The Rialta Coffee Tour: Living Simply, Drinking Coffee (Part 5)

RCTPHOTO54

Editor’s note: Don Niemyer and his wife, Carissa, operated Speedboat Coffee in Portland, Ore., until not too long ago when he and his family decided to make a big change: not only were they relocating to Fort Collins, Colorado, but they were going to take their sweet time doing it. Don, his wife, and their two daughters ages 7 and 8, decided to leave Portland in their Volkswagon Rialta RV to travel around the country visiting cafes. My old pal Chrissy Hoag, who had gotten to know Don when she was in wholesale at Stumptown Coffee, put me and Don in touch originally, and we’ve been chatting about Don writing a column for the Barista Magazine Blog for a while. We got serious about it in May when he emailed saying he was ready to get rolling with it. He wrote, “Over the past year, we actually DID move into an RV just to be prepared for the trip, but haven’t gotten around to leaving town yet. We decided to go ahead and do a portion of our trip starting in June, and do the rest whenever the shop sells. In the meantime, if you happen to have an idea of how this type of trip could be used to create a story for BMAG I’d love to talk about it. I’ve been thinking of collecting “best practices” or maybe doing a “state of the nation” kind of approach or maybe coming at it from the standpoint of highlighting some lesser known folks who are out there doing great work, which might be encouraging to readers… I’ve been blogging a little to kind of experiment with finding an approach at two sites, if you care to check them out: www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com,www.pdxcoffeeconsultants.wordpress.com.”

So I told Don to go for it—this is exactly the kind of story we love featuring at Barista Magazine: real stories from the field about people who love coffee so much they want to explore it in an entirely unique way.

Here is the fifth installment of Don’s column, The Rialta Coffee Tour. Don will be exploring different themes as he continues to write for us, so check back often to see what he and his family have been up to on this most killer cafe tour of the United States!

(Pssst! You can read Part 1 of the column HERE, Part 2 of the column HERE, Part 3 of the column HERE, and Part 4 HERE!)

ALL ABOUT LOCATIONS
By Don Niemyer

“It’s got to be here….we’re right where he said to go! It’s just GOT to be here!” As frustration mounted—after all, we were driving an RV around in the heart of Los Angeles—we began to wonder whether we would ever find our goal for this morning’s visit. Our buddy Matt Brown, of Coava Coffee in Portland, Ore., had mentioned a little shop called Commissary Coffee in L.A., and we were determined to find it so we could add it to our list of stops. Problem was, we’d been driving around looking for a coffee shop and there didn’t seem to be one here. But hey, don’t blame it on Commissary. When we finally did track it down, we realized that they had certainly done their part. In massive capital letters, lit up with huge bulbs and stretching a good 20 feet across was their name: COMMISSARY COFFEE. Problem was, it wasn’t a “shop” in the sense of what we were looking for. It was—literally—a hole in the wall.

Step up to the window, right on the sidewalk, and make your coffee wishes known.

Step up to the window, right on the sidewalk, and make your coffee wishes known.

I found a place to park along the street and rushed over to check it out. There were two windows—one for ordering and one for picking up—and a lovely barista inside sweetly offering to make the drink of my choice. As I peeked inside I discovered a gorgeous, well designed, spacious interior that would be envy of many shops. The catch? I couldn’t go in there! She explained that the building was an art collective (of some sort—I’m still not sure I understood what goes on in there) that had installed a coffee bar in their foyer for clients and employees. But the coffee was so great they wanted to share it with the rest of the city. Next thing ya know, they got a hole in that wall and passers-by are ordering drinks right there on the sidewalk. Beautiful. 

Coffee Commisary in L.A., where all service happens through these two windows.

Coffee Commissary in L.A., where all service happens through these two windows.

As we’ve traveled the nation in our 21 foot Volkswagen Rialta RV, we’ve been looking first and foremost for great coffee. We’ve been trying to identify innovators and pioneers who are creating new ways to make coffee better and more accessible along the way. And one of the things that has gotten our attention is that people are finding a variety of interesting ways to deliver the goods. From busting holes in walls to taking over bars during the morning hours to setting up shop in flea markets, here are just a few of the folks that have gotten creative about where to plant themselves, and are bringing great coffee to the masses in the process.

Water Avenue is one of Portland’s finest shops, and recently started experimenting with this pop-up style kiosk. Located in a bar, this coffee cart comes rolling out in the mornings, converting the space into a coffee shop.  Beautiful as this space is, the Water Ave. folks say they're planning to relocate to another spot soon to increase traffic.

Water Avenue is one of Portland’s finest shops, and recently started experimenting with this pop-up style kiosk. Located in a bar, this coffee cart comes rolling out in the mornings, converting the space into a coffee shop. Beautiful as this space is, the Water Ave. folks say they’re planning to relocate to another spot soon to increase traffic.

G&B Coffee in Los Angeles features some of the area's finest baristas. But the space? Well, this one's in a flea market! It’s low on frills but high on accessibility.

G&B Coffee in Los Angeles features some of the area’s finest baristas. But the space? Well, this one’s in a flea market! It’s low on frills but high on accessibility.

Single Origin in Los Angeles has set up a very respectable coffee joint in a farmer’s market booth.  With excellent coffees, impressive hospitality, and one of the most beautiful espresso presentations we’ve seen, it is worth the hunt, even if it takes some doing to track them down.

Single Origin in Los Angeles has set up a very respectable coffee joint in a farmer’s market booth. With excellent coffees, impressive hospitality, and one of the most beautiful espresso presentations we’ve seen, it is worth the hunt, even if it takes some doing to track them down.

Sterling Coffee Roasters operated for several years in a kiosk outside a grocery store in Portland. But eventually they moved around the corner to a tiny (and I mean TINY) bar which they converted into a coffee operation in the mornings.Even with limited space, Sterling offers one of Portland’s most elegant coffee experiences.

Sterling Coffee Roasters operated for several years in a kiosk outside a grocery store in Portland. But eventually they moved around the corner to a tiny (and I mean TINY) bar which they converted into a coffee operation in the mornings.Even with limited space, Sterling offers one of Portland’s most elegant coffee experiences.

Front Coffee in San Francisco was installed in the loading dock of an eclectic little studio. The studio does stuff like film work and robotics, so when that tinkering expanded towards the culinary, it was just a matter of time before the neighborhood was blessed with a new coffee operation, right in the “front” of the place.

Front Coffee in San Francisco was installed in the loading dock of an eclectic little studio. The studio does stuff like film work and robotics, so when that tinkering expanded towards the culinary, it was just a matter of time before the neighborhood was blessed with a new coffee operation, right in the “front” of the place. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! We didn’t even touch on the trucks and kiosks and carts that are becoming more and more pervasive wherever would-be coffee drinkers are found. Have you got any interesting setups to share? We sure wish you’d let us know about ‘em! Drop me a comment at www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com. We’ll put ‘em on the agenda for the next time the RIALTA COFFEE TOUR rolls through your area. And as always, thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

baristamagazine

Barista Magazine is the leading trade magazine in the world for the professional coffee community.