All Articles
All Articles

Water Avenue Coffee

Southeast Portland's micro roaster and bean-to-beer experimenter

by Karen Day
on 14 March 2012
wac-coffee1.jpg wac-coffee2.jpg

Portland has developed quite a name for itself over the years as a hub for coffee innovation. Whether it boils down to exotic beans, an experienced roaster, the espresso machine or the whole package, each boutique that opens up has a fresh spin on coffee that goes beyond gimmicks and instead delves into absolute coffee nerdery. One of the more recent shops to open up in Portland's Southeast Industrial area is Water Avenue Coffee (WAC), a casual cafe serving up brews at its 50-foot long bar built from century-old reclaimed fir.

WAC is the brainchild of Barista Exchange founder Matt Milletto and former Stumptown roaster Brandon Smyth. Using their respective knowledge, the duo has created a coffee roasting plant and full-service bar that's as experimental as it is straightforward. After tasting WAC for ourselves, we checked in with Smyth to learn more about what makes this Portland outpost so unique. You can also snag a bag online or at their shop.

What kind of roaster do you use at WAC?

I roast on a slightly modified 1974 SASA Samiac 20-kilo coffee roaster built in France. What makes these machines unique and sought after is they were handmade at the time, and customized for the purchaser. The one at Water Avenue was constructed for a lefty who evidently loved fire engine red. They also sport dedicated motors for the cooling tray, tray agitator and exhaust. So, with the addition of a Variable Frequency Drive to the exhaust motor, the roaster can have complete control over the airflow during the roast. This is a huge advantage for a micro-roaster like us with delicate and unusual coffee cultivars with vastly different flavor profiles and seed density. Changing the airspeed during certain times while roasting can bring out sweetness, acidity, or produce a super clean cup. For espresso roasts I can slow down the airspeed, creating a very sweet, balanced roasts perfect for shots, or speed it up to bring out the lemongrass notes in an Ethiopian single origin. We are stoked to have this 1,700-lb Frenchman as a part of our daily operation.

From where do you source your beans?

The beans are sourced through a nearby importer or, ideally, directly from the farmer. I'm heading to El Salvador in a couple of weeks to purchase some coffee for next year from some amazing farms: Finca Manzano, run by Emilio López Díaz, champions experimentation with production to create coffee that gets better with every crop, and Fincas de la Familia Menendez that grows the insanely delicious Pacamara hybrid varietal on the upper slopes of their Las Delicias farm. That Pacamara has consistently been my favorite coffee since I first sampled it, and we are really excited to bring in WAC's own lot for 2012.

WAC is also sporting new, custom Tyvek bags that are 100% paper, compostable, tear-proof, watertight, reusable, and most importantly, white. We are dorking out over them and they are inspiring excitement with our design and engineering regulars.

You're brewing a Northwest Pale Ale from coffee beans?

We have had a lot of success with our Oak Barrel Aged Sumatra experiments, and are planning on expanding our R&D super lab to tackle some other uncharted territory—like how to brew a real coffee beer. Not a Porter or Stout, but a bright, clean, Northwest Pale Ale. We are currently in the development phase, and enjoying the process immensely.

What does this process involve? What are some of the challenges it brings when compared to brewing coffee?

This process involves a huge amount of experimentation to get right. Right now we have been focusing on the synergism of a lighter roasted coffee with the bitterness of a pale ale. To date, this hasn't worked well, but we are experimenting with roast levels and the timing of introducing the coffee into the mix. The biggest hurdle to overcome is how to find a coffee varietal at a specific roast level that will not overtake or compete with the flavors already present in the ale. We want the acidity and floral notes in the coffee to shine without becoming too astringent or not complimenting the already flowery nature of the hops.

It has been a real fun experiment thus far, but we haven't had many batches come out worth celebrating over. It will take a while to get this right, and perhaps it is a doomed venture, but it is something that when perfected Portland will embrace wholeheartedly. This city loves exciting, daring flavors, and its three loves—children, coffee and beer.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things
Loading More...