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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Little Bitterness with Your Coffee?

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 12:44 PM

Wake up, New York! You’re supposed to be the city that doesn’t take any bullshit, the city that chews up the phonies and spits ‘em out! Are you really going to be bamboozled by a bunch of pseudo-hipsters from Portland, Oregon? Are you really going to fall for Stumptown Coffee?

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to give time to Ethan Epstein’s article in the NY Press regarding his view of Duane Sorensen and Stumptown coffee—it’s clear that Epstein would like nothing more than to see a fracas erupt over his excoriations—but it’s passages like the following that make me want to provide a place where Portlanders can respond:

Let me back up for a bit and explain a little about the milieu from which Stumptown arose. If you’ve learned most of what you know about Portland from reading the New York Times, you may be surprised to learn that—despite the fact that the town is some 80 percent Caucasian—it’s also extremely culturally divided. The majority of the city is made up of solidly working- or middle-class folks who live in tidy three-bedroom homes, work 9 to 5, drive cars or small pickup trucks. Many even wear non-ironic cowboy hats. (Hey, this is the West.)

Epstein goes on to talk a bit about Southeast Portland (where Stumptown was born), an area he was likely familiar with as a student at a local college:

This is the part of Portland that the Times can’t shut up about. While most of Portland may be characterized by mustachioed men blasting Toby Keith (he’s a country singer, New Yorkers) out of their SUVs, within Inner Southeast, one is more likely to see cyclists wearing T-shirts that bray one less suv. In Inner Southeast, the flags are Tibetan, the cowboy hats are decidedly ironic and the coffee is definitely, without question, Stumptown.

Epstein argues that what Stumptown is selling is not coffee, per se, but a branded lifestyle of Southeast Portland hipness, where cafes are filled to the brim with guys in skinny jeans and ironic glasses, white girls with dreadlocks sipping cappuccinos, and macbook toting tortured artists, all doing their thing to “the soft tones of Portland-based wuss rock.”

What apparently prompted Epstein to write his vigorous article was the occasion of Stumptown’s roastery and café opening at the Ace Hotel in New York, NY. Epstein laments Stumptown’s spread through some of the more talked about restaurants in New York (Momofuku Milk Bar, Marlow & Sons) and compares the brand to Starbucks.

Though Epstein may have some valid points regarding that old saw about Portland’s apparent lack of diversity (we know, we know), and the dangers of lauding fair trade coffee (promotes coffee growth in countries that could use the land for food), those points may be lost to his claims of an impending Portland Hipster homogenization brought to New York by Stumptown.

If anything, Epstein’s impassioned screed is a good reminder that there are those who do not feel Sorensen is the coffee Messiah the New York Times Magazine (in a unfortunate fit of hyperbole) made him out to be. Also, there are apparently some New Yorkers who really can’t stand our fair city.

And thanks for the e-mail tip, Tom!

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