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Barista

December 28, 2011

Billy Wilson has been around awhile.  As the Portland coffee scene has evolved it seems as though he’s been right in the thick of it:  Working at many of the great coffee houses in town;  competing (and frequently winning) in barista competitions;  contributing to some of the fine national coffee publications produced in Portland.  So when he finally opened his own shop in the Pearl District, it was no surprise that he broke a little ground.  I’m not saying he was the first one to do it, but he certainly was among the first to offer a variety of roasters in one cafe’.  Offering the vacuum pot

Vacuum Pot at Barista

for brewed coffee is pretty unique.  And another distinctive was that he chose to put his magnificent coffee operation in a tiny space with minimal cafe’ accoutrements, in the entryway to an office building.  Not that that had never been done, but it is rarely done by a guy who can do what Billy can with the finely ground bean.

So just what can Billy do?  For starters, he and his rock-star staff are world class, every one of them.  But the thing that is most impressive to me is the consistency.  I’ve been to his cafe’s (he opened another location in 2010) many times and have always gotten an amazing drink, with great customer service.  Making a great drink is one thing.  Doing it every time is quite another.  

On today’s visit Barista was offering a Guatemala single origin espresso from both

Two Machiattos and and Italiano. Yes, that is the floor. They were so busy there were no tables!

Stumptown and Coava.  Being a sucker for a side-by-side comparison I ordered a machiatto of each.  Carissa being a sucker for an Italiano ordered one using the Coava.  We serve the Guatemala Injerto Bourbon as SOE currently in our cafe’, so we had some perspective on that one, and both agreed the profile was recognizable but had an additional zing I wasn’t used to.  I’m guessing pre-extraction using the paddled groupheads had something to do with that.  The Coava was a little deeper, with fewer of the fruity notes and was more balanced, like you would expect with a blend.  I enjoyed the Coava one a little more but as they cooled, the experience reversed somewhat and the profile of the Stumptown opened up more, making it the more enjoyable one. Meanwhile the Italiano was perfect,  and Carissa insists an 8 oz americano is far too much water, and much prefers 5 or 6 ounces.

As always, the drinks were amazing and the staff was fabulous.  Did I mention they were completely slammed AND that one of the Stumptown technicians (Andrew, who did the installation at our first cafe’) was actually working on one of the group heads of their La Marzocco Strada while they made drinks on the others?  We did catch one of the girls in a polite exchange with a high-maintenance and somewhat whiny customer chatting her up about how long it was taking to make a vacuum pot (“Well, that’s one of the reasons it’s $9” she offered politely).  But this same girl ended up pouring the first machiatto and nailed it.  Confidence amidst chaos.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Billy Wilson directs drink preparation while a tech works on one of the group heads

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One Comment
  1. Love your site

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