Os Cafés do Brasil em Portland (Brazilian Coffees in Portland)

After watching Brazil destroy Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup this afternoon (3-0), I thought it would be a good time to give a shout out to Portland’s Brazilian coffee company, Nossa Familia. I stopped by there last week for a visit to the company’s (fairly) new walk-in espresso bar, on Northwest 13th Avenue, across from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA). Last fall, Nossa Familia held a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the new addition, and as promised, the café brings a touch of Brazil to downtown Portland, offering single-family Brazilian coffees and treats like pão de queijo (bite-sized cheese bread).

The shop had two espressos available on grind as well as a couple of different brewed coffee options. I chose an espresso of Ernesto’s Blend. It was very creamy, with a viscous mouthfeel that lingered on the palate, sweet at first, with hints of raisin and almond, and a black tea finish.

For most people, the shop will be an in-and-out stop, as seating is quite limited. Curious customers can sit next to the interior windows and watch what’s happening inside the roastery. When the weather is warm and sunny, a couple of tables on the loading dock make a nice spot to sit and enjoy a Pearl District afternoon.

Address: 811 Northwest 13th, Portland, OR 97209 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 7am-4pm
            Saturday: 8am-4pm 
            Sunday: Closed
Website: familyroast.com


One more thing…

Not everything at Nossa Familia’s espresso bar was Brazilian. As I was leaving the shop, I picked up something called a Rip Van Wafel, a small snack imported from Holland. After trying it, my question is, how has this not caught on in the US?

Rip van Yum

The Wafel consists of two thin, crispy waffle wafers sandwiched around a very thin layer of caramel. The directions tell you to warm it up by resting it on top of a mug of coffee, to melt the caramel and give it a hint of coffee flavor. Dipping or eating them plain work too, and they are tasty.

Tough to resist

Nossa Familia – bringing Brazil to Portland


[Part 1 of this story can be found here]

Nossa Familia (“Our Family”) Coffee was founded by Augusto Carvalho Dias Carneiro. Augusto grew up in the city of Rio de Janeiro, but the family’s farm was never very far from his mind. Dias would spend 3-4 months each year there, riding the horses that his grandfather used to herd cattle. The time in the country made a deep impression on him, and each year he looked forward to returning.

Fate brought Augusto to Portland from Brazil. He knew he wanted to study engineering and play tennis at an American college, but did not have a strong preference for a particular place.

“It was the luck of the draw. I sent letters to over 120 schools. I wanted to play tennis and go to school, and I just ended up here.”

The University of Portland responded, and Augusto decided to come to Portland, sight unseen. Before he came, he envisioned himself needing to learn about American sports like baseball and football. When he arrived on campus in the fall of 1996, the university’s soccer-crazy culture made him feel right at home (if you haven’t heard, soccer is fairly popular in Brazil too). The Portland area’s numerous opportunities for biking and the city’s love of coffee also made Portland a good fit for him.

Augusto Carvalho Dias Carneiro, with a notebook containing pictures of the family's coffee farm in Brazil

After graduation, Augusto got a job as an engineer, but quickly found that engineering was not what he wanted to do. He missed Brazil, and was looking for a reason to travel there more frequently. Starting a coffee company was one way to make that happen. Visiting the country in 2004, he spoke with one of his cousins, telling him he was considering importing coffee from the family’s farms to Portland.

The cousin thought it was a good idea, so he sent Augusto back to Portland with 70 pounds of coffee roasted on the farm in Brazil. Augusto brought the coffee back and shared it with family and friends. It was a hit, and Augusto, along with one of his friends from college (no longer invested in the business) decided to start a company.

Each partner put in $400 to bring the first shipment up via FedEx. The coffee sold well. In those days, coffee was much cheaper and the Brazilian real was much weaker than the US dollar, so shipping the coffee up in small quantities was profitable. Still, they knew that bringing the coffee to Portland this way was not going to be the long-term business model, and began looking for other ways to supply Brazilian coffee to the Portland market.

As the company’s wholesale customers began to ask for different types of packaging, various lead times and freshness levels, importing the coffee eventually became too difficult, so they had to come up with another way to bring the coffee to Portland.

Augusto decided the best way to do that would be to partner with a local roaster. He found one in Kobos Coffee. Augusto had met David Kobos and Brian Dibble, Kobos’ owners, when he stopped in to see if they might be interested in buying some green Brazilian beans. Eventually, they came to an agreement where Nossa Familia would import the green beans and Kobos would roast them.

