City 2 City Coffee

by Glenn on August 7, 2014

coffee should taste like
it comes from a certain place
don’t mask the flavor

the choice in roasting:
release inherent flavor
or burn and mask it

“dark-roasting” the beans
is a euphemism for
burning the coffee

These are some of my assumptions about coffee (in the form of haiku) that have been challenged over the last month. I will stand by these statements as they relate to certain ubiquitous coffee places that, in my opinion, tend to aggressively roast (burn!?) their coffee, rendering it (in my opinion) bitter and (in my opinion) undrinkable. (Technically, those coffee places don’t actually roast their own coffee locally, that is a function handled on the corporate level to take advantage of economies of scale. It is a rather opaque process. Where was this coffee roasted? And when? How long has it been sitting there in the store?)

The blessing and curse of the corporatization of everything is that you get consistency. That cappuccino you buy from the ubiquitous coffee house at PDX is going to taste like the one you buy in Waikiki and Washington, D.C. I can certify this statement based on my own experience. But ubiquity is no substitute for or guarantee of quality.

Living in Portland comes with an unspoken license to be a bit snobbish about coffee. At some point I will write about my favorite coffee houses here in town, including Stumptown, and Extracto, both of which specialize in roasting (locally) and neither of which roast very darkly. Their coffee is fantastic. But I digress.

Enter Victor from City2City Coffee.

Disclosure: Victor is a client. We’ve done some printing for him. But then we got to talking about coffee. And then we tried some of his coffee. Now we’re one of his clients on a weekly purchasing plan. (He lives and works just down the street from our print shop so he stops by every Monday with a couple of bags we are happy to buy.)

Victor says that for him, drinking American-style coffee (lighter roasting) is like drinking tea. He’s not sarcastic about it; he just prefers drinking a darker roast. But he doesn’t like bitter coffee, either, so none of that ubiquitous stuff for him.

Victor bought a coffee roaster and figured out a way to get a dark roast that tastes really good. The result is that the coffee still has that taste of having come from a certain place in the world (happily, he chooses beans with a chocolatey, buttery quality) but without any bitterness or acridity. Victor is positively obsessed with keeping his coffee as low as possible on the acidity scale.

He also has created a coffee blend that utilizes a technique so simple and obvious once it’s pointed out but remains unique (as far as he and I know) to him. It creates a really interesting sensation for the taste buds. I am sworn to secrecy. He figures someone else either has tried this or will have to catch on sooner or later. There are plenty of hints on his website for what he is doing, but it’s definitely not my secret to tell.

A photo of a one pound bag of coffee roasted by City2City Coffee in Portland. The coffee is a Brazil Saquarema.

A one pound bag of Brazil Saquarema roasted by City2City Coffee in Portland, Oregon.

What I like is that Victor’s number one concern is creating great coffee. This is not easy. Good beans are hard to come by, ergo they are expensive. (The coffee leaf rust fungus outbreak isn’t helping.) And roasting seems like it’s both art and science.

I’ve challenged Victor with my assumption that a dark roast makes coffee bitter. So we’ve looked at his beans under a lupe. I have seen up close how what he is doing separates his roasted beans from others as he describes the difference between a bitter dark-roasted bean (from unnamed and omnipresent coffee stores) and his own. (He can tell you where that other roaster has gone wrong. They are doing what every good business does: getting costs down, in this case by shortening roasting times and roasting more beans at one time. But while doing things more cheaply is an important business principle, it’s not usually a guarantor of quality, especially in this case.)

The ultimate test, though, is taste. For the last month we have been drinking Victor’s City 2 City Coffee here at home. If we were running low, I would still purchase coffee from other local roasters, but I have grown to love his darker, full-bodied flavor so much that we’ve upped our weekly purchasing amount so there is no danger that we will run out!

Victor has me rethinking my assumptions about great coffee. The best thing is that his premium coffee does not come with a premium price.  He is more than competitive. In fact, one of the things that made me a little nervous about trying his coffee was how little he was charging. I thought, “This coffee can’t be that good if it’s, you know, half the cost of –––––––––.” So there’s another assumption he is challenging: great coffee comes with an exorbitant price. Not in this case.

Update: 10 June 2020
I am sad to report that City2City Coffee is no longer in business. (And we no longer own a print shop.) Victor roasted great coffee and I will miss purchasing his coffee.