You could live in Portland your entire life and never get to Sellwood, a charmingly isolated sub-village at the southernmost tip of Portland's residential daisy chain. It feels a bit like a sleepy college town, drawing equally from the campuses at nearby Reed College and Lewis & Clark College, and until recently the coffee scene in Sellwood was perfectly fine, sure, but maybe not worth making a special trip.
Enter Natasha Miks and Ro Tam, two North Portlanders who started venturing out to Sellwood on antiquing trips. They'd been looking at places in Northeast Portland to potentially open a cafe, until they discovered Sellwood's popular Love Cup was for sale. They fell in love with the space and took the opportunity to open something different in this sleepy neighborhood, with a pronounced focus on coffee quality and the city's best developing roasters.
Those roasters showcased when we visited Either / Or were Heart Coffee and Roseline Coffee. Heart's flagship cafe on Burnside is bursting at the seams with talent, from the roasting (perhaps America's most exhaustively methodical light profile roasting) to the baristas (regional champions, experienced travelers to origin, former Bay Area stalwarts, and local favorites) to the ownership (Wille Yli-Luoma, the 2nd place finisher at the 2013 World Aeropress Championship). They'll be opening their second branded cafe in downtown Portland in just a few short months.
Roseline is a newer operation, started by former competitor and longtime Portland barista Marty Lopes; since opening in October 2012 (profiled here first on Sprudge by Hanna Neuschwander) the coffees from Roseline have just gotten better and better, and were recognized as standouts by our guests at recent cuppings in Melbourne. Either / Or is one of the few coffee bars in Portland where you can drink Roseline – this city is full of micro-pico-roaster retailers, which means fewer and fewer polyroasters like Either / Or – but they've made great headway in a variety of restaurant settings around town, and we've been uniformly impressed by their offerings thus far.
You can try both of these roasters at Either / Or! In fact, you can team them up together in a delightful espresso flight, served on a custom wood tray with soda water, Heart espresso, Roseline espresso, and Cocanu Romulus Remus chocolate (a 68% dark chocolate with coffee nibs from Coava Coffee). At $6.50 this could easily be one of the most decadent, luxurious and least expensive “flights” in Portland. The espressos were pulled effortlessly by Ro from a La Marzocco Strada MP; the Roseline paired expertly with the chocolate, and Heart's Stereo Blend was perfection, so delicate, complex, sweet, and voluminous.
We would also strongly suggest to have the orgeat soda, made with macerated almonds, orange blossom water, lime, and soda water. This treat is refreshing, creamy, floral, and citrusy – kind of like a grown-up creamsicle (but in a soda form). You will have dreams about it afterwards.
Why is the shop called Either/Or? In part because of the multi-roaster format and the choices you're given, but also because Natasha and Ro were at a bar deciding on a name for their new cafe, flipping through their iPod. Elliott Smith's epochal 1997 album of the same title came up, written and recorded primarily in Portland. The rest is history. So far they've featured coffees from the aforementioned Heart and Roseline coffee roasters, as well as 49th Parallel and Sterling; Ro and Natasha hope to serve lots more from others soon. We can't wait.