Archive for July, 2012

For your information: Pacific caffeine

Cape Lookout State Park in Oregon.

Caffeine levels were surprisingly high off remote places such as Cape Lookout, Oregon (pictured).

Photograph from RMUSA/Alamy

Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic News

Published July 30, 2012

The Pacific Northwest  may be the epicenter of U.S.  coffee culture, and now a new study shows the region’s elevated caffeine levels don’t stop at the shoreline.


The discovery of caffeine pollution in the Pacific Ocean  off Oregon is further evidence that contaminants in human waste are entering natural water systems, with unknown consequences for wildlife and humans alike, experts say.

(Read National Geographic magazine’s “Caffeine: What’s the Buzz?” )

Scientists sampled both “potentially polluted” sites—near sewage-treatment plants, larger communities, and river mouths—and more remote waters, for example near a state park.

Surprisingly, caffeine levels off the potentially polluted areas were below the detectable limit, about 9 nanograms per liter. The wilder coastlines were comparatively highly caffeinated, at about 45 nanograms per liter.

“Our hypothesis from these results is that the bigger source of contamination here is probably on-site waste disposal systems like septic systems,” said study co-author Elise Granek .

The difference may be due to more stringent monitoring in more developed areas.

“Wastewater-treatment plants, for the most part, have to do regular monitoring to ensure they are within certain limits,” added Granek, a Portland State University marine ecologist. Granek noted, though, that caffeine is unregulated, and so is not specifically monitored.

By contrast, for on-site waste-disposal systems, “there is frequently not much monitoring going on.”

The big sewage plants may also be at an advantage because Oregon cities are relatively small. The plants don’t have to process the sheer volume of waste associated with a major city such as Boston, which one study has found to be pumping fairly high levels of caffeine into its harbor .

(Related: “Cocaine, Spices, Hormones Found in Drinking Water.”)


“Contaminant Soup” Has Unknown Impacts

Hydrologist Dana Kolpin welcomed the new research, saying caffeine concentrations in water have been documented before but more often in freshwater than marine environments.

“Caffeine is pretty darn ubiquitous, and there is growing evidence that this and other understudied contaminants are out there,”  said Kolpin, of the USGS’sToxic Substances Hydrology Program  in Iowa City, Iowa.

In our waste “there is a whole universe of potential contaminants including pharmaceuticals, hormones, personal-care products like detergents or fragrances, even artificial sweeteners.”

Caffeine is something of a canary in a coal mine for elevated levels of human contaminants in water, said Kolpin, who wasn’t part of the new study.

In other words, if caffeine’s in the water, chances are there are other contaminants too.

“What does this mean?” he asked. “Aquatic organisms are getting hit with a soup of low-level contaminants.

“Are there environmental or human-health consequences from exposure to these compounds or different mixtures of compounds? Obviously that’s the million-dollar question.”

(Infographic: How Coffee Changed America. )

Caffeine and Cellular Stress in Animals

Caffeine has been documented in waters around the world, including Boston Harbor, Puget Sound, the Mediterranean, and the North Sea. It might persist for up to 30 days in marine waters, study co-author Granek noted.

But the stimulant’s impact on natural ecosystems is unknown. Nonlethal effects may be invisible but could have repercussions up and down the food chain and from generation to generation.

Granek and colleagues have shown in lab experiments that caffeine at the levels found offshore does affect intertidal mussels, causing them to produce specialized proteins in response to environmental stress.

The levels found in the remote study areas, for example, “did cause these mussels to exhibit cellular stress,” she said. “If we expose them to higher concentrations or longer terms, do we see changes in growth rates, or changes in reproductive output?” The team hopes to find out with future experiments.

Kolpin said some studies of other contaminants have shown more drastic effects, including one at a remote Ontario Lake, which concluded that estrogen from birth control pills can cause wild fish populations to collapse.

“With caffeine, we’re not yet sure about its environmental effects,” he said. “But it’s a very nice tracer, even if it doesn’t have a large effect, because in most parts of the world, you know that this is coming from a human waste source.”


The Pacific Northwest caffeine research  was published in the July 2012 edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin.



