Portland’s Premiere Cafés
When I stopped smoking nearly 15 years ago, that inimitable pairing of morning coffee and cigarettes became history. My routine was further amended by needing only one perfect cup of coffee in the morning as though without other incentives. But lately I’ve rediscovered the joys of an afternoon coffee break and have been frequenting Portland’s many cafes where the art of coffee making is in fine form.
That universe of coffee retailers like Starbucks, though, have been uninteresting to me and I’ve remained blissfully ignorant of all those convoluted coffee concoctions like flavored macchiatos, frappucinos and cappuccinos sold at the big chain coffee emporiums.
Following their footsteps has been the small European style cafés that have their own line of coffee roasts that they serve in their cafés or sell retail. It may be an ever evolving list, but the current lineup in Portland is impressive.
Arabica on Free Street has enjoyed a long run as a favorite amongst Portland’s café cognoscenti. Its vintage space offers an alluring setting for some serious sipping. Implicit, too, is the availability of free Wi-Fi. I’ve never understood doing one’s computer business in public places however.
Arabica’s coffee is roasted in house and comes out surprisingly well brewed in an industrial size Bunn coffee maker. Their Sumatra is particularly successful and displays a seriously syrupy, nutty, winey taste. They offer the usual menu of coffee drinks and a full range of beans and roasts. Bagels, breakfast foods and pastries are available too, including excellent chocolate chip cookies.
Bard Coffee on Middle Street in the heart of the Old Port business district across the street from Starbucks has a steady patronage of regulars. The coffee counter is generally filled with drinkers clacking away on their laptops, and there’s a variety of seating at tables and a lounge in the back with a comfy, soft sofa and coffee table with magazines and newspapers.
Each cup of coffee is individually brewed through linen lined cones that allow the coffee to drip directly into the cup. French press coffee is available, too.
Bard is a coffee roaster as well and their roasts are available for purchase in bulk. They also offer light lunch options like soups from Kamasouptra and plenty of pastries and sweet snacks.
Nearby on Exchange Street, Mornings in Paris is owned and operated by the charming Frenchwoman, Isabelle Julien. The coffee is roasted in house and it’s excellent.
This is the closest any coffee establishment in Portland comes to resembling an old-fashioned European café. It’s not unusual to hear French being spoken and even though the shop offers free Wi-Fi, you’re more apt to see someone reading a book or tome of poetry than contemplating a computer screen.
One of my favorite brews there is the Brazilian Sweet Yellow which is a light roast that’s fragrant, sweet and not acidic. There’s a full selection of pastries, some of which are made in-house but most are from outside suppliers. For a quick lunch there’s quiche and meat pies available.
Yordprom Coffee Company at 722 Congress Street is not one of those typical Old Port shops. It’s along a busy section of Congress Street that has more gas stations and convenience stores than stylish retailers.
The owner is Tom Yordprom who was the chef of the former Siam, the highly regarded Thai restaurant that closed several years ago at its Fore and Pearl streets location. Besides his excellent coffee, espresso and teas, you can still enjoy Yordprom’s Thai dishes like assertive curries, pad Thai and wonton soup. He also has breakfast specialties like a killer egg sandwich.
Opening next month at 567 Congress St is Matt’s Coffee, an organic wood-roasted purveyor out of Waterville. The shop will be just doors away from Portland mainstay Coffee By Design, but in this world of serious coffee consumption, there’s always room for another great cup of coffee.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org