Beverage Artisan: Nossa Familia Coffee
Nossa Familia Coffee founder Augusto Carneiro takes pride in having the friendliest espresso bar in town. He trains his baristas not just to make and serve great coffee – which is mainly sourced straight from his family’s farm in Brazil – but also to be coffee ambassadors and educators. “If someone walks into our Espresso Bar knowing nothing about coffee,” he tells them, “that’s the best thing that could happen. Then you have an opportunity to educate them and to be their coffee hero.”
We sat down with Augusto over a latte at the Nossa Familia Espresso Bar in the Pearl District to learn more about what sets this coffee company apart.
How did you get involved in the coffee business, and how did Nossa Familia start?
I grew up in Rio but would spend all my holidays at our family’s beautiful coffee farm. I have this vivid memory of waking up early and getting on a horse with some of the farm cowboys.
I moved to Portland in 1996 to go to engineering school and really suffered through it. In the third year of working as an engineer, everyday I was waking up unhappy to go to work. After I became disheartened with engineering, I wanted to showcase what my family had done. One of my cousins had started a roasting company in Brazil and he encouraged me to bring some coffee samples over. So I flew to Portland with my 70-pound luggage full of coffee. We sold some of it and gave some away to neighbors and friends. Eventually I quit my job, and a friend and I put in a small investment to start the business.
What was the response from other coffee makers when you first started selling your coffee?
We started at a time when sustainability and direct-trade were just starting to become buzzwords. I had people in the coffee industry telling me my model was flawed – they’d say, how can you have a coffee company with the coffee coming from only one country? So, I like to say we did single-origin before it was hip. We had no roasting know-how, so we had a co-packer and partnered with a local roaster to roast for us.
We have been roasting our own beans since 2012. It was a really momentous day when we opened the Espresso Bar and became one of very few vertically integrated coffee companies: my family is growing the coffee, my cousin helps select and bag and export the coffee, we’re the importers and we’re roasting and brewing and serving it. There’s nobody in the middle getting exploited along the way.
Have you expanded beyond single origin since then?
We wanted to expand a little bit and taste coffees from different parts of the world, but didn’t want to lose the family connection. We started looking at other origins, but only wanted to work with people we could have a true relationship with. We’re slowly starting to bring in other origins (Guatemala and Nicaragua). Every coffee country has a different profile, so it’s great in terms of the coffee, and it’s also fun to go visit these family farmers in other countries. We like to think we’re coffee farmers helping other coffee farmers.
What’s unique about how your coffee tastes?
There’s a tendency in the industry to go to very light, fruity roasts, and while that’s exciting to a lot of coffee professionals, we find that a lot of customers don’t prefer it. They associate those lights roasts with sourness. We feel like we do a good job of listening to our customers and we still have a darker roast option that has a nice, chocolatey coffee flavor. I don’t believe every coffee should taste like blueberries or some other fruit. A good Brazilian coffee with medium to dark roast has a very appealing coffee taste.
What does sustainability mean to you and your business?
To me, the idea of sustainability goes back to my family, and the root of the word is to sustain. For us, that means to sustain the farm from generation to generation and providing a good living, which is both economically and environmentally sustaining. If our forefathers had depleted the soil or destroyed the land, it wouldn’t be sustaining. We think of sustainability as a lifeline, something we need to do to keep going.
Locally, the idea influenced our early choice of roaster, as well as some of the decisions we made when building the Espresso Bar. We were one of the first in Portland to buy a Loring Coffee Roaster, which has an embedded afterburner and is able to recirculate the heat, saving 80% of energy compared to a conventional roaster. In the Espresso Bar we worked with a local company to build with eighty to ninety percent reclaimed wood.
What are your goals for the business?
One of our near-term goals is to be one of the best 100 companies to work for in Oregon. We have a great internal culture, but are still working on offering the things we want to offer to our employees. As far as the coffee craft, we want to keep educating people about the origins of coffee and the challenges behind farming, and encouraging people to think about where the products they consume are coming from. We want to have the friendliest espresso bar. It drives me crazy that there are still a lot of snobs in the local coffee scene. We want to take the time to share what we know and educate you rather than judging you for not knowing. In the end, coffee is our craft, and we want to share our enthusiasm for it. We try to keep a balance of how seriously we take it with the fact that it’s coffee, and we want people to enjoy it, however they want to experience it.
Nossa Familia Coffee Espresso Bar
811 NW 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97209