Q&A: Nossa Familia's Augusto Carneiro

The mastermind behind one of Portland's most sustainable roasters shares stories from a six-generation coffee family to mark the launch of his new espresso bar.

By Allison Jones April 8, 2013

When your family has been in the coffee business for over a century, you can be forgiven for being a bit fanatical about a good roast. Nossa Familia's Augusto Carneiro carries passion for great coffee in his genes, a passion he set out to share with the Pacific Northwest when he moved from Brazil to Portland in the late 90s.

Nossa Familia has been a big name in Portland wholesale and retail coffee since it launched in 2006, setting a new standard of sourcing and community: Carneiro sources beans from his family's own farm in Brazil, a self-sustaining "agro-village" that's home to 47 resident families. Housing is provided for farm workers and their families free of charge, and the village has a school, church, social club for gatherings and dances, health clinic, and a soccer field.

Carneiro hopes to continue his family's success—and dedication to community—with the launch of his coffee roaster's new Pearl District espresso bar, the first coffee bar in the country where the coffee stays in the family from seed to cup with no middlemen in between.

I sat down with him to find out about Brazilian coffee traditions, his annual coffee tour, and how hard it is to avoid the pull of six generations of a family business. 

 1. After seven years of successful wholesale operations, what drove you to open an espresso bar?

Our goal with Nossa Familia Coffee has always been to showcase my family's coffee and make lots of friends along the way. While we do that through our wholesale partners, we wanted to take it a step further and have the coffee in an environment where we can tell the story in-depth.

 2. Can you walk me through Nossa Familia's seed-to-cup supply chain?

My family has been growing coffee in the Sul de Minas and Mogiana region of Brazil since the 1890s. Every step of the growing and harvesting is managed by my relatives. Once the coffee is harvested, we send it to a coffee mill and export company that was started by two of my cousins. Our coffee is then shipped in a container directly to Nossa Familia in Portland. All the beans are stored here in our roastery—which can be seen from the espresso bar—where our head roaster does his magic every day, and the final step is serving my family's coffee at our Espresso Bar.

3. As part of a six-generation coffee family, did you ever consider doing anything else? 

I naively ‘tried’ doing something else… I’m a ‘recovering’ Mechanical Engineer.  I actually moved to Portland to attend the University of Portland, where I earned a BS in ME and met my lovely wife Carissa. I survived in a consulting engineering firm for four years before accepting it was not for me. Many in the coffee industry here told me it would never work, because I only had coffee from one country… HA! I’d like to think Nossa Familia did ‘single-origin’ coffees before it became hip! The truth is my family in Brazil was also nervous for me, asking if it really was wise to give up a stable engineering career.  

4. Your family embraced many sustainability systems on the farm long before they were in vogue. Can you tell me more about the farm being off the grid and the ethical support of the farm's working community?

If you break down the word, it is ‘sustain-ability,’ or the ability to sustain. We are not in it for short term profits, so my family has always focused on ways to improve and sustain the soil, to have more affordable and reliable power and to take care of people, with better homes, as well as happier and healthier people that have an opportunity to go to school to get an education. Eleven months out of the year, our farm is completely removed from the power grid thanks to a small 1950s turbine and generator to produce power from the on-site waterfall. In addition to the generator, we also use the dried coffee husks to power the processing equipment.

This year I am fulfilling a long term goal: I’ll be spending 10 weeks in Brazil at my family's farm to completely immerse myself in the farm during the harvest. While I'm there I will be hosting our annual coffee tour, and will be helping teach some basic English to the kids at the farm. 

5. Are there any coffee-drinking traditions in Brazil that you'd like to see come to Portland?

In Brazil, we drink a cafezinho. This is a small and strongly brewed coffee, offered at every meeting, gatherings and after meals. It would be the equivalent of a 4-5 oz doppio Americano. We are still determining how to best describe it on our menu.

6. How about any Portland traditions you'd like to see pop up in Brazil?

I wish they had better milk based drinks (cappuccinos and macchiatos) as well as less sugar in coffee—Brazilians do have a sweet tooth! I’d also love to see higher quality overall… this is a sad fact in every coffee producing country: the best coffee is exported and locals get used to a lower grade coffee. But what I’d REALLY love to take home to Brazil is some of Portland’s finest beer!

Nossa Familia Espresso Bar
811 NW 13th Avenue
Mon-Fri: 7 am - 3 pm
Sat: 8 am - 4 pm

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