Case Study Coffee
5347 NE Sandy
Portland, OR

The founders came in, gussied up the place along Sandy Boulevard with stainless-topped tables, classy wood trim and counters, some green pictures (they are all about the same color and nondescript subject—might I say boring?), and glass-and-tube coffee-brewing equipment which seems to have migrated over from some chemistry lab. Voila! Case Study Coffee was concocted. Quite impressive, that countertop with its shiny brewing stuff: There’s a cold-brew drip set-up, mama-sized and baby-sized, with spiraling tubes, a French press, a chemex coffee-maker, with its classic wood midriff and leather belt, and at least one vac-pack brewer which uses a 200-degree flame to heat water that is then sucked up into the top (where the grounds are) and allowed to drip back down. Kind of like the old percolator, but with transparent glass—vs. tinny metal–for judging coffee color and avoiding that “burnt-coffee” flavor (The old metal or electric percolators so commonly used for Maxwell House or Folger’s–remember that perky percolator song?–gave you a glimpse of the coffee as it was thrust up into the little glass dome, but the surest way of judging readiness was by the smell or, if you were a stickler, by the timer. I’m not altogether down on percolators, since using one at our cabin makes the difference between caffeine or no caffeine. The best thing about my parents’ percolators, however, involved washing dishes: When I stuck my finger up into that tiny glass dome, the glass felt “squishy”, as if I could knead it with my finger. I loved that, and this probably did contribute to my coffee obsession. That touch sensation was as addictive as the brew, to be sure! And I still get to wash dishes by hand, at the cabin).

Case Study Coffee house is in an old classic storefront, with a recessed center door complete with transom. It has new wood flooring and new tables and chairs, unlike a lot of Portland coffeehouses with random lots of used furniture or a mix of old and new. It is all one room, but the angle of the building diviies up the space a bit, and stools-sitters face Sandy in the window bays. A posting board was placed near the condiment buffet, the single piece of antique furniture. Music the day I visited was forgettable and low-key, which is much preferred over obnoxious or overbearing. Free WIFI, of course, was offered, as were outside seating and bike racks. Generally, I’d describe this place as tasteful in its simplicity, like its line-drawing logo.

Fare: I had a small French press coffee (which ended up being a medium, $2 vs. the $1.50 I expected). Refills are $.50, I was told. Case Study brews its own coffee, and they also have Stumptown coffee; I was unclear about the distinction, or what was what. My coffee must have been their own brew; it had a rather peculiar taste. Not bad, just different. I asked about day-old pastries. “Nope. Usually we eat them…” They didn’t have much of a selection of goodies; maybe the crew got the hungries early! Unfortunately the specialty brews (mentioned above) had especially-high prices ( $6.50, “because it’s time-consuming to make them”. Here I thought you’d get a thermosful for the price!)

Service and clientele: Quite a few customers, including a couple with a baby and 8-10 folks with laptops. Most customers were in their 20’s, I’d guess. They were all frozen in their seats, hooked by their bright screens, except the baby and its parents. I didn’t notice any accommodations for kids; the place has an “adult” feel. Two barristas held down the fort, and one of them patiently explained the brewing equipment to me.

Bathroom: A single clean bathroom is shared between men and women. Nice tile on the walls and floors, and new fixtures. Don’t know where they’re going to change that baby…

Hours: 6-5 weekdays, 8-6 weekends.

Rating: 3 (of 5 possible beans) down because of pricing & peculiar-tasting coffee, despite intriguing brew equipment.