Resumé boasting has become a sport in Portland's food scene. Is there anyone who hasn't done a tour of duty through David Chang's New York cool school, pulled a shot at Stumptown, or at least pulled saran wrap for Thomas Keller?
Not Todd Edwards, self-starter par excellence and mastermind of the ambitious Ole Latte Coffee cart in downtown Portland. The hometown boy proudly found inspiration as a long-time manager and wine guy at the Old Spaghetti Factory, the family-friendly chain born in Portland in 1969.
A year ago, Edwards was a semi-broke Starbucks regular with a dream: to translate his love of wine (and fading wine-shop plans) to coffee. He sipped his way through Portland's small-batch bean shops and found a supporter—and barista trainer—in Portland's Ristretto Roasters. Now, Edwards is pulling shots from a shiny red La Marzocco machine, juggling five single origin coffees, micro-roasting his own beans and sourcing everything feasible locally—milk to honey, tea to chai. All on the street, making Ole Latte Portland’s first full-on coffee shop on wheels.
Ole Latte Coffee made a brief run last summer at an eastside food-cart pod before closing shop. In March, Edwards decamped to SW 10th and Alder a few steps from Nong's Khao Man Gai. At the cherry wood window counter beneath a corrugated metal roof, an impromptu pastry case holds finds from the excellent eastsideBakeshop, including Kim Boyce's vaunted Sweet 'n Salty cookies and the mysteriously wholesome buckwheat scones coiled with port-laced fig jam.
Inside the cart, mason jars hold a dozen loose-leaf Townsend Teas, each carefully brewed, from foresty Pu-erh Bird's Nest to a positively smoky Creme de la Earl Grey. A stash of Brew Dr. Kombucha lives in the fridge ("We carry all seven flavors," says Edwards with more pride than a little-league coach). A handwritten sign says it all: "Improving every day."
Ole Latte brings another first to Portland: Europe's "suspended coffee" program, where a good willer springs for an extra cup of joe for an unknown customer in need. The movement, rooted in Italy, is now percolating worldwide with help from Facebook. Edwards, who gleaned the idea from his roaster Evan Mooney, takes the concept a step farther: donate any item to the outdoor blackboard, coffee to Bakeshop treats to local Dragonfly Chai, and receive a 10 per cent discount off your order.Less fortunate customers choose anything posted on the board, with a limit of one item per day. Edwards says the plan is catching on, and even street people have made contributions. He's hoping fellow food carters will join the program. Following his lead "suspended coffee" has now spread to Seattle.
Portland’s Townsend Teas, brewed to order, line the wall inside.
Is Ole Latte Coffee vying for Portland's best cup? Not really. Edwards is still a novice in this competitive game. But it's more than decent and comes with an ace in the hole: Ole Latte's Nordstrom-level service drawn from Edward’s book of "standards and procedures."
Others are noticing. Picnic, the locavore-loving food cart which resurfaced this week at SW 3rd and Stark, is carrying Edward’s coffee. Meanwhile, Ole Latte Coffee is already an essential stopover, a place to show friends and visitors a genuine slice of Portland's celebrated street-food life. I'd happily return for a latte, a Bakeshop orange pecan scone, hiding chunks of dark chocolate in every nook and cranny, and not least, a morning jolt of Edward’s unstoppable enthusiasm.