K-Pop, Cat Cakes, and Cotton Candy Coffee at Soro Soro
We didn’t see this coming. Caffeinated cotton candy. Over ice cream. At 10 a.m. Here’s the drill: using a burst of circular motion, you pour hot espresso over a mondo cloud of fresh-spun white sugar rising out of a bowl. In a flash, it wildly bubbles, melts, and morphs into a mass of sticky-thick coffee toffee that both crowns and infuses the hidden treasure below—a trio of vanilla bean scoops.
Snow Affogato, as it’s called at Soro Soro (2250 E Burnside St)—a new daytime Korean coffee and dessert shop—is more than a riff on Italy’s famed ice cream “drowned” in espresso. It’s fun and funny, sweet enough to make your dentist cringe, and possibly the most talked-about dish in town in recent memory. You might not want to slurp it every morning. (Maybe you do; we’re not judging.) But minimally, Snow Affogato has earned a slot on Portland’s culinary bucket list.
Normally, a cotton candy menu sighting is a danger sign: warning, falling rocks of desperation ahead. At Soro Soro it’s part of the charm. The place recently materialized on East Burnside, with cultural references that punch through Portland’s homogenized hipster coffee culture. Japan’s kawaii “cute” aesthetic is in the house, but the place looks like a comfy Korean apartment filled with flea market finds. K-pop bops on the sound system and snuggly blankets beckon from a corner basket, should your legs get cold. Folksy cat art is everywhere, down to the whisker-faced frosting on the house cheesecakes. The coffee is Stumptown, but the latte art is pure Koreatown, every cup etched with smile-inducing bears and sided by a little gratis cream puff.
Owner Tae Kim and his wife, Bobae (Soro Soro’s “head baker and barista”), fell in love over coffee dates all around Los Angeles, where they met after moving from South Korea. They opened their own shop, Café Maji, in 2012 and in short order gained a small cult following behind a Bobae brainstorm: snow affogato. “She’s obsessed with affogato,” confesses Tae. “Even at McDonald’s, Bobae would pour hot coffee over ice cream.” After selling their first café in 2017, they traveled to 38 states on a life quest journey, which ended in Portland. In June, Soro Soro opened, the name referencing the pronunciation of a Korean character that encourages the act of “doing something together.” Hanging tags on tiny table vases say it all: “Hello Portland.”
Soro Soro’s desserts, however adorable, are not technical wonders. I wish the sponge cakes were less dense. The “rainbow cake,” a fixation in South Korea’s trendy coffee culture, is best admired on Instagram. The standout so far: soft, rich Earl Grey chocolate cake, interspersed with tea-soaked cream, and sporting edible googly eyes that peer hilariously out of wavy chocolate frosting. Most intriguing: the positively vegetal matcha tiramisu.
Yet Soro Soro is indeed a destination, an experience, with a fresh voice, some unique choices, and a compelling aesthetic. It offers something not easy to find in our insular city: a world beyond Portland. After a recent Soro Soro meet-up, my friend Haehee summed it up over email: “Korean coffee culture is less about caffeinating and more about connecting. Koreans, mostly millennials, notice the overall ambience, the details, the service. They’re less concerned about whether they do pour-overs correctly or carry Oatly. Hope that makes sense.” It does, perfectly.