“Partnering with Kobos has been good for us. We can combine my family’s coffee knowledge with their roasting knowledge,” Augusto said.

Nossa Familia employees unload and store the green coffee in Kobos’ warehouse, and Kobos’ roasters roast the coffee twice per week, using specifications that the family’s coffee experts in Brazil supply.

Currently, much of Nossa Familia’s coffee is sold through supermarkets, especially New Seasons. The company’s coffee is also available at some local cafés and restaurants. In the future, Nossa Familia plants to start roasting its own coffee and have its own branded café. Augusto said that when they open the roastery/cafe, it will be easier to share seasonal coffees and micro-lots with their customers. The company may also bring in coffee from other farms in Brazil or other countries that share the same values, creating an “extended familia”.

Farm, family and fun – The adventure of a lifetime

For someone who wants to see firsthand how coffee is grown and processed, Nossa Familia has started the tradition of taking groups of people to Brazil on its annual Coffee Tour. The next trip, which is the fourth one, will take place May 4-14, 2012. The date coincides with the beginning of coffee harvest.

The origins of the trip share a connection with Augusto’s passion for cycling. He is an avid biker, and Nossa Familia has sponsored Cycle Oregon for several years. For a long time, the ride’s director kept asking Augusto when they were going to Brazil, until one day they finally decided to go ahead and plan the trip. The first one, in 2008, was just a group of friends biking around the countryside. Most of the people brought their tents and camped out at night under the stars. The weather cooperated—most of the time.

“One day a huge storm came in, and we were in the house and you could see the tents being folded flat by the wind.  Everything got soaked.” Augusto recalled.

Unplanned weather events notwithstanding, the trip was a success, so they decided to do it again the next year. The first tours were focused on biking, with lots of planned activities. The group  covered many miles on their bikes as they rode around the rolling hills of the countryside. The second and third trips were different. The group spent less time biking and more time doing other things.

“You can go biking everywhere,” Augusto explained, “so the goal became just to experience the culture and everything there is to see.”

It is not only rural Brazil that the travelers get to experience. Fazenda Cachoeira is located about eight miles outside Poços de Caldas, a town of about 200,000 people, so in addition to experiencing life in the country, you also get a glimpse of life in the city.

“We do the cultural thing as well. There is a lively arts and crafts market in the city, and you can visit several restaurants. You’re not just sitting around the middle of nowhere.”

Augusto leads the trip himself. One of the highlights is to observe and participate in the coffee operation. Travelers can help pick the coffee cherries from the trees and then watch as they are processed into green beans, ready to be exported throughout the world.

Sarah, who went on the 2011 trip, recalled picking some unique coffees: “We were able to harvest coffee from these hundred-year-old coffee trees [Fazenda Santa Alina has a “centennial grove,” where none of the plants have been taken out since they were planted in 1907], and you could take a cherry off the plant, toss it in your mouth. When you bit into it, it tasted like honey—super sweet, but it doesn’t have the depth of fruit that a typical cherry would.”

For people nervous about traveling to a country where English is not the main language, Augusto said that a majority of the middle-class Brazilians have taken some English, so they at least know the basics. At the farm, though, very few people speak English, which can lead to some entertaining cultural exchanges. He recounted returning to the farm one evening to find a group of Americans and Brazilians sitting around trying to teach each other their language.

“Someone would pick up an object and say the name in English, then someone from the Brazilian group would try to repeat the word. Everyone would get a good laugh when the person mispronounced the word. They were doing the same for Portuguese.”

Cultural exchanges like this one are an integral and invaluable part of the trip.

Lasting impressions

When I asked what he thinks is the best part of the trip, Augusto responded that  it is “not so much the coffee, but the family. It’s something you can’t sell.” 

For example, Augusto’s grandparents still live on the farm and one evening, they invite the trip’s guests into their house for dinner. It is an opportunity to share stories, culture and great Brazilian food.

Sarah, who went on the most recent trip, also shared what impressed her the most.

