Heart Coffee Roasters

With two storefront locations, Heart Coffee Roasters has become a Portland, Oregon staple. Opening its doors in 2009, owner Willie Yli­luoma aspired for the shop to become part of the 'heart of the city', as a place for people to gather together. Since then, the Finnish native has been introducing Portlanders to the true meaning of fika -­ the traditional Scandinavian coffee break. Sourcing coffee from all over the world, Heart roasts their own beans with a German Probat roaster which is situated in the middle of the Burnside Street location. Minimalist in design, the Scandinavian inspired shop has also become the place to see and be seen. Whether working on a laptop in the corner or having long afternoon coffee breaks with friends, Heart is the meeting place for many Portland creatives.

Wolf sat down for a chat with owner Willie Yli­luoma about his personal history with coffee, the in-house roasting process and how Heart has become an integral part of the city of Portland, Oregon.

Before Heart, what was your history with coffee? What made you want to open a coffee shop?
Willie: I would make espresso in my kitchen with with a Synesso, and I became picky about my coffee. After getting a small roaster and mostly drinking my own roasted coffee, I decided to offer it to the public.

When did you first start drinking coffee? When and where did you discover really good coffee?
I started to drink coffee in Stockholm, Sweden about 12 years ago. I discovered really good coffee in the Northwest when I got to try some fantastic Ethiopian coffee.

How did you first get into the coffee business? What's the story behind Heart?
I was a regular customer at a few different local shops in Portland. I would ask the baristas questions and also make coffee at my house, but I didn't work for a company before Heart. It was one of those all or nothing situations. Heart was originally going to serve someone else's coffee, but I decided it was better to be in control of the roasting.

How did you choose the name?
Heart is a simple name that reflects what myself, and the people that work for us, put into the company. We love it and we are trying to make a living out of what we are passionate about.

You're located in Portland, Oregon, a creative city with a famous coffee scene. What do you like most about this location? What made you want to open a coffee shop here?
I love the city and the food culture here. I'm really fortunate to have so many good restaurants, plus we have the ocean and mountains close by. I'm sure there would have been better cities to open a coffee shop in, but I didn’t want to move.

The European coffee culture is quite unique, as is Scandinavian coffee culture in itself. Being from Finland, did you hope to bring the whole concept of fika to Portland?
Yes! I do think we have already accomplished it a bit, but we are hoping to bring some more Scandinavian treats here in the near future.

What kind of coffee making equipment do you use at Heart? Any favourite methods?
We use a regular commercial coffee brewer, espresso machine. And on the East side, we offer the same plus pour-­overs and manual brew methods (like V60's and aeropresses). My favourite is the commercial coffee maker "house coffee".

Tell us about the Probat roaster you have in-house.
It's from Germany and we had it rebuilt in Netherlands by company called Giesen.

You serve and also sell your own coffee beans, which are roasted in the Burnside location. Tell us a little more about the process.
We put green coffee in the roaster and roast it to a degree from which the coffee tastes as sweet and dynamic as possible. We want to show as much of the coffee's characteristics as possible. It is really important that you prepare the coffee right or all of this will be lost.

Heart offers beans from all over the world. How do you source your coffee varietals?
We travel to the countries where we buy coffee from and visit farms and producers year round. We have picked the countries we think produce the best tasting coffee and dedicate ourselves to working with them. Right now it's Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya.

The interior design is very minimal and Scandinavian. What was your inspiration?
I like to work in an environment that looks nice and is not cluttered. There isn't anything specific that made me design the cafés the way we did. It's just my style I guess.

Tell us a little more about your Finnish influence and how you have, in a sense, brought a little piece of Scandinavia to Portland.
There is some Turun Sunappia ­ a mustard from my hometown in Finland that we serve with pretzels. That's about it for now, but like I said earlier we will offer some more Scandinavian or Finnish items in the near future.

Heart always has a great background soundtrack playing and has even had a live DJ spinning tracks in the past. What's the importance of music in creating the right coffee shop atmosphere?
Music is pretty much a make or break kind of thing, it's so important for the atmosphere. I think you need to pay attention to the time of the day and the weather. We used to have DJ's, but we stopped it since our production for roasting has picked up.

What food items do you serve to compliment the coffeeRight now we serve pastries and bread. Theses are baked by Bakeshop, Posies, and Fressen.

What's the most popular cup of coffee these days?
Chelelektu from Ethiopia is a big hit right now.

What's your own go ­to coffee order?
I usually get a house coffee and sometimes a shot of espresso.

What do you see for Heart for the future?
Roastery, public cuppings and brew classes.

Interview  & photography: Sarah Rowland