Fehrenbacher Hof

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.

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