“For me, what I came back with—not having been in the coffee industry for a long time—was that I had no concept of what it took to get a green bean to the United States. It did not occur to me the effort, the level of care, all of the processes it took to get there. We were talking about the beans being dried to the correct humidity, but the coffee also has to sit and rest for 60-90 days before it can be shipped. There’s the storage and all the equipment and above all, the people. The best part was meeting Tuca [one of Augusto’s cousins, and manager of one of the farms] who said ‘I’m not a grower of coffee, I’m a leader of people.’ I really forget that’s what it’s about. You can have a product at the end of the day, but if you don’t take care of the people, it’s not worth it. That made a huge impact.”

Coffee has a way of bringing people together, and Nossa Familia was founded on the idea that coffee could provide a bridge between Portland and Brazil. In Nossa Familia’s case, the coffee brings cultures and family together. After speaking with Augusto and Sarah, it was clear that above all, family is the focus of Nossa Familia. One of the sayings at Nossa Familia is that instead of “fair trade,” the company engages in “family trade.” For generations, the Carvalho Dias family’s coffee heritage has been cultivated by people who care about sustainability and high-quality coffee. In these values, Portlandians and Brazilians have something in common.

Finally, the giveaway!

This year, for the first time ever, Nossa Familia is giving away a free trip for two to Brazil! 

Taking the trip to the farm would be a valuable opportunity to learn about coffee production and to soak up the culture of Brazil. The eleven-day trip is full of activities, and a complete itinerary can be found at Nossa Familia’s website. If you don’t happen to win, you can still go. The full cost of the trip is $2950 per person, plus airfare, so start saving up.

No purchase is necessary to be eligible for the sweepstakes. The easiest way to enter the contest is to go to Nossa Familia’s contest page on Facebook. If you do not have a Facebook account, you can still enter. Click on the link to the contest and then click on "Read the Official Rules." Towards the bottom of that page there is a link to an "Alternative Method of Entry." Click on that link and enter your information.  People aged 18 to 99 who reside in the US are eligible to enter. Don’t delay—the sweepstakes ends November 1, 2011, at 4:59am—you don’t want to miss this opportunity.

Good luck! (and if you win, feel free to take me!)

[Special thanks to Kevin, who worked hard to make sure my shot of espresso was pulled just right. It was tasty.]

Let's Go to Brazil! - The Story of Nossa Familia Coffee

[Note: This is Part 1 of the story. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.]

After a brisk morning bike ride, with semi-frozen hands I knocked on the door to Nossa Familia’s coffee headquarters in Inner Southeast Portland, with the intent of learning about Portland’s very own Brazilian coffee company. I also wanted to find out more about the free trip for two to Brazil that Nossa Familia is giving away (click the link to go directly to the sweepstakes). For coffee/culture/language/adventure/travel lovers like myself (and for anyone else who has an adventurer’s pulse), this was definitely a story that I wanted to check out and share with you.

I was able to sit down with Augusto Carvalho Dias Carneiro, the owner and founding family member, and Sarah Bailen Smith, the company’s marketing manager (the “coffeevangelist”) to get both stories.

Generations of Coffee Excellence

Nossa Familia, which means “our family” in Portuguese, relays the importance of family in the company’s story. For more than one hundred years, the Carvalho Dias family has been raising coffee on its farms in Brazil, and through Nossa Familia, some of this coffee is now making its way to Portland and beyond. Thus, there are two intertwining narratives that form the Nossa Familia story. The first is the history of the family’s connection to coffee, and the second is the story of Nossa Familia itself.

In 1890, Augusto’s great-grandfather and three older brothers moved to the Sul de Minas region in search of the sulfurous healing waters that flowed from springs along an ancient volcano. The family settled close to the city of Poços de Caldas, about 160 miles north of the capital, São Paulo, in the southern third of the country. Soon after, Augusto’s great-grandfather planted the family’s first coffee trees in what turned to be a very good location. The rich volcanic soils and the high altitude provided just the right environment for growing coffee, and the farm became successful.

“We were very lucky they settled there,” said Augusto.

Over the years, the farm first grew larger and then was divided up and passed down through the generations. Today, there are three different farms that the Carvalho Dias family operates: Fazenda Santa Alina, Fazenda Recreio, and Fazenda Cachoeira. Various cousins operate the farms and associated coffee businesses.

The Carvalho Dias family has always been concerned with coffee quality, even though Brazilian coffee has not always had the best reputation. This was partly due to government regulations. In the past, all Brazilian coffee was lumped together before being sold on world markets as a commodity. This resulted in a lot of average coffee coming out of the country.

