With its high ceilings, large windows, hardwood trim and modern chairs, Caffè Umbria fits in well in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District. The modern coffee bar, decked out in brushed stainless steel, contrasts with the antique pottery sitting on top of it. These elements, modern and antique, combine to give the café an new-world feel with just a bit of the old.
Caffè Umbria is a Seattle-based coffee company that has “invaded” the Portland coffee scene. My first experience with Caffè Umbria coffee was at the end of a very good meal at Roma Ristorante, a downtown Italian restaurant. I enjoyed the coffee that night and I was delighted when I later stumbled across the café. Since that first time, I have returned on several occasions for coffee or gelato (they have excellent gelato, though the selection is limited out of season). If you are lucky, the baristas will give you a small piece of dark chocolate with your drink, a nice extra that adds to the experience.
The coffee itself is more Italian-style than many of the Portland roasters’ coffee. The espresso ($2.25 for a double) is a dark, toasty blend that is good for drinking solo or in a cappuccino. If you are looking for exotic flavors, Umbria is not where you want to go. They do have a very good hot chocolate that I would recommend on one of the cold, rainy days that are bound to be coming soon to Portland.
In addition to coffee, you can also order several different wines to accompany one of the available salads or sandwiches. If you are looking for entertainment, the café puts on foreign films on most Thursday evenings and offers Italian league soccer on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I like Caffè Umbria because it tries to have a touch of class without being too stuffy. You could say it is kid-friendly—well, at least no one yelled at the mother who kept letting her screeching one year-old run across the floor when I was in there the other day. People also like to conduct business at the café. It seems like every time I go in and sit down at one of the back tables, I end up overhearing a conversation where someone has an idea for a new gallery or some great marketing campaign.
My favorite time to visit the café is in the winter, in the late afternoon just after the sun goes down. At that time of day, the café seems smaller, more intimate. I sit at the table by the front corner window and watch people pass by, constructing lives for them in my head that may someday be shared through verse or song. If you are ever down in the Pearl District and looking for a place to rest while drinking some good coffee, Caffè Umbria is a place that waits for you.
Address: 303 NW 12th Portland, OR 97209 (map)
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 7am-7pm
Coffee: Caffè Umbria
Free Wi-Fi? No
Recommend it? Yes
Website (for the Portland café): http://www.caffeumbria.com/v2/portlandcafe.html