Has the Stumptown Backlash Begun?


So, what do you think of Stumptown? Its a question were asked at seemingly every dinner party, and today, in the dependably contrarian New York Press, Portland college grad Ethan Epstein tells us exactly what he thinks about his hometowns pet roaster. He thinks that while legions of promoters and sycophants consider it a bohemian paradise, Stumptowns current strategy is essentially a retread of Starbucks corporate model from more than a decade ago. Ouch. Contrary to popular opinion, Epstein believes the coffee just aint that tasty, and notes that the company doesnt reveal much about how it comes up with its flavor: Stumptowns literature simply tells us that Hair Bender features coffee components from the three major growing regions of Latin America, East Africa and the Pacific Rim. Thanks! Now, thatll be just $12 a pound!

Of course, New Yorks profile of Stumptowns messiah, Duane Sorenson (whom Epstein makes no mention of attempting to contact for comment), included a sidebar that told a lot about why the beans have a distinctive taste a taste that makes them a winner in the eyes of, among others, the International Culinary Centers director of beverage education. But flavor aside, Epstein doesnt buy the companys sustainable and local spiel, since beans are being flown all the way from Africa to Portland to New York until Stumptowns Red Hook plant opens. (Kind of a weak jab, since the Red Hook plant is due to open any day now.) And dont get him started about fair trade: Fair trade practices like Stumptowns pervert the natural functioning of agricultural markets in poor countries. Whoa! Talk about a buzzkill!

Actually, a lot of Epsteins concerns were brought up by readers commenting on the New York feature. One remarked: This type of growth almost always results in collateral damage to quality. Look at what happened to Peets and the difference between the coffee at their first store and the franchises that cropped up. Another: I am from Portland and am surrounded on a daily basis by this particular type of Pacific Northwest arrogance. I want to like Stumptown coffee, but alas cannot, as it tastes like cardboard and smugness. But Stumptown also had its fans, including New Yorks own movie critic David Edelstein: I bought a bag of Stumptown at Chelsea Market a couple of months ago. It was their best, around $19 bucks. And I must say, it was DAMN good. Ive tried Counter Culture, Gorillas, and many other premium coffees, and Stumptown was by far the best.

So where do you stand? Does Epstein make valid points, or is he clearly in need of a chill session with a pint of Stumptown stout?

Totally Stumped [NY Press]
Related: The Messiah Hails From Portland [NYM]