Photo First: Coffeehouse Culture

K.B. Dixon explores coffee-obsessive Portland's "third spaces" between work and home, where ideas matter, and so does the brew

According to German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, it was in the European coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th centuries that the foundations of the Enlightenment were laid. In providing a new sort of social space, one that was neither wholly public nor wholly private—a “third space”—they offered “a pathway from clan society to cosmopolitan society,” a place where the free exchange of ideas could thrive, where perspectives were broadened, where liberal attitudes were adopted, where reason could challenge the authority of both church and state.

The American coffeehouse of today is the distant cousin of this continental café-culture ideal—a “third space” neither wholly public nor wholly private where the concerns are as different as they are the same, where the free exchange of ideas must compete for time with the free expression of personal feelings, where perspectives are validated as often as broadened, where the attitudes adopted are as much a question of style as of substance, where reason can challenge the new sources of authority that have begun to chafe—Google, Apple, and Amazon.


Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon


The city of Portland has a special place in this American coffeehouse culture. If you believe USA Today (and why wouldn’t you), it is one of the 10 best cities for coffee in the world, not just in America. It’s right there with Vienna, Havana, and Sao Paulo. If you believe Willamette Week, “a good cup of coffee means more here than in any other city in the U.S.” Whatever else Portland may be, it is certainly a city with a coffee consciousness (or “hyper-consciousness” if you are inclined to trust your social media feed). Offering an unusually broad spectrum of coffeehouses—everything from glass-and-steel extravaganzas to humble huts; from See See Coffee and Motorcycles to the Egyptian Tov to the socially conscious Revolución—it has come a long way from the beatnik-and-bongos era when you couldn’t toss a demitasse without hitting an existentialist.

The coffeehouse of today is a place where people who spend large amounts of their time in the 2D world of computer screens come for a little 3D relief (free WiFi notwithstanding). Each has its own mood, its own subliminal scent. Each evokes a unique autonomic response. (Even Starbucks have moods—though one suspects they have been algorithmically designed.) It is a place for civilized citizens to gather and complain about the price of the new iPhone, to effuse ad nauseam about the latest Stephen King novel, to plot the overthrow of Uber, to dissect the various music reviews they have read here in Oregon ArtsWatch. It is one of the few places outside of school where ideas (whatever their size) can matter—a place where one can always feel smarter, better, bigger, more interesting than they do at home.

 


 

Case Study Coffee Roasters

Farm-to-shop specialty coffee.

 


 

Caffe Umbria

Italian-style espresso and coffee.

 


 

Coava Coffee

Northwest coffee roaster “notoriously fueled by good folks and Led Zeppelin.”

 


 

Fehrenbacher Hof (known as ‘The Hof’)

Owned by the Clark Family. Named after Sigrid Fehrenbacher, wife of former Mayor Bud Clark.

 


 

Tov Coffee & Tea

Housed in a red double-decker bus. Egyptian coffee. The owner, Joseph Nazir, is a consummate craftsman—he looks at a cup of coffee as a work of art.

 


 

Dragonfly Coffee House

Warm, congenial; with apple cake, date bars, and an unobtrusive touch of whimsy.

 


 

Rocking Frog Café

Board games, eclectic library, coffee, and fried-to-order donuts.

 


 

Anna Bannanas

The oldest coffeehouse in Northwest Portland. Its basement is a hipster’s haven.

 


 

Pied Cow Coffeehouse

A step back in time.

 


 

Revolución Coffee House

Socially conscious; committed to the coffee and culture of Mexico and Central America.

 


 

See See Coffee & Motorcycles

Like the jackalope, a quirky mash-up—part coffeehouse, part motocross clubhouse. Inside, below: cappuccino and cubic centimeters.

 


 

Bison Coffeehouse

An homage to owner Loretta Guzman ‘s Native American heritage.

 


 

Where to find them:

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