Amid Portland's sea of coffee shops, Portland Cà Phê, which celebrates its grand opening this Friday, April 23 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., can certainly say it’s doing something no other coffee shop is doing: serving coffee beans that are 100% grown in the central highlands of Vietnam.
That’s a rarity, says Portland Cà Phê owner and roaster Kim Dam, a longtime barista and community health worker who began roasting coffee during the pandemic. In fact, even the beverage listed on many restaurant’s menus as “Vietnamese coffee” may not have been made with coffee beans grown in Vietnam, but rather with Cafe Du Monde, which she says is a chicory-loaded coffee from New Orleans made with non-Vietnamese beans, often used as a substitute for Vietnamese coffee. Her family’s business, House of Banh Mi, used Cafe Du Monde coffee until Dam began sourcing and roasting Vietnamese-grown beans from places like Bon Mua, a Salem Vietnamese coffee importer. Soon, her clients grew to include Matta and Mama Dút Foods, for whom she created custom roasts.
At her new cafe, Dam will showcase four coffee blends using a combination of arabica beans (the variety most commonly seen in the US, especially in craft coffee shops) and robusta beans, for which Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest producers. Her house blend is a medium-roasted half-arabica (sweeter, fruitier) and half-robusta blend (earthier); there’s also a 100% arabica roast and a smoky, molasses-like dark roast. Dam’s current favorite: Da Lat, a high-acidity medium roast with what she describes as a “plummy” flavor and best consumed black.
The menu also includes cà phê sữa đá, though Dam notes that it’s “smoother [and] not as sweet” as many of its counterparts because it contains less sweetened condensed milk. Those looking for something new can also try a latte with housemade ube syrup, and for non-coffee drinkers, the cafe offers matcha, Diaspora Co. chai, and hot tea.
The coffee shop also looks to be a promising new banh mi spot in Southeast Portland. Dam will offer seven kinds of House of Banh Mi sandwiches on the menu, including grilled pork, Vietnamese meatball, spicy beef, and fried onion tofu from Bui Natural Tofu. And, for the grand opening, she’ll also offer the uber-flaky, pork-stuffed (or vegan version) patê sô made by Anh Tran, one of the former owners of the now-closed Vietnamese restaurant Yen Ha to the first 20 customers free of charge, as well as a special $5 ca phe sua da and pate so bundle. (We at PoMo have been big fans of this patê sô ever since we tried it last December.) Limited indoor seating is available, with outdoor seating coming in May.
Every cup of coffee is served with plenty of Vietnamese pride. On the wall is a mural of Vietnam by Portland artist Alex Chiu, with labels and illustrations of some of Vietnam’s major regions and cities.
“When I started Portland Cà Phê, I really just wanted to pay homage to my heritage and how wonderful the country is,” Dam says. With the cheery, bright yellow mural in the otherwise minimalistic coffee shop, there’s no mistaking this coffee’s roots.