We’re a father and son operation, our little coffee house and bagel shop on SE Division. And we are very happy to be here.
Although we have been in business just a short time in Portland, our origins extend back over seventeen years, when we opened up our first shop in the ‘burbs in 1996. Interested in the environmental benefits of “shade grown coffee”, we installed a small 7 lb Diedrich roaster on-site and in 1998 began to micro-roast our own beans. Later we acquired a small bakery and began to do some simple baking on-site, too. We are DIY to our core.
In late December, 2011, we left the suburbs to open up Spielman’s in a tiny, 720 sq. foot space on SE Division. Raf is the chief roaster, as well as head cook and culinary bwana. He cures our own bacon, makes our own sausage, our soups, our mustard, our chicken salad, our tuna salad and our schmears, while overseeing the aesthetics, the art work, the menu, the chalkboard, the quality of everything, and, above all, the music. He lives our core values: “high standards, low pretense”. This is Raf’s shop.
As for the bagels. Only shortly before leaving Hillsboro did we start making them ourselves, inspired by the genius and generosity of a remarkable customer, Ebon Morse. Frankly, we thought we would make no more than a dozen a day in Portland, for all we had to boil them in was a shallow pan on top of a two-burner hotplate. And, besides, the formidable Kettleman’s was still in operation just a mile away, cranking out their legendary 12,000 bagels a day. We set our sights on 12. Coffee was our main text; bagels a footnote.
How things have changed. Today Kettleman’s no longer exists, and demand for our bagels is so great we have had to build out a real bakery to meet it.
Despite this head-spinning growth, we seek to remain, at our core, a modest, local coffee house, devoted to our neighborhood. We love Portland; it lifts us up. SE Division is our referent – not New York. So we seek to roast exceptional coffee, as fine as the finest in town, and serve it in an environment as welcoming as can be. We similarly aim to create the most wonderful bagels and schmears anyone could hope to eat. Thanks to local friends and our remarkably talented staff, I think we may have a shot.
In the beginning the bagel was special. It was not a food for everyone.
Originally – that is, over four hundred years ago in the Jewish sector of Krakow, Poland from which we have the first written reference to the bagel – this humble round roll was to be consumed only by a select few, and only in conjunction with a very special event – childbirth. Mothers, midwives, and especially the rabbi and families gathered together at the bris, the circumcision ceremony which marked the entry of boy babies into the Jewish community – these were the privileged few who had the right to enjoy bagels, granted them by the Jewish Council of Krakow, Poland in their “sumptuary laws” of 1610.
The reason for this regulated consumption? Bagels were expensive! Poland was then a rye and barley growing country, and wheat flour was five times more expensive. Bagels were a luxury because they were made from wheat. Since the Jewish Council was concerned that people did not go broke on “luxury items”, they wanted to restrict bagel consumption to a few. And since bagels were round, which in the eyes of many was a symbol of eternity, there was no better occasion to eat bagels than in the welcoming of a new soul.
Bagels were born to celebrate life.And then they became a beloved street food! It took several hundred years and the 19th century explosion of wheat farming in Eastern Europe, but by the 20th century bagels had become the opposite of a luxury. They were cheap and ubiquitous, for everyone and everywhere on the streets of every major Polish city and town, peddled by the very poor. Not glorious, but accessible, affordable, and beloved. And when the mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe to North America began in 1882, as more than 2 million immigrants came to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and ‘the Main’ of Montreal over the next 30 years, the bagel, fortunately for all of us, came with them.
At Spielman’s Coffee Roaster and Bagels we respect these traditions of the “New York” and “Montreal style” bagels. We appreciate their deep emotional link to the immigrant experience and to memories of Eastern European Jewish culture in the industrial era. But we are also dedicated to reviving the bagel as a very special food – a luxury in taste, if not in price – made with a pre-industrial approach that seeks to capture the complexities of the original sourdough leavening. With sourdough at its core, and with great respect for the glorious, contemporary palate of our SE Division neighbors — not distant memories of a by-gone era in New York — ours is a Portland version of this four hundred-year-old little round bread, created to celebrate life. We hope you celebrate, too, when you take a bite!
We leaven our dough with the wild yeasts of a sourdough starter. Nothing can be more local or natural than that, for our sourdough is the product of the ambient yeasts and bacteria carried in the winds of SE Portland.
With loving care and constant feeding, we keep our starter bubbling happily away in magnificent German ceramic fermentation crocks in our bakery. (You see one on our logo.) To eat a Spielman bagel is to partake in the miraculous world of sourdough fermentation – and the inimitable flavors of Portland.
This ancient leavening method dates back 6,000 years to Egypt and the very invention of leavened bread. (When the Jews fled their bondage in Egypt in such a hurry that they had to take with them “unleavened bread’, it also meant this: they knew about sourdough.) Most certainly sourdough leavening was used in the original 17th century bagel. And we use it today, for it is what sets the Spielman bagel apart in flavor and nutrition. Our bagels’ deep, complex flavors, enhanced by a long, slow “retarded” fermentation process; their low “glycemic index” and longer shelf life; and even a possible reduction in gluten sensitivity, are all a result of our preference for sourdough over industrial yeast.Industrial yeast, invented in the 1920s, is a one-species, purified monoculture of saccharomyces cerevisiae. “Its behavior is linear, mechanical, and predictable”, Michael Pollan writes in Cooked, “a simple matter of inputs and outputs.” But sourdough starter is a complex, natural, polycultural microuniverse of many yeasts and countless, possibly thousands of other bacterium in symbiotic association.
