Coffee Break

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Nossa Familia coffee leads a community revolution over the ultimate human connector: a cup of joe.

STORY BY KERRY NEWBERRY
PHOTOS COURTESY OF NOSSA FAMILIA

Augusto Carneiro

A group of 12 coffee enthusiasts weave around pallets of burlap bags filled with coffee beans from Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and Kenya. “Hold out your hands,” says Erica Schwager, the education specialist for Nossa Familia Coffee. “We are going to smell some green coffee.” She pours a spoonful of unroasted coffee beans that resemble shelled pistachios into each person’s cupped palms.

Unlike roasted coffee beans, with their aromas of dark cocoa, toasted nuts, and malty fragrance, these raw beans are subtle, with only the slightest grassy note, which surprises everyone in the group. Erica describes a typical coffee shrub: short, low to the ground, dark-green waxy leaves, and bright-red cherries that grow from the branches.

“Most of the flavor and nuances come from the coffee tree,” she says. “Here at the roasting facility, we manipulate the last 20% of flavors.” The origin of the coffee, how it’s grown, and the way it’s processed are where most of the flavor comes from, she explains.

Every Tuesday at noon, Nossa Familia hosts a free public cupping/roastery tour as part of their community outreach program. “We want to share with people the origins of coffee and stories about the farmers who grow the coffee,” says Erica. Along with environmental sustainability, educating and connecting with customers is one of the central tenets of their coffee business.

Nossa Familia —  “Our Family” in Portuguese — has been roasting in Portland’s Pearl district since 2012. The company was founded by Augusto Carneiro, who has century-old family roots on the coffee farms where he grew up in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil. College brought Augusto from Brazil to Portland, and when, in 2004, his family shipped him a container of coffee from Brazil, the former engineer began his transition into Portland’s coffee scene.

Today, about 60% of Nossa Familia coffee comes from family farms in Brazil, with 40% from other direct-trade relationships across the coffee belt. In 2016, the company became Oregon’s first B Corp certified coffee roaster. This means the roastery meets and follows strict business practices that place equal emphasis on the environment, social responsibility, and transparency.

On the tour, you can see many of these practices in action — especially when the group meets Rob Hoos, the director of coffee. Sporting a T-shirt that reads “Coffee is my Cardio,” the bearded roaster radiates excitement as he talks about Nossa Familia’s gleaming Loring S35 Kestrel roaster, the most environmentally friendly roaster on the market.

Designed and built in Northern California, the roaster and most of its components were manufactured in the United States. “This lowers the carbon footprint because the parts don’t have to move so far to get here,” says Rob. More significantly, the roaster is primarily designed for energy efficiency. “It uses 80% less energy and emits 80% less emissions than a comparable standard roaster.”

Additionally, the recycling of hot air from the roaster drum eliminates the need for an afterburner, which allows Nossa Familia to operate in downtown Portland. “So, our energy consumption remains really low,” says Rob. “For one pound of coffee, we only use about one cent of natural gas — which is pretty amazing.”

Other sustainability efforts include switching to 100% renewable (wind) electricity through Portland General Electric, using compostable or recyclable materials wherever possible, and earning Oregon Tilth certification as an organic handling facility. (Nossa Familia currently offers two organic-certified coffees: Augusta’s Organic Breakfast and Camila’s Organic.)

As part of their B Corp certification process, the company formalized their community giving and partnerships, both a part of their mission from the start. One of their longstanding partnerships is with Community Vision, a local organization that finds meaningful employment for adults with disabilities. Through their Employment Connections Program, Nossa Familia hires Community Vision’s clients to work in packaging and distribution.

Since 2013, the company has been working with p:ear, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring homeless and transitional youth, through education, art, and recreation. Nossa Familia facilitates p:ear’s 8-week Barista School, and in 2016, partnered with p:ear to open a kiosk in downtown Portland, where graduates of the barista program can hone their new skills. The coffee company also stores and roasts Central City’s coffee, a product sold to support Central City Concern, a nonprofit that works to alleviate homelessness.

“I am a firm believer that the universe has ways of connecting people who are meant to do good things together,” says Augusto, about the evolution of their citywide partnerships. “And once you do one thing that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, word spreads, and you start attracting and being attracted to other organizations and businesses with a similar mindset.” Plus, coffee is the ultimate connector. The act of grabbing a cup of coffee often sparks new relationships and nurtures the old.

Another way the company partners with similar purpose-driven businesses is through their Quarterly Featured Community Partner program. Each quarter, Nossa Familia selects a local nonprofit to spotlight and support with coffee for their events, financial contributions through Nossa Familia’s Espresso Bar, and staff volunteer time. Previous featured community partners include Hacienda CDC, Trash for Peace, and The ReBuilding Center. “The benefit of owning a business is that we get to create these opportunities for collaboration,” says Augusto.

Back in the Nossa Familia warehouse, the tour ends with a coffee cupping, one of the techniques used to evaluate the flavor and aroma profile of a coffee and to taste the differences between coffee-growing regions. “It’s a tasting and sensory exploration of coffee,” says Erica. She has set a long bistro table with six different coffees, and explains that we’ll engage in each of its stages—from smelling the dry fragrance of the coffee grounds to assessing the wet aromas once hot water is poured.

The group sidles quietly around the table until the tasting and spoon slurping of the coffee begins a few rounds later. Once the discussion around flavors begins, a few people pipe up with descriptors for the different coffees: “citrus” for a micro-lot from Guatemala and “chocolate notes” in a batch from Brazil. Near the end, Erica shares the grower for each cup poured and tasted.

There’s Timoteo Minas, a farmer and president of the San Miguel Escobar Cooperative in Guatemala, who hosts visitors each winter when Nossa Familia leads an educational, weeklong origin trip. Bayardo Reyes of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. And Selva Andina, a cooperative in the northern region of Peru that focuses on sustainable agriculture.

“So often, when we drink a cup of coffee, we forget there’s a farmer behind it,” says Augusto. “We focus on trying to humanize the product and share the story of all the people along the way.”


Kerry Newberry is a freelance writer based in Portland, where she chases stories about people and culture through the lens of food and wine. She contributes regularly to local and national magazines. Read more of her work at kerrynewberry.com

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