Finally Made it to Portola Coffee Lab

October 25, 2011
Scott Mindeaux, Editor


So after a couple of years of being introduced to Portola Coffee from a tweet I got from them 2 years ago I haven’t been able to get up to see them in person when they were renting space from Layer Cake Bakery in Irvine. Now they are located in the SoCo Mix in Costa Mesa in an open concept shopping experience of small boutiques, interior design firms and specialty shops.

When you walk in you feel the excitement of the space. Everyone here is friendly and of course, there is a line to place an order. Each cup is made fresh. No pots, no storage carafes, each cup of latte, cappuccino and coffee is made cup by cup. They roast their own coffee here and use beans from all over the world to achieve the best flavors. Roasting the beans here they can control the darkness and the freshness of the beans.

I get in line and greeted by one of the friendliest smiles on a Sunday morning. I think his name was Nick, but he had one of those infectious smiles that makes you want to smile yourself. Still suffering from the tail end of my cold, I now have lost my voice and try to tell him that I need anEarl Grey Tea and a combo of a Strawberry/Fig Salad and a Turkey/Havarti panini.

As I wait for my order to arrive, I watch the flurry of white lab coats stained with coffee and tea as they brew the perfect cup for a line of waiting customers. The seating area is open and bright with large windows on one side bring great sunlight into the space. There are people shopping in the surrounding shops and you can even hear the ringing of a bicycle bell as a young child is testing her first bike at the bike shop next door. I look around and everyone is really enjoying themselves. There is ample seating inside their space as well as tables located in the public spaces of the Mix. There is also outdoor seating available in the warm sun.

I’m sitting at the bar that surrounds the roaster that the owner, Jeff Duggan, roasts the beans in each day. I was listening in on a conversation and it seems that Jeff has the awesome responsibility of roasting each day. There are bags of coffee beans strewn throughout the space and I just wish he would roast some right now. I bet the smell of roasted coffee has got to be awesome!

While the roaster is the star attraction, let’s not forget the brewers in the center island. Here is where the other half of the magic is made. Here they use one of three brewing methods. The V-60Trifecta, or Siphon. Let’s take a small trip on what each brewing method is and why they don’t just have one method of brewing.

The V-60 is made by a company called Hario. It is a single cup drip method where the coffee is measured by weight not volume. Coffee is placed in a ceramic funnel that has ridges to promote water “traffic”. Here, the perfect amount of tempered hot water is placed in the cone and the grounds brew. Each cup can take up to 4-8 minutes to brew. No instant cups of coffee here, that’s for sure. Yes there is a wait, but it is worth it.

The next method is the BUNN Triefecta another single cup server method that uses air and water to brew the perfect cup. Here grounds are placed in a chamber and water is pushed thru. In addition to the water, air is forced into the chamber to promote agitation making sure that all the grounds get an equal opportunity spin in the water! The barista can make adjustments in water levels and grounds to produce a different cup each time. This machine is like the “Dyson”.

The third method is the Siphon method and my favorite method – if for anything, the technique and fascination of the process. This is a time honored method that goes back many, many years in history. As Jeff Duggan explains in his blog, it looks like something out of Jules Verne and a chemistry set. This method involves temperature and a vacuum to achieve the perfect cup of coffee.

1. Fill bottom vessel with pre-heated 210 degree later
2. Prepare coffee part with a special spring action flange, place weighed (not measured) coffee
3. Wait for water to come to 212 degree (boiling point)
4. Secure coffee vessel to water vessel which is sealed with a rubber stopper
5. As water boils, a vacuum is created that then pushes the water up into the coffee vessel
6. Once most of the water has moved to the top vessel, let sit for a determined amount of time
7. Turn off the heat
8. Place a cool rag around the bottom vessel. The cooler temperature aids in part 9.
9. As the water comes down from boiling point, the water is sucked back down to the lower vessel
10. Once the coffee has moved to the lower vessel it is ready to be served.


I REALLY like this place. It’s comfortable, just enough bustle for excitement, but not loud and obnoxious. The staff is very serious and dedicated to you and the coffee -yet friendly and very approachable.

I’m a bit distracted as I watch the center island and see one of the baristas pouring hot water into one of the V-60s. They don’t simply pour the water in, it takes a careful pour over a period of time. Flooding the funnel with water is not the method here. There is a deliberate pour taking place here. A slow stream of water at 200-210 degrees, just below boiling.

They also brew coffee using a cold method which “brews” coffee over many hours. This “brew” is used when making iced coffees. Similarly impressive in looks to the siphon, cold water drips into grounds and eventually to a holding tank. I didn’t have any clear photos of the brewer, but here is one from the web.


Here are some photos of the food and lattes I also enjoyed this afternoon. They have an excellent selection of both cold and hot teas. A curiosity that I really liked is that they offered simple syrup and Truvia packets in addition to the Whole, Fat Free and Half & Half milks! Stop by soon and enjoy a brew and don’t drink the coffee to fast – enjoy every last drop!




Portola Coffee Lab
3313 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

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