(Before reading the following sentence, please cue up your best British accent.)
I believe that I have stumbled upon, quite possibly, the finest latté I have ever had the privilege to drink.
Now, all that being said, I do not consider myself a coffee connoisseur per se but I do drink coffee…often…and I know what I like and what I like is the latté they create for me at Spella Caffé. I use the word “create” on purpose because the manner in which the baristas at Spella Caffé hand-pull their espresso shots is, quite honestly, an art form.
Wander down to SW 9th and Alder, Monday through Friday, 9a – 4p, and there on the corner, with the Italian flag proudly flying, is where you will find these creations being made. Most days you will be greeted by baristas, Chris Ryan and Tristan Roff, who clearly love what they do. I remarked to them that I have been enjoying their creations for quite some time now and I have yet to experience the bitter aftertaste that so often accompanies even the “best” espressos around. Chris explained to me that the Italian Rancilio machine they use is a manual, hand-pulled machine which makes the whole process of pulling shots a much more organic experience and allows for more control as opposed to a push-button machine. The timing is all in his head. He further explained that Spella Caffé owner, Andrea Spella, uses farm-direct Brazilian beans which he roasts right here in Portland. This past fall, always on the hunt for the best beans, he reaped his latest harvest from a place described as “Large Plateau of Iron” located between two extinct volcanoes. Talk about knowing exactly what you like…exactly what you want.
You can get your coffee to go and be on your merry way but what I recommend is to take some time for yourself. A longer lunch hour. A mental health day. Whatever. Enjoy this work of art from a real cup. Sit at one of their little outdoor tables and watch the colorful people that make up this fine city walk by. Glance over at the aspiring chefs on their break from “Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.” Have a conversation with the woman who is just sure that the jewelry store where she dropped off a ring to be repaired has closed its doors, taking her ring with it and if she finds out that this is in fact true, she is going to be “suing his ass.” Once you have swallowed the last drop of your creamy, perfectly balanced latté (or the coffee drink of your choice), you’ll have just enough time to stroll a couple blocks over to Powell’s Books where you can become lost in the aisles of knowledge before returning to the schedule of your day…refreshed. (For those of you not from Portland, I am just sure that Powell’s Books is on your list of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” so when you do indeed come here to go to Powell’s…now, you’ll know where to get your coffee.)
Should you arrive at SW 9th & Alder on a day when the rain resembles a car wash, drive just a little further to SW 5th & Alder (520 SW Fifth Ave) where Spella Caffé has a tiny little indoor outpost and you can watch your creation being made…safe from the elements.
As I handed my empty coffee cup back to Chris and Tristan and reluctantly gave up my spot at the café table, Chris let me know that Spella Caffé is now serving up its works of art at Alma Chocolate on NE 28th Ave. & Davis, right off of Burnside. “Have you been there?” “Why no, I have not?” He went on to list off the accolades and praises being given to Alma Chocolate. “Enough said. I’m sold.” Darn it all, I’m just going to have to go try out Alma Chocolate. Chocolate and coffee. What could be better? Anyone want to come with me?
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010