As a result sourdough starter does more than just make bread rise. Other microbes work their magic, too. For example, sourdough “partially breaks down gluten, making it easier to digest”, and, Pollan suggests, may be responsible for “destroying some of the peptides thought to be responsible for gluten intolerance”. They prevent the sugar rush and crash caused by highly refined flours: “the organic acids produced by sourdough culture also seem to slow down our bodies’ absorption of the sugars in white flour, reducing dangerous spikes of insulin”. As a result, highly refined white flour breads leavened by sourdough have even a lower “glycemic index” than whole grain breads leavened by industrial yeast.
In short, “sourdough fermentation is a wonder of nature and culture.”But above all sourdough adds complex flavors to all breads and especially our bagels, as the countless microbes, wild, yeasts, and bacterium break down different carbohydrates and sugars, creating and enhancing different flavors.Polyculture over monoculture! — so sayeth the wise tongue.
We began roasting our own coffee fifteen years ago not just for reasons of quality, but out of environmental concerns, too. At the time we started roasting, the “Shade Coffee Campaign”, initiated by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Institute and championed by the Seattle Audubon Society, had just begun. Because “shade grown coffee” is the most environmentally sound and sustainable method of growing coffee beans in forest-like conditions, and because I didn’t get into the coffee business to wreck the planet, I wanted to serve nothing but shade grown coffee. To do that, however, I had to learn how to roast my own beans – which I did! It’s been the best part of our undertaking.
My eldest son Kenji took over the roasting duties after me, to be followed by my son Raf, our current roaster – and the best in the family. Raf is a meticulous note-taker and cupper as he learns the “sweet spot” of each bean. He also has a deep interest in the science and chemistry of coffee flavors as well, as illustrated in his first “Ask Raf” column the August, 2013 issue of Edible Portland.
Mexico Reserva Terruno Nayarita (natural): our single origin espresso.
Terruno Nayarita (washed): a drip:
We came across this bean in 1998 at a meeting of the Seattle Audubon Society Shade Coffee Campaign, fortuitously attended by Jim Kosalos and Dev Zeitlin of San Cristobal Coffee, who were importing it from a cooperative in Mexico with which they had become deeply involved. Jim, Dev, the bean and I have been BFF ever since. We have been roasting Terruno Nayarita for fifteen years. It makes the perfect cup: exceptionally well balanced, clean, deeply flavorful, richly bodied, bright and floral. It has become the hands-down favorite of many customers. And it just gets better and better every year – by design, not accident. In their devotion to creating the perfect, sustainable relationships between growers, their environment, importer, roasters, and consumers, Jim and Dev constantly invent and innovate. Jim has invented a mobile tasting for the farmers, for example, since they normally drink Nescafe and have no idea what their own coffee tastes like – or should taste like. And how can you improve the quality of your cup without tasting and evaluating it? They have designed and sponsored a cupping class for growers at the local university in Tepic, Mexico. And they even bar code the bag of beans at the mill, so the consumers can take advantage of their “track your coffee” system that traces the beans back to their origin. Lastly, they pay farmers a premium well-beyond the typical “Fair Trade” premium in order to reward quality. They do everything right – and it shows in the cup. We have visited the cooperative, met the farmers, and seen the extraordinary beauty of the forest in which this coffee grows. We are proud that Terruno Nayarita is our “relationship coffee”.
Honduras SHB El Jaguar:
A Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee grown at 1,350-16,50 meters in the Montecellos and Comayagua mountain ranges of central Honduras by the COHORSIL cooperative (Cooperative Cafetalera Siguatepeque Limitada). The bean varietals are typica, bourbon, catuiai, caturra, and pacas, which are wet milled with full fermentation , sun dried, and mechanically dried to 12%. The cooperative was originally formed by 12 vegetable farmers in 1980, who later diversified into growing coffee. It’s a fantastic bean, much like the Nayarita, but lighter, and a bit more delicate and more subtle, with more chocolate flavors than floral ones. We have enough El Jaguar left to last about two months, so if you like it, get it now!
Sumatra Sidikalang Tabu Jama:
From the Sidikalang village on the northwest shore of Lake Toba in the Lintong region, grown by thousands of small community farmers at 1,200-1,450 meters. The varietal is typica. This is not your typical Sumatran for it is not a “Mandheling”. Lingtongs are spicier and brighter than Mandhelings, and less earthy. And because it is wet-hulled at a lower moisture content than the typical Mandheling (30% versus 50%), it has a much cleaner cup that accentuates its spicy, bright notes. Yet in other ways it is very much a round, full-bodied Asian coffee, with relatively low acidity and a long, smooth, finish.
Ethiopia Guji Natural Sidamo Grade 3:
Indiginous heirloom cultivars grown at the high level of 1,800-2,200 meters in the Guji region of Sidamo in southern Ethiopia, this coffee always stops me in my tracks upon the first sip — it is that good. We take it a bit darker than our other roasts, which somehow enhances, rather than diminishes, its inherent sweetness. It is the best processed Ethiopian I have ever seen, the result, perhaps, of the vertically integrated nature of the firm that buys, mills and exports it. They purchase only ripe cherries, hull, wash, and mill the beans themselves, and then truck it to Djibouti for export, thus taking responsibility for quality all along the chain. The result is a very clean, very sweet, bean from the place where high grown coffee first grew wild.