Rain or Shine Coffee House

Rain or Shine Coffee House
5941 SE 60th
Portland, OR

Rain or Shine Coffee

Rain or Shine Coffee is a newer place, located on 60th and Division. But it is not unpleasantly so; it simply has recently-laid hardwood floors, no old pipes, modern tan and gray-brown walls, and later-model tables and chairs. Some of the seating is overstuffed couches and chairs, some is sleek black, some is colonial (including a rocker—nice!); it’s quite a hodgepodge, but the place is large enough to contain it all. Photographs are mounted on the dark wall, and old multi-paned windows are used for flat surfaces like the pastry-display cabinet window or the menu-board, to add character. Beyond the windows floating in thin air (WIFI, anyone?), the place seems airy. It has a large sectioned shelf for displaying sale items such as their 12-cup boxed coffee and their Rain or Shine mug or T-shirts. The building itself has windows with transoms, as in older days, to suit the neighborhood. Outside, rain or shine, a table and benches beckon (well, maybe not in rain!). A small parking lot behind the building is helpful, considering the busy street location. Two of the best touches, however, are the live orchids on the tables and the free coffee grounds—for gardens—outside.

Fare: My small coffee was $1.75, with a 50-cent refill. Day-old pastries, including cheese ones, were $1. Rain or Shine offers matcha, a rather unusual drink of hot green tea, as well as the usual lattes, Italian sodas, and the like. I was fortunate enough to be given a free cardamom latte: yum!

Service and Clientele: I observed at least 3 people using computers and one man with a stroller. Most customers were alone.  Service was prompt and friendly. Don’t know why I was the lucky recipient of the latte, but I’m not complaining.

Hours:  Sufficiently long hours, 7am (or 8, Sundays) to 7 pm

Rating: 3 (of 5) coffee beans

Mcmenamins Microroasters


































Not a lot of folks outside of Portland know about the McMenamins empire. But they have managed to acquire a number of historic and interesting old buildings, and have turned these into rather fascinating, hard-to-describe places. McMenamins run the gamut, from the Crystal Ballroom, with its dance floor set on ball bearings, to Edgefield’s with its soaking pool & vineyards, to Kennedy School, with its boiler room bar and beer-fed movies, to…well, places in Bend, Gearhart, Mill Creek WA, Centralia, etc. etc. etc. And at each of these there is at least one restaurant/ coffee bar serving coffee; many have several. So it’s logical that they roast and package their own coffee, especially in this town of ours, known for its microbrew cultures of both beer and coffee.

My companion and I happened upon the roasting plant one afternoon, and we were proudly given a tour of the small place, with just about all the information we could possibly absorb. We were also brewed our own samples of coffee out of today’s roasted beans. Chemex, the coffee-maker was called. It’s been around since the 70’s, and has an hour-glass shape, with wood at the “waist” of the glass sections. Because its filters are thicker than most, it strains out more oils as well as sediments, leaving a crystal-clear coffee. Our tour guide demonstrated how to pour in the first dose of water and then let the coffee “bloom”, or bubble up and expand, before adding more water. The sample was very smooth and tasty, without bitterness, just as he promised.

Microroasters are popping up in Portland, as the coffee fans follow Seattle’s (Starbucks?) lead, and as consumers develop sophistocated palettes. Maybe people are simply addicted to the stuff, after a near-saturation blitz of by Starbucks , beginning in the 1990’s. Stumptown was an early roaster here, and it is well-established as a local brand. Other microroasters include beans from exotic places, and each tries to make itself a niche with specialty coffees. McMenamins roasters buy beans from places including Columbia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. They try to personally visit each contributing farm, to buy directly from them (thus ensuring fair trade), but some portion of each shipment is from brokers, and cannot really be traced. The fair-trade beans are organic. Apparently the green beans ship and store well, and they keep around an ample supply in big burlap bags. They have a large roaster which they use daily—early in the morning because beans are roasted at over 400 degrees—and an after-burner for the exhaust, so that the entire neighborhood doesn’t reek (my word) of coffee. Now, how could that ever be bad? But I suppose some (zoning) people consider it to be. One of my own offspring doesn’t share my love of the dark brown drink, preferring tea as a caffeine source, if needed. Bins of fresh-roasted coffee were being used to fill big boxes of different coffees, to be sent UPS to the various McMenamins restaurants that same day. They had a copper grinder for in-house use—such as, for our samples. Not a lot else in the place; the place is indeed a micro roaster.

