Case Study Coffee Roasters, Portland OR

I AM NOT WORTHYYY. I AM NOT WORTHY. I am definitely not qualified to march my ass into the biggest coffee town in America and go about reviewing things. I read in a cute little book at our AirBnB that round about the time the grunge scene hit- Seattle leaped ahead of Portland on the map as the ‘big city’ of the Pacific Northwest, when the two had long been content to remain complimentary counterparts of the urban NW experience. Portland, indignant that Seattle had launched into mainstream stardom, decidedly advanced its hold on the coffee scene to compensate and thus Stumptown’s “he’s a barista’s barista” culture was born.

Who knows if any of it’s true, but the fact remains there are more options for coffee in this wild urban dystopia than one can take in as a visitor. I’m sure different spots serve different functions for locals over time- a spot to get that amazing cup, a pragmatic “it’ll do cuz it’s close” spot, and the place that has the best atmosphere, if not the purest beans from the most gilded fair trade hands half a world away.

Worthiness aside, today’s venture landed me at Case Study Coffee Roasters– Roasters- because it seems that to be taken seriously in this town, you have to be a roasting company as well. Case Study has a few locations in town and I ended up at the SW 10th ave location with rumbling streetcars and the toing and froing of a wonderfully wet, cool Portland afternoon.

The room, open concept, is large and wooden, decked with Edison bulbs and giant black trim windows. The artwork is sparse, I really only see one print hanging on the back wall, and the MVP Hydra Synesso machine gleams its silver grin as the centerpiece of the room. Two-tops line the walls and a counter wraps around the center island service station as the team’s easy cool hustle vibrates the room and visitors peek around hoping for an open table. The place is BUSY and has a great atmosphere for work- the bustle makes it easy to dive into a task, which it seems most people are here to do, though there are a couple of coffee dates; a hum of conversation in the back half of the room. Tourists having a breather from the patch of rain that just passed over, shoot in dousing umbrellas and stomping on the floor mat. Emo-light hipster rock bleats out of two large speakers at the back wall.

The clientele is eclectic. The few aforementioned tourists are flanked by what appear to a nice mix of – well everyone. Collegiates, 30-somethings reading books, a number of working professionals catching up on some Saturday overflow, a few older guests, and a stray smartly dressed European (who I swear is Fred Armisen fucking with me), of all shapes and colors, which I love, and of course, in true Portland fashion, Muttery over my left shoulder. He’s quieted down a little now. Maybe he reached the breakthrough of his oratorial dissertation and is mulling over which direction to go next. The sibilant whispers bouncing over my shoulder are distracting enough to draw me in slightly, yet quiet enough to keep me from wanting to strain to hard to hear- much less know what he’s digging into.

The coffee is of course- fantastic. Even at half-caff the espresso is delicate and refined: lightly floral and earthy, not overly rich, but balanced with a touch of nutty sweetness. I wouldn’t have known it was half-caff if you hadn’t told me. YOU_ yes you!

I didn’t intend for this to turn into a travelogue, and maybe it won’t always be. But I guess here we are four entries- five, in and lets see- how’s it going? Intentions for starting the blog: A. I wanted to. B. Seven years went by before I got around to doing it. C. Celebrate local coffee shops. D. Find a way of writing about my life that I feel comfortable sharing with the hopes of refining {my} writing. eghhh. “MY” writing. Feels so gross to say. Pinky up- swirling my cocktail. Feels so. Just. Ech. But there it is nonetheless.

Why is it so hard for me to think of myself as – or what I do as my work? Probably a judgment cycle falling right back into my lap. I really do think that the measure used gets measured back… I just don’t want to be pretentious. Even though I’m sure we all are at one point or another.

There’s resistance there that I know gets in the way. Self criticism. The enemy of all art? No = that’s mediocrity. Right? Self-criticism can’t be that great either. My sister-in-law did her thesis project on the ‘Inner-Critic’. It was an amazing paper to read and an even more brilliant design presentation (she has a graphic design Masters from SCAD).

Eh. I’m getting better at it. I suppose by 31 and with two degrees labeled “fine arts”, I might as well own it. But it’s really intriguing – the resistance or the lack of ability to call myself an artist or think of what I do as “my work”.

Grad school was really good for me in this regard. We had this thing – I say we because well- the concept was introduced and then the conversation just [Muttery gathers his change and approaches the counter – lets see what he orders!] kept coming back to it time and time again: acting is a working-class job.

I had been treating it like some holy priesthood that only the blessed and fortunate are allowed to be apart of and the reality of it is that it just isn’t. It makes sense why I got that- it’s so effing hard to be apart of! [nothing interesting- looks like just another hot cup of coffee] There IS great luck and fortune involved in having a job in the professional theatre. I guess I maybe just went awry when I made it an identity thing (CLASSIC). Anyway- thinking of it as a holy priesthood that I’d be lucky to be a part of meant that I had to be ‘special’ in some way in order to be accepted in it. That’s a lot of pressure: to prove that you’re special. What’s worse is that that need bled into my work. It became an overarching super objective that would ultimately sabotage any real acting that might have stood a chance. The scariest part is how latent it was/is..and how it can go undetected for so long. And even worse than that is that it can (and did) become an energy source – the fuel that fills the tanks in order TO work. Yikes. Unearthing this great insecurity was tantamount to a discovering a cancerous tumor for me. And I’m sure it’s seedy roots will continue to be dug up my whole life, growing new offshoots from time to time. Ugh. Insidious.

But now I know what it is.

I love that – I love how I approach education as an addition process of building when so much of it is about undoing and stripping away.

An image that gives me so much hope whenever I think about it is – what is it? – Michelangelo’s description of “freeing” the sculpture from the marble. It’s already there, just needs to be revealed rather than built.

Ugh! This coffee is so good I never wanted it to end. I took the tiniest sips at the end to make the experience last, each one a flavor bomb of toasty, honied perfection.

Well there it is. Another great find. Some bomb-ass coffee and a funny complicated afternoon in Portland. This town seems to bring out interesting things whenever I’m here.

It’s worth mentioning since I won’t do an entry for them that my favorite coffee in town on this visit was Coava Coffee Roasters. I made it to their original location twice (Southeast Grand) and their downtown location (SW Jefferson) once. Uh! Make that your first stop. Both spaces are unique and have a little attitude, but the service is kind and the coffee…just…woah. Plus if you need a new kitchen floor or skateboard, the original location features a woodshop in the same giant industrial space. That’s about as Portlandy as it gets.


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