Four hours in downtown Portland

Today I had to do something I promised I will never do.

During the last couple of years I frequently had to travel and, by the end of 2012, I reached the "Gold frequent flier" status with United Airlines. With the status comes a lot of little perks: shorter lines at the airport check-in, upgrades to economy plus, upgrades to first or business class, access to the lounges on international flights, etc.   In order to keep this status one must keep a minimum number of miles per year, otherwise by the end of the year you go back to reality.

It’s amazing how fast one can get used to good things. This year when I found myself short 1,000 miles to retain the status, I panicked. I didn’t want to lose it. What was the solution? Taking a one day trip to anywhere that was cheap and could give me the necessary miles. I finally became one of these obsessed frequent fliers that do whatever it takes to collect miles: last minute flights, unnecessary connections, getting the airline’s credit card, etc.

So, today I woke-up at 3:40AM to go to the airport and take a flight to Portland, OR. Why Portland? 1,200 miles round trip is the answer.  I faced one important decision: what should I do once I landed: stay at the airport and sleep or work in one bench or try to find a couple of good cafes in downtown Portland and write about it. Obviously the later was more appealing.

Doing some research I found that Voodoo Doughnut is a famous place in downtown(22 SW 3rd Avenue.) This became my first stop. One of their most famous donuts has bacon on it, not very appealing to me. I got one of the house specialties, but I didn't buy my coffee there.
Please don't eat me!

If a place is a good sandwich place buy sandwiches in there; if a place is a good pizza place buy pizza in there; but whatever you do, not buy sandwiches at the pizza place. Same goes for Cafés.  Don’t buy a coffee in a “Café” that makes sandwiches or soups. Most likely you will be disappointed. Coffee should be bought at places that…well specialize in coffee.

I took my doughnut with me and went to “Barista” a 5 minutes’ walk on the same street(529 SW 3rd Ave Unit 110.)  There I had for breakfast the exact combination I wanted.
Overall these are the pros and cons from this place:


  • Baristas are good and the place is nice and clean with a big window to watch people pass by on 3rd street. 
  • This was probably my fault since I was not specific enough, but they gave me my coffee on a paper cup
  • I ordered a double shot latte but overall it felt very mild. I talked to the barista and he indicated they used Coava Coffee on my espresso, locally roasted in Portland, OR
  • They don’t have power outlets to connect your laptop and I couldn’t find their wifi, which is a shame since I wanted to stay longer to do some work.
  • Indoor seating is limited to a bar and stools which is also bad if you are planning to do some work.
  • They do not have restrooms
  • With all of the above, it seems that they don’t want you to stay for long. This is similar to what one might expect on a café on Italy, but I believe in the US, where espressos are not the norm, people tend to stay longer at a café.

The weather this time of the year (late December) in Portland seems perfect for coffee: rainy, cloudy and cold. It makes you want to have a warm cup in your hands while you contemplate the River Willamette.

After some sightseeing in the rain I made my second stop: Stumptown coffee.

A lot more industrial looking than Barista, with more indoor seating, tattooed baristas and LP records playing on the background. Definitively a must if you want to sit down and relax.

  • Good baristas, Wifi, power outlets and plenty of indoor tables
  • I slightly like the coffee more than at Baristas. I felt it slightly stronger.
  • They have restrooms
  • Not that I can think about

Although I only went to two places on this trip, it seems that Portland has many options in terms of roasting companies and cafes. I definitively would love to have more time to explore more on another trip. If I had to decide to which one of the two places I visited this time I would return, I would have to say Stumptown. The overall ambiance of the place is what I enjoy when I go out for coffee. Sometimes, laziness or comfort prevent us from doing what we like. If life gives you the opportunity to do something you love (to travel and drink coffee in my case) don't think it twice and take the opportunity!