Fiercely independent, hands-on coffee

Gladstone's Happyrock Coffee Company roasts its own beans, bucks corporate coffee
by: Ellen Spitaleri, Chris Freeman, owner of Happyrock Coffee in Gladstone, stands near his in-house coffee roaster. Freeman said he roasts as often as he needs to, as he is a “believer in extremely fresh coffee.”

For some, coffee is merely a drink. For Chris Freeman, the owner of Happyrock Coffee Company in downtown Gladstone, coffee is so much more.

'Coffee is an art to be achieved on the highest level,' he said, adding that he can offer some of the best coffees around, because 'I'm so small and I can offer good personal service.'

Freeman described Happyrock Coffee Company as a 'small [coffee] roasting warehouse with a retail bar.'

He acquired Happyrock a year-and-a-half ago, and now serves only fair trade and organic coffees.

'I offer a full spectrum of roast from light to dark - that's one of my trademarks. I cater to traditional Italian espresso and something I call experimental alchemy,' Freeman said.

He roasts his own coffees in-house, and only in small quantities, and uses a 'piston lever espresso machine' to prepare the drinks, because it gives him more control over each shot.

'I roast whenever needed. I'm a firm believer in extremely fresh coffee - I don't let anything age.'

Free trade isn't fair trade

A lot of people do not understand the difference between free trade and fair trade, Freeman noted, and 'they are entirely different.'

Small farmers in developing countries are not treated well, under free trade, but under fair trade 'the farmer is compensated,' and that is 'a good moral practice,' he said.

'My own morals support farmers,' he explained, and he only wants to offer coffees that 'are grown under moral practices.'

Freeman is fiercely pro independent coffee shops, and is 'working to create a network of independent roasters' so they can 'purchase large quantities from small farmers.

'I'm a strong advocate of the independent coffee shop and I won't sell to larger corporate entities,' he said, adding that he wants to 'acknowledge all the great coffees in the area,' and wants to network with other micro roasters all over the West Coast to help promote 'independent coffee versus corporate coffee.

'The coffee market is so huge - it's the corporate shops that screw it up. Starbucks just bought the company that invented the Clover machine,' he said, referencing a unique, one-cup, commercial-grade coffee maker that has gained the favor of serious coffee shops. 'It makes me sick that the company that invented the machine would sell out to a company that is the enemy of an independent shop.'

Drinking locally

Freeman said he is a 'big believer in keeping as local as possible.'

Patricia Hoffman, a Gladstone potter, makes all the cups Freeman uses, he said, holding up what he calls a 'tubby mug,' that he said is 'great for tea and coffee because it holds the heat for a long period of time.'

His baked goods, including scones and muffins, come from Singer Hill in Oregon City; and he brews his own chai from fresh-ground herbs and fresh ginger.

He supports people who want to mix their own blends from his freshly roasted coffees, and said that 'coffee is a very personal business.

'I have single-origin coffee, all at a cupper's light roast so that you can taste the beans - their true flavor. This helps me help others create their own custom blends.'

He added, 'I'm not worried about my secrets, but I believe in teaching people to do things right. I figure if anybody is so unoriginal they have to copy me, they don't understand the art' of coffee making.

Community coffee shop

Freeman, who spent many years in California learning the coffee trade, said a master roaster first taught him 'how to do real Italian-style espresso,' and then he branched out and began to experiment with different blends.

Freeman's wife is from Portland, so she 'imported' him to the area, he said, and when he heard that Happyrock was available he jumped at the opportunity to have his own place.

'It's a very community-oriented coffee shop,' Freeman said, and a glance around at the small, cozy spot proves that to be true.

There are four main seating areas inside, and on warm days patrons spill outside onto the patio.

Sandy Hunt, a Gladstone resident, brought her friend Jennifer Bagley to the shop last week, and their main concern was being able to get a seat.

To their relief a couple of chairs remained, and both women ordered cappuccinos.

'I love the atmosphere here - it's a local gathering place. I come here a lot,' Hunt said, savoring her hot drink.

'The cappuccino is the best I've ever had; it is not bitter, but it has a full flavor. I also like the cup and the pretty design on top,' she added.

A group of four men nearby played cards, several people worked on computers and the rest of the patrons sipped coffee and chatted.

Freeman said, 'I say the community owns it; I just run it.'

Fast Facts

Happyrock Coffee is located at 465 Portland Ave. in Gladstone; 503-650-4876. Web site:

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Specialty blended coffees available only at Happyrock Coffee

Pearls of Heaven and Sunshine's Treasure - light roasted coffees

Darkness of Divinity and Storm of the Black Bear - dark roasts

Cloud Dancer and Grizzly's Houseblend-Viennese blends

And one traditional Italian-style espresso

Fair-trade and organic single-origin coffees

Paco Fundo, from Brazil. Chris Freeman, owner and coffee roaster, described this coffee as 'deep bodied, sweet and heavy.'

Pronatur, from Peru, is the 'lightest of them all.'

Rain Forest Alliance, from El Salvador, has a 'spicy character.'

Gayoland, from Sumatra is 'more earthy' in tone.

Yirgacheffe, from Ethiopia, usually has a 'berry flavor, but the crops from last year have a lemon flavor,' with a bit of chocolate.

AA Kaliluni, Kenya. This is the 'first fair-trade coffee to hit the market,' Freeman noted.

A Darn Fine Decaffe is a 'good, water-process organic from Sumatra. Its full-bodied, yet mellow flavor can cup it side by side with regular Sumatra, and you don't notice it is decaf.'

Coming soon: Tanzanian fair-trade peaberry.