Upper Left Roasters
1204 SE Clay Street
Portland, OR 97214
A relatively new coffee shop, Upper Left Roasters opened in 2015. Remington, Everly, Jude, and I stopped by on a partly sunny Friday morning at the suggestion of a friend. We had visited before, but their current single origin espresso, Keneon Chire from Ethiopia, was reported to be especially delicious, possibly one of the best ever tasted by our much esteemed coffee friend, so of course we had to try it. The shop is located in the “upper left” corner of Ladd’s Addition, in South East Portland. It’s right on a corner and has quite a bit of outdoor seating during the warmer months. There are lots of windows, so even when it’s too cold to sit outdoors, natural light is abundant.
The interior of the shop feels very open and airy, partly due to the windows and a skylight over the entryway. That feeling is reinforced by white walls, exposed ceiling beams (also painted white) white chairs, and light colored wood for the tables, counter, and accents. The floors are non-homogenous glazed concrete which adds warmth and character, preventing the space from feeling too formal or cold. The roaster is visible on the left side of the cafe. The cafe flow is natural, with merchandise to the left of the counter, the register directly in front of the entryway, and condiments/silverware to the right. There are a couple of large tables, several small tables, and a bar along the perimeter of the shop, providing lots of seating, which is good, because they are usually busy.
Not only does Upper Left serve coffee and espresso drinks, they also have a food menu including toasts and egg dishes. It is perfect for a light brunch, and all of the food I have tried has been delicious. Espresso options include one single origin, their house blend, and a decaf option. There are two coffee options, one for drip and one for pour overs (done on a Kalita Wave). One of my favorite things about the shop is their house-made almond-macadamia nut milk. I always appreciate coffee shops making their own alternative milk, as store bought milk options often have fillers and additives that I don’t especially want to put in my body. Plus, house made milks usually taste amazing, and Upper Left’s almond-macadamia milk definitely does.
The barista who helped us with our order greeted us while finishing up a pour over, and was quite friendly, something I always appreciate; no one wants a snobby barista, even if they do make good coffee. I ordered their espresso blend, as I feel that gives a good baseline as to how well shots are pulled and how intentional a coffee shop is about quality across the board. Of course, Remington ordered the Keneon Chire that we had come in to try, as well as a cold brew. We got a chocolate chip cookie to split, and an iced almond-macadamia milk for Everly. Another awesome thing about Upper Left: they offer a complementary kid’s drink. I didn’t know that prior to ordering, but it was a pleasant surprise and made me feel even more valued as a customer. Coffee shops can sometimes feel unwelcoming towards children, and I really appreciate the effort that Upper Left puts in making me feel that my child is gladly received in their shop. I could go on about children and coffee shops, but I’ll save that for its own post.
We found a couple seats at one of the large tables to enjoy our drinks. Despite a line when we came in, our espressos came out pretty quickly and were served in white Not Neutral demitasses with sparkling water on the side. There was no spoon with the espresso, which was unusual for specialty coffee shops, but if they prefer their customers to drink their espresso without stirring, then it would make sense to not give a spoon. The espresso blend tasted full and balanced, with a chocolatey body, and spicy finish, like nutmeg and cayenne. It was not my favorite shot of espresso, but it would work nicely in milk; a macchiato or cappuccino would be delightful. I did have a sip of the Keneon Chire as well and it was amazing. To me it tasted just like apricot jam, although strawberry was supposed to be a major flavor note. Either way, it was delicious.
In past visits, Upper Left Roasters has felt a bit aloof, with lots of people on computers and an almost library-like vibe, but this visit, it felt much more comfortable, with friendly baristas, people chatting, and a welcoming atmosphere. It would be an ideal place to come and work on something at a computer, but it would also work well as a place to catch up with friends or enjoy a morning brunch date. It has more outdoor seating than most Portland coffee shops, making it an excellent choice during warm months.
If you have been to Upper Left, what did you think? Where have you been to coffee lately? Connect in the comments!