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Sterling Coffee Roasters—white tablecloth and fresh flowers included, of course. 

Image: Karen Brooks

Aric Miller and Adam McGovern know how to cram serious pleasures into tiny spaces. In 2010, the baristas/business partners behind Sterling Coffee Roasters took the micro-roasting movement to heart. First, they literally roasted coffee beans on the street in front of the Northwest Portland Trader Joe’s, inside in a 50-square-foot cart that looked like a London bar. They served their heavenly espresso in single-malt Scotch glasses. It was the most inspired coffee model I’ve ever seen. 

In 2012, they “scaled up” and relocated around the corner with a 200-square-foot coffee shop at 417 NW 21st Avenue, renowned for flawless coffee drinks—cortados to mochas—delivered by hand to each tiny, white linen-clad, flower vase-topped table. There’s only eight seats, and that’s part of beauty and curse of Sterling Coffee Roasters. Five years in, the shop remains one of Portland’s premier coffee shop destinations, with a “just for you” vibe unlike anywhere else. 

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Sterling Coffee Roasters co-owner Aric Miller thinking big thoughts at the roaster's roomier new Northwest 21st Avenue digs.

Image: Karen Brooks

Now Miller and McGovern are going big—by Sterling standards. The duo (who recently sold their pioneering Coffeehouse NW on West Burnside Street) just inked a lease for a 750-square-foot home at 518 NW 21st Avenue, a block from Cinema 21. The plan is to open the new space this fall, with roughly 30 seats and a fresh look that includes marble-topped Parisian tables, banquettes, and lots of foliage. Mostly, quips Miller, “we just want a place where we can actually get mail delivered.”

No drink changes are afoot for now, though with more space Sterling will be able to expand its seasonal coffee drinks, which are among the city’s best. The biggest challenge will be maintaining Sterling’s signature intimacy and barista banter. Miller, who doubles as an artist, is overhauling the former retail space with that in mind. “Right now, you get an experience at Sterling,” he says. “There’s no way you can’t get an experience. The question is, how to scale that?”

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Sterling Coffee Roasters

$ Coffee 417 NW 21st Ave

Sterling Coffee Roasters defied the gods of coffee-ology with heavenly espresso flights and micro-roasted beans spilling giddily from a 50-square-foot cart d...