The roasters at McMenamin’s graciously allowed us to use names and photos of them and the place, and I hope I didn’t misrepresent any facts—the visit was 2-3 weeks ago. He helpfully recommended a book about coffee, Uncommon Grounds, by Pendagrast.  I shall review it some day…

Gold Rush Coffee Bar

Gold Rush Coffee Bar   2601 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., Portland, OR

Gold Rush Coffee House 2601 Northeast Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard Portland, OR

Don’t know quite why this coffeehouse is called this. Black gold, I guess, as in black coffee. But maybe this was around back when the Yukon Gold Rush happened, and it was indeed the spot where unlucky prospectors nursed their drinks. Could be—the place is, naturally and happily, old. Unlikely, though.

This has a corner door, with awnings outside and an inset glass entry. A small bar with seats looks out onto MLK Av. Old wooden floors meet up with old wooden counters, and tables & chairs are nondescript, except for the old wooden church pews along a brick wall on the side. This wall displays art work and has windows installed waaaay up there. They were cobwebby, and reminded me of the Childcraft story about Nanette and the French chateau (her only exit was also cobwebby). Old-time ceiling fans whir, cooling the place, and pendulous schoolhouse lights hang from the ceiling. Two steps lead down to a back door, which lets you into the building which houses the shop. They display old one-lb. coffee cans, and use dark wainscoating and woodwork to its best advantage. The presence of 2 computer desks is in stark contrast to the weathered place; these appear to be set up for patrons who didn’t drag along their own laptops for the free WIFI.

I had what they called a “cold press” coffee. He explained it to be similar to “sun tea”, but sans sun. Appropriate for Portland2! He said it sits, “brews”, for 16 hours to get the flavor without bitterness. Kind of like the leftover stuff I sometimes end up drinking at home, except mine is hot, and exceedingly thick and bitter from reheating. The cold-press coffee was fine, but I can’t say it was worth the extra moolah for the 16 hours’ labor, or whatever it was they charged extra for. It was, in fact, like iced coffee, a coffee variation I accept only under duress or when it’s very hot outside. This particular day qualified so well as “hot” that the coffee house offered $1 ice cream sandwiches; we zapped up one apiece. My companion had a very minty, naturally sweet iced tea, which not only cleansed her palate but satisfied her sweet tooth. Her ice cream was purely for the ice part of it.

Fare: My cold press coffee was $2.30, up from $1.60 for regular hot coffee, unless my memory escapes me. They serve caffe Vita and bagels, as well as pastries and some sandwich/breakfast food. Apparently the lattes are quite artistic, with swans and such in the swirls!

Bathrooms: Adequate

Service and clientele:  Seemed to be (just a few, mid-day) locals there. Barrista was friendly enough to explain the cold press coffee production.

Rating: 3 (of 5) coffee beans

Iced C

As the temperatures soar, the last thing I want to do is visit a coffeehouse to down some piping hot coffee! Or is it? I could cop out and order an uber-sweet frappuccino, thereby joining the throngs who dilute most of the coffee flavor out of the drink with all the add-ons (Actually the best thing about a frappuccino is the slushy texture, if it’s chilled properly). Or I could cop out and, well, just order a fruit smoothie. That’d be healthy, and cool, too. Except I’m not in this game for my health (although it seems that every other day some study proves that “moderate coffee-drinkers” (whatever they are) have fewer strokes, lose more weight, or have better sex lives (wait: am I fantasizing about studies?)). Yep, I’m in it for the caffeine, plain and simple. And what can be plainer and simpler than: ICED COFFEE? My parents drank it all summer, living in the hot-summer-part of the country, and each time they dutifully offered me some (after I was “of age”, of course) I sniffed with disdain almost as much as when they’d eat coffee ice cream. I figured, if you’re going to indulge in ice cream, make it the Cherry Garcia kind of ice cream. And if you want a cold drink and don’t plan on getting inebriated, choose a lemonade or soda; they actually taste good! And if you’re going to have coffee, have coffee like it was supposed to be: so hot and bold that it clears out your nostrils, not some cold, left-over dishwater-flavored iced-drink excuse for a cuppa java. This bias of mine lived almost to this day…until I tried a cold-press iced coffee recently, gritting my teeth. I liked it! No more sweating in my socks and sandals, or waking up only to suffer heat stroke!

So I have taken a little hiatus on my coffee reviews, pretending that I was still on vacation but actually avoiding the main subject of my blogs. Actually, I have been on-the-go, and busily drinking the crucial amount of unnotable coffee from unbloggable places. But I’ll be back soon, and in the meantime I have a visit to a roaster to report.