrates the history of the third wave coffee movement. œThird wave coffee is to Starbucks what Starbucks was to Folgers, she explains as one of Case Study’s expert baristas demonstrates the pour over coffee brewing method. œThe whole movement is about helping coffee realize its fullest potential, Lora continues as we sip shots of coffee and shout out the flavor notes we taste.
We continue our tour, jumping on the streetcar from downtown and zipping into the trendy Pearl District. Lora has guided over 700 visitors throughout the Rose City, and she sprinkles the tour with quirky facts about its eclectic neighborhoods, drawing on her 13 years of experience as tourism volunteer with Travel Portland. Along the way, we meet creative coffee purveyors at BARISTA, quiz roasters at Nossa Familia, and sip fine frappes at uber-hip Courier Coffee.
It seems unlikely to complete such an ambitious tour without experiencing extreme jitters and other uncomfortable side effects of caffeine. But Lora has found the perfect formula: sample-sized portions of coffee at each stop and tasty bits from local bakeries along the way. œI want each visitor to get the best taste of Portland, she explains with a sincere smile. œIf this is the only tour someone takes when they visit, I want them to understand the significance of the city’s culture and what makes Portland the only city I would want to live in right now.
Lora guided her first coffee tour in 2013, and she’s been selling them out ever since. International media has taken note, and she has appeared on television in Australia, Japan, and the U.K. Despite all of the attention, Lora makes clear she is not an industry insider, just an enthusiastic aficionado with a passion for great coffee.
œA lot of people could do what I’m doing, she says, explaining how she left a successful career in tech to stay home with her daughter, and then started the business after surviving a difficult fight with cancer. œConsidering the many wine and beer tours, it seemed absurd that there wasn’t anyone focused on our amazing coffee scene. I started Third Wave because I love showing off Portland.
More than just a tasting tour, Third Wave Coffee Tours helps visitors discover Portland’s rich coffee culture, support local roasters and learn more about third wave coffee. œI really see myself as an ambassador for the city’s coffee scene, Lora says. œI believe Portland is the best coffee city in the world, and my passion is connecting people who are as excited about learning as the experts are about their craft.
Lora concludes our tour with a spicy pumpkin cappuccino from the Ole Latte coffee truck, perfect for the subtle chill of the evening. Her enthusiasm for Portland is contagious, and she’s successfully converted my friend, who over the course of the day has become an evangelist for the city’s craft coffee. While she describers herself as an ambassador, Lora builds more than just goodwill between consumers and the industry. Visitors leave her tour excited about Portland’s coffee, and that’s really what Third Wave Coffee Tours is all about.