One coffee roaster’s journey from coffee ennui to bean devotion
Anyone who meets Augusto Carvalho Dias Carneiro today might be surprised to learn that there was a time in his life when he took coffee for granted.
After all, Carneiro is the founder and owner of one of Portland’s premier coffee roasters and espresso bars, Nossa Familia (roasting & wholesale, 1319 NW Johnson St, 503-719-6605; espresso bar, 811 NW 13th Ave, 541-304-9234). He literally breathes coffee—at least during the 15 seconds of its sustainable roasting process when it emits an aroma. And much of the rest of the time, he thinks and talks about coffee as he builds and maintains relationships with his wholesale customers, including the premium supermarkets New Seasons and Zupan’s, as well as with coffee growers all around the world.
But when he grew up in Rio de Janeiro— even while spending summer vacations on his family’s coffee plantation— he admits he never gave coffee much thought. Good coffee was simply always available, and definitely helpful for pulling all-night study sessions as a teenager, but certainly not a subject that occupied his thoughts. He arrived in the Northwest in 1996 to study engineering at the University of Portland on a tennis scholarship. “I just drank the cafeteria coffee,” he admits, adding, “I’m sorry to say.”
This period began to puncture his coffee ennui. Returning to school following breaks, he increasingly made sure to bring his good family-grown beans back with him. His dorm room became known as a hub of delicious coffee brewing. After graduation and following a few unsatisfying years as an engineer, the coffee business began to look like a promising direction for him to pivot. Carneiro’s coffee importing grew from plastic zip-top bags of beans for personal use to boxes of roasted coffee, until eventually he was bringing in containers of his family’s green coffee beans to sell to Portland roasters. In 2004, his endeavors evolved into Nossa Familia’s first iteration: he imported coffee, had it roasted at Kobos Coffee a couple of times weekly, and then sold it wholesale.
He’d always planned to open his own roasting facility to better control the process, and in 2012 he decided to take the plunge.
“I wanted a place that was good for wholesale and to open a retail shop. I wanted a good loading area. I wanted my employees to be able to commute by bike or public transportation. I was just really picky,” he says.
Carneiro searched the industrial blocks all over Portland, and then one day, while driving back to his home in the city, he says, “The Pearl District chose us.”
As he drove past the warehouse on NW Johnson Street that would become Nossa Familia, he saw that it was available. “No way that can work out,” he remembers thinking. “With all the beautiful buildings and architecture in the neighborhood, I had this perception that the rent would be too expensive.” But it turned out the space fit his budget: “We’re paying the same or less than some spots in Southeast on Northeast,” he says. Nossa Familia opened for business as a coffee roaster, and a year later, in 2013, he opened the espresso bar. His operations now employ 20 people, and Carneiro expects to expand again soon.
“When we opened in the Pearl, I like to call that the start of Nossa Familia 2.0,” he says. Part of that second phase includes creating a more informed customer base. “There’s a lot of room in the market for better coffee and better coffee education—especially about the farming communities where we buy our coffee,” he says. To that end, he personally leads a regular trip to Brazil’s coffee country, bringing along small groups of no more than 12 people from the Portland area. And closer to home, every Tuesday at noon, Nossa Familia offers a free tour of its roasting facility, including a coffee tasting at the end. His aim is to put Nossa Familia coffee—which now certainly occupies most of Carneiro’s thoughts—into as many minds and coffee cups as possible, both in the Pearl and beyond. – Alison Stein / Photos by Ashley Anderson