A cafezinho at Nossa.
A new wave of cafés run by immigrants and first-generation Americans is showcasing the world’s coffee-growing regions, one flavorful cup at a time.
Almost all coffee beans come from the same three parts of the world – Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – while “coffee culture” stems from elsewhere: Italian espressos popularized by mega-chains, for example, and a tsunami of third-wave shops embracing the crisp modern aesthetics of Scandinavian cafés. The world’s coffee-growing regions have largely been ignored by the industry, despite having their own flavors and traditions worth savoring.
But in Portland – a Pacific Northwest hub of culinary creativity – immigrants and first-generation Americans are thoughtfully (and deliciously) connecting beans to the places they came from. Mexican beans accompany savory empanadas, Chinese coffee powers gorgeous red-date lattes, and Vietnamese ca phe sua is made with beans from the same country. By importing decor, service, and drink styles, along with the coffee itself, these five cafés brew up exciting flavors rarely found in the U.S. – fitting in a city known for its progressive thinking.
“No trip to Portland is complete without a visit to some of the city’s hundreds of stationary food carts, parked in groups called pods. For some of the best Brazilian food, visit the Brazilian House cart at the Bite on Belmont pod. I love the moqueca, a delicious stew often made with fresh seafood and coconut milk.”
– Jubilee Slivkoff
Un cafecito at Esperanza.
Esperanza Trading Co.
This plant-filled shop that opened in February is run by the hospitality group behind República, one of Portland’s most popular restaurants. Esperanza serves beans from Mexico and elsewhere, roasted and ground to create an array of coffee drinks, including cafecito, cortadito, and café de olla, a spiced coffee made with cinnamon and piloncillo (raw dark sugar). Equally as delicious: the pan dulce, rainbow-sprinkle conchas (sweet buns), mango empanadas, and escabeche cream-cheese rolls made by executive pastry chef Olivia Bartruff and her team.
Super Joy’s co-owner Joe Yang.
Super Joy Coffee
The country built by tea also grows coffee: China ramped up its coffee production about a decade ago, and Super Joy’s stars are beans from Yunnan Province, roasted by co-owner Joe Yang. Yang, a former La Marzocco salesperson in China and a current Q grader (like a sommelier for coffee), puts quality and flavor first, but the deep red (a lucky color in China) bags of beans hint at Super Joy’s other goal: to incorporate Chinese culture into the café. Customers can taste the result of that mission on the streamlined drink menu, which includes espresso drinks made with Chinese peppers, sweet ginger, and caramel soy sauce.
Portland Cà Phê.
Portland Cà Phê
Deemed as too dark and bitter, Vietnamese robusta coffee beans have long had a bad rap among consumers, taking a back seat to the arabica variety. But robusta’s higher caffeine levels and lower sugar content work well in the drinks often served in Vietnam, such as ca phe sua, traditionally brewed in a small metal filter called a phin, often dripping directly into condensed milk. Founder Kim Dam began roasting Vietnamese beans during the pandemic and ended up turning her hobby into a business. With the intention of changing the reputation of Vietnamese beans, she started creating roasts for her family’s banh mi shop, then selling beans online. In 2021, she added a small café to her roastery in Southeast Portland, where she serves drinks made using a blend of Vietnam-grown arabica and robusta beans, as well as a small menu of Vietnamese sandwiches, including the house-special pork banh mi.
At Café Zamora, marimba music plays in the background as patrons sip pour-overs beneath a Guatemalan flag that hangs from the ceiling. The Southeast Portland shop, opened in 2019, was the realization of a decades-long dream for Héctor Mejía Zamora, who grew up in Santa Rosa, Guatemala, working on his father’s coffee farm. Though his dad died when he was 14, Zamora continued pursuing his father’s goal to sell high-quality Guatemalan coffee directly to the consumer – Café Zamora brews the family farm’s beans. The café’s second location, an outpost in downtown’s popular Portland Food Hall, opened in 2022. Swing in for iced brews or to pick up a bag of beans to bring home.
Brazilian cheese waffles at Nossa Familia Coffee’s Central Eastside outpost.
Nossa Familia Coffee
Augusto Carneiro’s family has grown coffee in Brazil since the nineteenth century, and while his family’s farms no longer supply all the coffee to his Portland roastery, guests at Nossa Familia’s three locations can still taste that legacy in many of the company’s “Family Line” roasts, along with farm-direct beans from Latin America. But the Brazilian flavor at Nossa goes beyond the beans – the espresso bar serves the classic cafezinho (espresso, hot water, and raw sugar) on its menu of “Nossa Signatures,” along with the ideal accompaniment: fresh Brazilian cheese waffles, its twist on the classic pão de queijo.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Virtuoso, The Magazine.