Our intern, Joanna Han, recently had a chance to check out the brand new Case Study Coffee location in downtown Portland. Here’s her exclusive take on the shop.
Portland’s own Case Study Coffee quietly soft-opened its second shop earlier this month in downtown Portland, directly across the street from the city’s Central Library. Housed in the space once occupied by Finnegan’s Toys, it sits charmingly on the corner where the streetcar and MAX lines meet.
Inside, it’s bright and busy, and the place smells wonderfully of clean, new wood. Baristas pull shots of espresso from a white La Marzocco Strada MP, which, upon closer examination, has been modified to shimmer with an iridescent glittery green hue. Husband-and-wife owners Wes Russell and Christine Herman explain, laughing, that the color was the result of a mix-up. They’ll keep it for the holidays since it’s appropriately festive, but the machine will be repainted after the holidays, they assure me.
Their coffees are roasted in-house on a small and attractive black and gold Probat roaster on a platform in the corner. By the cup options include a Fetco batch brewer and press pot, depending on the barista’s whim. Customers can also select from Chemex, Aeropress, Beehouse, Clever dripper, or vac pot for additional brew methods. Bagels from Bowery Bagels are served, along with pastries from Nuvrei and the excellent Bakeshop, while gluten-free and vegan options are available from Petunia’s. While some may call such a large selection of pastry vendors and brew methods unrefined and excessive, the owners seem to feel otherwise. As a coffee shop, they seek to be inclusive of all kinds of people of every demographic, so they maintain a menu that caters to everyone — they won’t be shelving the soy milk here anytime soon. It’s with this philosophy in mind that they offer a dark roast version of their coffee in addition to a light (though both are really shades of medium, Ms. Herman clarifies), and the shop also features several signature drinks with syrups and sauces made in-house and from scratch.
I would never dream of ordering a flavored espresso beverage, admittedly more out of pride than any real aversion to flavored drinks; black coffee is my coffee drink of choice, and sometimes I enjoy cappuccinos and espresso. But when the owners offered me a hazelnut latte made with their newly-perfected syrup, I enthusiastically accepted — and happily drank the entire giant sixteen-ounce cup. It tasted simply like hazelnuts, milk, espresso, and nothing more, and was completely delicious. Case Study also makes a bourbon caramel sauce, the creation of barista and co-manager Ricky Sutton, as well as a regular and sugar-free vanilla bean syrup, a chocolate sauce, and a peppermint syrup, which is simply peppermint oil made from organic mint from an Oregon farm.
Much of the aesthetic inspiration for Case Study comes from the couple’s collective interest in architecture; Mr. Russell studied it, and Ms. Herman is the daughter of an architect and grew up in a mid-century house that’s very dear to her. The influence is evident: wood, specifically fir, is everywhere, including the floors, walls, pillars, and shelves. But it doesn’t at all reflect that woodsy American pseudo-heritage look that’s popular now; the style leans more to the side of academic than cabinlike. The name Case Study Coffee derives from the Case Study Houses of Arts & Architecture magazine in the 1950s, the owners explain. Between 1945 and 1966, major architects, from Eames to Neutra, were commissioned by the magazine to design and build cost-effective model homes. Using this as inspiration, they wanted their shop to be a case study of a coffeehouse, and they’ve now expanded that model to become a “case study of a coffee roaster,” Mr. Russell told me.
Although the new location serves Case Study coffee exclusively, the original shop on NE Sandy Boulevard will continue to feature Stumptown Coffee as a guest roaster. Stumptown is a part of their history, Ms. Herman says, and has always been very support of them. Case Study is also still a part of Coffee Roasters United, a group of small Portland roasters including Sterling Coffee Roasters and The Red E that “roast working together to deliver unique, exclusive coffee at competitive prices.” Coffee Roasters United members believe that this model affords them stronger buying power in Portland’s competitive microroaster market.
The grand opening for the new Case Study Coffee shop was Monday, December 3. The shop is still a work in progress — the roaster is not yet set up, the faded red awnings are yet to be replaced, and plans to serve beer, wine, and desserts are still in the works. Specialty coffee shops have been popping up all over downtown Portland in recent years, but the owners of Case Study Coffee see their neighbors as friends, not competition. As Mr. Russell points out, they’re still grossly outnumbered by the dozens of Starbucks in the area, and believes this sudden “over-saturation” of smaller quality shops should be seen as a good thing for the Downtown Portland coffee enthusiast.
Case Study Coffee is located at 801 SW 10th Ave. Current hours are 7am – 11pm.