Monday December 10, 2012 | 05:00 AM

Portland is very much a coffee obsessed city with more indie roasters, purveyors and café baristas catching their moment in the sun.

This leaves places like Starbucks in the mainstream where I thought it always belonged. But what I see as the all important de facto provenance of great coffee is something else entirely. 

It’s all about the process. 

Enter the world of coffee brew masters.  After making the rounds of our recondite crew of experts, there’s one who stands out above everyone else.

Coffee purist Matt Bolinder brews the best coffee in town.  Holding court at his Congress Street shop, the Speckled Ax--otherwise known as Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee—this is where the coffee magic begins.

Bolinder at his brew station

I’ve been buying Matt’s Coffee for home brewing since it hit the markets in 2007. The nuance of flavor achieved from beans roasted in wood ovens over cherry and maple set his brand apart.

Siphon brew pots

For variety I’ve alternated with other brands—namely, Coffee by Design, which has long been the gold standard of local roasters. 

And I quite like the newest kid on the block, Tandem Coffee, located in a circa 1930s brick building in the hinterlands of East Bayside.  They produce a splendid cup at their onsite roastery and café, a favorite haunt of trendy 20 and 30-somethings in this up-and-coming neighborhood of artisan shopkeepers.

Tandem Coffee Roasters

Tandem cafe

None, however, equal the level of flawlessness when Bolinder casts his critical wand.   After all Bolinder’s eponymous, “speckled ax” is a reference to Ben Franklin’s autobiography in which he searched for moral purity.  Bolinder is on a similar path.

The other morning when Matt was behind the counter I asked him about some new beans he had on display in those shiny silver bags with the Speckled Ax label.  I usually buy the El Salvador, Tres Limites.    I told him that I prefer coffees with rich chocolate overtones and he recommended his Kenya Kainamui Peaberry.

Very much the perfectionist this is where the magic began as he commenced his brewing process. It takes about 3 to 4 minutes so if you’re in a rush, calm down and consider yourself blessed. 

For one serving he measures out 24 grams of coffee beans, grinds it fairly fine before putting it into the paper lined cone that sits over a large coffee cup.  Slowly he pours in double the volume of 200-degree water over the grinds. For larger servings he uses his siphon coffee contraptions, which look like glass sculptures but produce faultless coffee.

After my first sip, I was dumbstruck.  Intensely complex, the flavors lingered long after I finished..  Of course it helps that the beans are top quality and roasted just right, never bitter. 

I guess you can say that Bolinder is indeed a perfectionist. 

That he is and  I need to reconsider how I brew my coffee at home.

Some coffee stats:

Speckled Ax: 567 Congress St.   $12 to $14 for 12-ounce bag sold at the café.

Coffee by Design:  About $14 for a l- pound bag in their stores otherwise it’s sold in 12-ounce bags elsewhere.

Tandem Coffee:  $8 to $11 for an 8-ounce bag sold at the café.


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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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