Bump and grind

Portland, Oregon is a hot spot for love and coffee

By James Claffey

Photo Courtesy of


isiting Portland, Oregon, last Valentine’s Day was the beginning of two great love affairs: one with my avocado-farming girlfriend and the other with a bearded barista named Brian (or, to be candid, his magnificent lattés). Flying into the City of Bridges, with the snowcapped peak of Mount Hood out one window and five of the ten bridges spanning the Willamette river out the other, I got the feeling we were descending into a city guaranteed to stoke the fires of our freshly kindled love.

While most of the world was busy fashioning clichéd Hallmark moments, we drove the upgraded rental car to our salubrious home away from home for the next three days: the Hostelling International’s Portland Hostel, Northwest. Room for two with a claw-foot bathtub en suite: $35 a night. What could be more romantic than paper-thin walls and beds narrow enough to fit inside an Alcatraz jail cell?

Once unpacked, the vagaries of Portland’s parking system semi-understood, and the night ahead of us, we took off on foot for the busy bars and restaurants of the Northwest District. Old Victorian fixer-uppers and already fixed-up Victorians lined the streets, their colors’ brightness contrasted to the lead-gray clouds. First stop, Anna Bannanas coffee shop. This peeling yellow-painted wood-frame house may very well be the hidden mecca for coffee drinkers everywhere.

Brian, the hirsute barista, after telling a waiting member of the Young Republicans of the untimely removal of the Americano from the menu, took almost perverse delight in further announcing to the crestfallen young man that his drink had simply been renamed the Imperialist. This was a man with an eye for the theatrical.

As I ordered a latté from him, I felt my heart begin to melt. His grizzled hand ground the beans for the drink in front of my eyes, then with a slow, almost sensual dexterity of the wrist he tamped the finely ground beans with a steel puck, locking the handle into the Ferrari-styled espresso machine and setting the water to percolate down and into the waiting shot glass. Maybe it was my love’s hand squeezing mine, or perhaps the loving attention Brian showed toward his task, but my eyes were filled with tears and the sap was rising.

Through the mists of infatuation, I watched him steam the milk slowly, gently turning the steel jug, reminiscent of a master sommelier riddling his cellar’s bottles. He decanted the two shots into a large cup, softly poured the perfectly steamed milk on top of the dark brew, ending with a flourish. His artistic hand wrought an oak-leaf atop the drink. Sure, it wasn’t a Valentine’s heart but I knew his creation was an act of passion at a time of newfound love for my girlfriend and I.

Afterward, we sat in the cozy front room of Anna Bannanas and talked of the plans we both had for the love we found the night of Halloween the previous October. But that’s a story for another time.


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