When the government loosened the export restrictions in the 1990s, it created an opportunity for farmers to showcase their individual coffees. Augusto’s cousin Gabriel took advantage of the new freedom and began submitting his coffee to competitions and building connections with world-class baristas. The world noticed that Brazilian coffee could be very good, and Fazenda Cachoeira coffee has been a part of some of the world’s best competition blends. In 2004, coffee from Fazenda Recreio won the Cup of Excellence.

In it for the Long Term

Sustainability is an important concept the specialty coffee industry, and the Carvalho Dias family strives to implement sustainable practices into their farming efforts.

“My family has always done things with the idea that we want to keep the farms running for more than 100 years,” Augusto explained.

That sustainability includes social, economic and environmental aspects. Fazenda Cachoeira is certified by Utz Kapeh, demonstrating it meets strict social and environmental criteria. For most of the year, the farm produces its electricity from a turbine the family installed in the 1950s in the waterfalls. Permanent housing on the farm is provided for the families who work there.

“When you do something for this long, by nature you have to be sustainable,” he added.

Coffee Harvest and Processing

As in many coffee-growing countries, the urbanization of Brazil is changing how coffee is produced. Over the past year, several people have told me that the best way to harvest coffee is to have workers pick the same trees multiple times by hand as the cherries ripen. This ensures that only the ripest cherries make it into the final coffee.

However, in the Carvalho Dias family’s case, the main method of coffee harvest on the fazendas is strip picking. With strip picking, the farmers wait until nearly all of the cherries are ripe on the branches, then strip the branches clean and collect the cherries. It is a much faster way to harvest the coffee, but because it can result in green cherries getting into the coffee, strip-picking does not have the best reputation in the specialty coffee industry.

Augusto explained why: “If you mixed it all, you would lose quality because some of the cherries are not ripe.”

To avoid lowering the coffee’s quality, the family has invested in sorting machines that separate the ripe and non-ripe cherries.

The trend toward faster picking methods and post-harvest separation is likely to continue. As more and more Brazilians move to the cities in search of employment opportunities, there are fewer people to work in the fields and on the farms. In some cases, the migration to the cities is creating labor shortages.

The extent of this change became clear to Augusto on the first tour of the farms he led. In November 2008, the group was riding their bikes through the countryside when they passed by a neighboring farm. By that point of the year, all of the coffee should have been harvested, but surprisingly, they saw many coffee cherries still hanging on the trees, left to rot. Augusto’s cousin told him that the farmer could not afford to bring in out-of-state workers to harvest the coffee, so the coffee stayed on the trees.

This episode changed Augusto’s perception that it was only acceptable to selectively harvest ripe cherries by hand.

“A lot of people, me included, thought that coffee should only be picked by hand. But what’s worse, to use strip-picking or machines, or to let the coffee rot? I think the reality is that in the future, there will be more farms trying to use machinery to harvest the coffee. Otherwise, some coffee will not be harvested.”

Pulp Natural Processing

Two processing methods are used at the farm: natural processed and pulp natural. We talked primarily about the pulp natural method. Augusto pulled out a notebook to share some pictures of how it works.

After the coffee is picked, all of it goes into sorting machines, where unripe cherries, leaves and twigs are separated out. Once separated, the ripe cherries are pressed through a large screen-like mesh that peels off their skin. The resulting mixture of fruit mucilage and seeds are then spread out on large cement pads out in the sun to dry. Once on the pads, the coffee is frequently turned by hand so that it dries evenly.

The coffee goes from the tree to the drying process in about four hours. It is necessary to do this quickly because the sugars in the cherries start to ferment, and too much fermentation can lead to unpleasant tastes ending up in the coffee.

Relying on the sun to dry the coffee is environmentally friendly, but it also introduces the risk of weather-related catastrophes. Sarah pointed out a picture from the notebook of a batch of coffee that had been lost to a sudden rainstorm. You could see how the coffee had been washed away. Such events are part of life on the farm, though with ever-improving weather forecasting technology, they occur less frequently.

After the coffee is dried on the pads for three days, it is sent through a dryer to make sure that the moisture content is even throughout the lot. The dried beans are then polished so that nothing but the seed remains, and the beans are put into large burlap sacks to “rest” for 60-90 days before being roasted or exported.

That’s the story of the family’s coffee. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about how the link between Portland and Brazil was created, in the form of a new Portland coffee company.