Beans and beyond

Author: George Epaminondas
Photography: Nikki Fenix

The over-caffeinated Duane Sorenson has added three restaurants in Portland to his Stumptown Coffee empire.

Few people have done more to advance artisanal coffee in America than Duane Sorenson. The Portland-based panjandrum, who founded the influential Stumptown Coffee Roasters in 1999, sources, roasts and brews the kind of coffee that lifts the bar in a post-Starbucks era.

At Stumptown's 10 caf├ęs, from Seattle and New York to one recently opened in Los Angeles, drinkers don't merely order a cup of joe. They select from a diverse menu of beans from leading global producers, such as the orange-scented Honduras Finca el Puente, and the peach-inflected Ethiopia Mordecofe Reserve. "The coffees are clean, sweet and anything but bitter," says Sorenson, who subsists on eight to 10 cups a day.

If he sounds overly caffeinated, consider what's on his plate.

As well as steering Stumptown, he maintains three highly regarded restaurants on Portland's leafy South East Division Street. The Woodsman Tavern, which opened in 2011, is his ode to the Pacific Northwest, an inviting, dark-panelled room where diners feast on pork-garlic sausages, spicy chicken wings and at least four kinds of fresh oysters. Sorenson followed up with Ava Gene's, a polished Italian restaurant that places as much emphasis on transcendent vegetables as resplendent pastas. Earlier this year, he opened Roman Candle Bakery, which is admired for its pizza bianca, a wood-fired flatbread from Rome. "The pizza blows my mind," says Sorenson.

His mind is humming with so many ideas, his bedside table groaning with so many cookbooks, that he rises frequently to scribble notes, and sleeps only for two hours at a stretch. Yet the 41-year-old father of four finds time to work behind the counter of his bakery. He's the teddy-bearish guy with the tattoos and beat-up sneakers delivering macchiati and tramezzini. "I like to see people's reactions because it helps me navigate what I do," Sorenson says. Or he could just listen to his gut, emblazoned with an ink battleship, which has served him well so far.

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