Hello class, I’m Dr. Izsó – today we’re going to talk about Kahveology. First, does anyone know what Kahveology is? No one? That’s okay, I’ll provide you with a quick definition and then we’ll get rolling: Kahveology; noun, the art of making an espresso better than sex. Class dismissed.
Seriously, they’re that good, like possibly best-in-Portland good… but we’ll get to that.
The Single Origins: First a bit of background as usual. The space that is now Kahveology used to be Marsee’s Baking as recently as of January 2015. Marsee’s was a cute little bakery and sandwich place – served Stumptown (maybe Tully’s?) and had a delicious turkey club. You would typically walk by them as they were right next to Nectar; which serves the best froyo in PDX – so deal with it. From what I’ve gathered Marsee’s had been going downhill a bit and a spiffy new coffee shop decided to commandeer the location. The general consensus amongst Sellwood patrons has oscillated between “popular” and “this-fucking-sucks-I-loved-Marsee’s”. I personally was pretty happy. Being that I live five minutes from Sellwood and frequently went to Either/Or or Nectar (of the gods) it was high time in my eyes that Sellwood got another high quality coffee shop. Why? Because Blue Kangaroo is ho-hum, I’ve never been to Ugly Mug, and Kahveology stands a sporting chance of driving the Starbucks across the street out of business.
So anyway, this dude Justin starts up Kahveology as almost a quasi-sister company to Nossa Familia (a local roaster up in NW who roasts pretty damn dark by most Portland standards). Nossa used to do the roasting for them, but they recently tagged out for a shared roasting space owned by Mr. Green Beans (a great coffee supplier by the way) so they could officially have their own roasting profiles. Well as luck would have it this was a good move and, while they still clearly learned the art of the dark roast from the two brothers who run Nossa, Kahveology is producing way better espresso across the board than most folks in Portland.
The Gear: Nothing fancy here. A nifty little La Marzocco Linea (probably a PB but I didn’t ask), a Mazzer SJ and a Mini. Standard stuff really – though oddly enough those grinders are more home barista equipment in my eyes than commercial standards, but they work so no biggie.
The Beans: I hear tell they have a slick Ethiopia, but I can’t comment on that as they don’t seem to do it for espresso. The two espresso beans they offer as of late are the “Rise and Grind” and “Type II Fun”. Both are Brazilian and I would wager of an either orange or yellow bourbon varietal. I have yet to confirm this, but likely from rich volcanic soil and (like most championship caliber Brazilian beans) probably pulped natural processed. Hopefully we’ll have a podcast with the owner soon and get the straight dope, but until that time, just assume I’m right. Rise and Grind is notably lighter than the Type II; and the taste difference is huge.
The Nose: I’ll start with Rise and Grind because – full disclaimer – I think it was overall the weaker of the two beans… At least off the cuff, but they are a new operation and were very busy when I got the shot. Now, by “weaker” I mean it was tasty; simply less amazing than its delicious, sexy, and ultimately darker sister: Type II Fun. Part of that isn’t really Kahv’s fault because they have a lot of stiff competition around PDX in the light roast division. So on the one hand I’m going to be a harsher critic because coffee tasting in Portland will give you a lot of experience with the lighter beans. On the other hand, I like stuff that is genuinely unique (to the area at any rate) and as relative though it may be Kahveology’s originality and strength is found in the darker Type II.
Rise and Grind
The smell is sweet, mildly acidic, and fresh. If there is one thing that stands out in both shots it’s that you can pick up the days off roast pretty easily. Rise has some nice chocolate notes, but its definitely a darker chocolate – it almost has that sort of tartness you get from cacao nibs. If you dare get your nose right in the crema you can likely get a bit more citric smell. Sort of a weird combo of orange citrus and the mellow sugars of dragonfruit. Probably a pretty complex shot in it’s full glory – worth trying when they’re a little slower.
Type II Fun
This sneaky little bastard is such a dark horse in the nose department. A snoots worth is pleasant but underwhelming at first. Mild chocolate notes, a little bit of a cedar scent. Mild graham cracker sweetness with an almost dried fig or raisin like note toward the end of said snoot. It’s a great nose, there’s no denying that, but on the outset you might not think it all that unique.
The Mouth: Let me paint you a quick picture here. I’m on my way to Opa Pizzaria (some of the best calzone in P-Town by the way) and figure I have time for a cup of coffee at a new place. Now there’s been talk around my humble abode of going to this little coffee shop for like three weeks, but we haven’t done it because.. eh… how good can they be? I mean hell, it looks like I could get splinters from their recycled wood tables before I would get a good espresso. But what the hell, I had some spare time. I wander up to the good looking guy in a v-neck and order my espresso. I park my pudding as he tells me the shot is a little bright and he’ll pull me a new one.
Type II Fun
As I got this little shot I was confused; it looked like a Brazilian shot – like from Brazil. Lighter crema, maybe a tiny bit underextracted and somewhere above 32g of liquid and all in 25-26 seconds on my count. That style of shot pulling is rare in Portland, and the closest (high quality) relative you’re likely to find in the Pacific Northwest is probably in Seattle (Vivace Espresso comes to mind as the top-notch example).
I expected nothing… and the Holy Mother of coffee taught me the error of my ways.
The first sip was like hearing the voice of God… but in your mouth. God-shots are rare – every barista will tell you that (assuming such a thing even exists) – and somehow I got two. The texture was like drinking a melted chocolate truffle. Notes of warm butter, brown sugar, milk chocolate, and a graham cracker. In fact I swear they must have liquefied a chocolate graham cracker with some butter in the back and stuck it in without me knowing. My fiance, who genuinely hates espresso mind you, tried a sip and said she would drink several more if I ordered them. Seriously amazing shot.
Rise and Grind
So this is going to be a bit short because (1) we’re running out of time for the lecture, and (2) they were really busy when I got a few shots of this and, taking into account there newness, I want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. The time seemed great (I counted 25 seconds for the shot), crema looked nice, and – as noted above – it smelled wonderful. I don’t know what went down but the shot was a tad hot and a little acidic. Fruit notes to be sure; I would say I got this little bit of pineapple and lemon on the back end, and some minor notes of tamarind right off the sip. As noted though; they’re a little new and they had a lunch rush. I think everyone including their cook was a little backed up, so I’m not committed to this flavor profile. An update may be in order once they get into a groove with their lunch rush.
Class Dismissed: The takeaway here is that Kahveology is phenomenal. I mean seriously – I’m a heartless bastard when push comes to shove, but I personally went up to the barista to tell him he did a great job after the Type II shots. It’s almost comical how good it was. This is a tall order but I’m going to say it: these guys have the best espresso in Portland right now. Hell of a thing for me to write, but I stand by it and would surgically disembowel anyone who dared disagree with me. Note the “right now” though – beans have seasons, baristas change, and machines get dirty. We’ll see if they can maintain, but in the meantime go there and get a cup of liquid gold.