Understanding Coffee Culture with Portland’s Third Wave Coffee Tours

Portland is known as beer city but as I recently found, stealing Milwaukee’s nickname of Brew City would be more fitting. Along with having more craft breweries than any other city in the USA, Portland loves a good cup of Joe. Along with Anchorage and Seattle, Portland makes up a large chunk of coffee consumers in America. On top of that, and much to the disdain of Seattleites, Travel+Leisure has named Portland as the number one coffee city in the USA for the last two years running. Why? Portland is at the forefront of the third wave coffee movement. To understand what this means exactly I enlisted the help of Lora Woodruff, owner/operator of the fittingly titled Third Wave Coffee Tours.

What is the Third Wave of Coffee?

Huddled around two tables pressed together at the Red e Café, Lora kicked off our Pearl District Specialty Coffee Tour over macchiatos. She explained that the first wave of coffee was when the beverage became accessible to the masses. Think Mr. Coffee machines, vacuum packaging, and instant coffee. This was exclusively drip coffee and remained that way up until Starbucks made espresso drinks popular. Enter the second wave and the introduction of specialty coffee.

Understanding Coffee Culture with Portland's Third Wave Coffee Tours

Fun Fact: Starbucks #4 opened in 1987 and still serves coffee today from the same Pioneer Courthouse Square location in downtown Portland.

More people enjoying coffee led to more questions about where their coffee beans came from and how they are produced. This naturally led to the third wave, the wonderful time we find ourselves in now.

Somewhere in the late 90’s coffee lovers began to embrace the differences in the beans. Coffee education led to fair trade and single origin beans. Big coffee brands are notorious for blending beans to reduce costs. Small coffee shop owners and roasters started doing the opposite. They began visiting coffee farmers and establishing ethical practices – something Portland has been leading the charge on. This helped create a better product and fairness all around.

As I found during my visit to Mojo coffee roasters in Wellington New Zealand, there are a lot of hands involved in turning those beans into the specialty drink you enjoy. Therefore, that drink should be pricey. Otherwise, those hard-working farmers are not receiving fair compensation.

This, again, is something Portland gets. With the third wave of coffee, the world is starting to get this as well.

Understanding Coffee Culture with Portland's Third Wave Coffee Tours

Walk & Talk

After my much-needed coffee education, our Third Wave Coffee Tour continued to Sisters Coffee where we were treated to a demonstration on pour over coffee.  On the stroll over I questioned how Lora started Third Wave Coffee Tours. Turns out, it was by chance.

After the birth of her daughter Lora started exploring the various cafes around town as an outing.  Macchiato for mom, milk and cookies for daughter. After a while, Lora naturally learned a lot about coffee and Portland’s best spots. Sharing this knowledge and love came naturally after that.

 Coffee Sipping (slurping)

Our last stop on this Third Wave Coffee Tour was an interesting treat. Inside local coffee roaster Nossa Familia we took part in a cupping. “Have you ever done a cupping before?” asked another guest. ”Yes…wait. What?”  I was confusing coffee tasting and cupping. Turns out, there is a brew master of sorts when it comes to roasting the perfect bean. The process involved a lot of coffee, a good sense of smell, and the ability to slurp like a champion.

Why the slurp? Pulling in the coffee with as much force as possible aerates and disperses it over the pallet. Think of your mouth as a wine aerator, only grosser sounding.

My technique was less than perfect as the majority of samples I tasted were all the same to me. It was a fun and interesting exercise and added to the appreciation of the third wave of coffee and how much goes into making the most out of those coffee beans.

Beyond slurping

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Lora and Third Wave Coffee Tours and will be back to enjoy the other products they offer. With so much coffee to be found in and around Portland, there should be no surprise that Third Wave Coffee Tours covers a lot of ground. From a downtown coffee crawl to an artisanal donuts and coffee pairing tour (drool), you have options. They even offer a running coffee tour, you know, for making the most of that caffeine jolt.

Till then I will stick with my slurping.

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Although I was provided a complimentary day out with Third Wave Coffee Tours,
the experience, opinions, and terrible slurping are my own.

So how does this tour rank?

10 Guide
10 Execution
10 Information
10 Value
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