Less and More Coffee Is the New Café Downtown Portland Needs Right Now
Downtown Portland isn’t exactly a hotspot for new food and drink openings, but a year-old coffee kiosk is quietly operating as a bright light and buzzing hub of morning activity. Less and More Coffee, housed in a vintage bus shelter, celebrated its first anniversary this week at 1003 SW 5th Ave. It’s unlike any other coffee shop in Portland, with drinks ranging from classic to innovative with a focus on Chinese and Korean flavors, black sesame to ssuk.
Staples like drip coffee, cold brews, and lattes are on offer for straight-up coffee drinkers, using custom roasts with Guatemalan, Guatemalan, or Ethiopian beans from fellow Portland roaster In J/Superjoy Coffee. But there are also plenty of options for those who like their coffee with a twist—or want to avoid coffee altogether.
The iced black sesame latte is beautifully layered and completely housemade, while the signature tiramisu latte incorporates mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and cream cheese. The iced drinks included ingredients I’d never heard of, including ssuk (mugwort), a bitter, earthy herb that grows in China and Korea that’s often used in sweet rice cakes, and omija berry, a five-flavor fruit (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and pungent) cooked into a syrup for six hours and allowed to steep for a full week. There are also pastries—croissants, hand pies, cinnamon rolls, savories, and muffins—from our top-ranked favorite bakery, Bakeshop. Customers sit at bar stools around the bus shelter’s curved edge, or lounge on comfy chairs and coffee tables on the sidewalk plaza.
“Portland is famous for its traditional coffee, very straightforward, like Stumptown, Water Avenue,” says owner Ryan Jie Jiang. “I’m very confident about our coffee, but for the non-coffee drinker, what can I bring to make them start drinking coffee? I wanted to bring a more colorful, joyful menu and differentiate between other coffee shops like famous coffee shops in Portland.”
Jiang is no stranger to the coffee industry. He discovered his passion for coffee 12 years ago during college in China’s Jilin Province, where he grew up, and immediately began working as a barista in China. Ten years ago, he moved to Los Angeles, where he managed a coffee shop. But during the pandemic, Jiang had to lay off many employees, and costs were too high to even dream of opening his own shop. He came to Portland, where he’d often visited for coffee competitions and connected with In J/Superjoy owner Joe Yang, to get a fresh start in a coffee-obsessed city.
Jiang is ethnically Korean but grew up in China, so his ingredients reflect both cultures. His parents, who live in Korea, ship dried mugwort and omija berries to Portland for his signature ssuk latte and omija-ade. Other Asian ingredients on the menu include black sesame, ube, hojicha, and injeolmi, or toasted soybean powder. Sometimes, though, simple ingredients are used in creative ways. The cloud cream latte is simply super-airy whipping cream with a bit of sugar, but it gives the drink a much lighter feeling than your typical drink topped with whip.
When Less and More first opened in fall 2021, Jiang says business was so slow, he was the only person staffing the kiosk, showing up seven days a week. After six months, business picked up, and he now has four baristas on staff. Customers posted on social media, and even other coffee shop owners visited and spread the word online.
“LA is crazy, so competitive,” says Jiang. “[Here], it’s like, ‘I'm the owner of [a] coffee shop and hope you guys get through this pandemic.’ All the support and wishes are just awesome.”
Jiang says he has some customers visiting as often as twice a week from faraway spots like Hillsboro and Vancouver. One year in, Jiang is already hoping to open coffee shops in Beaverton and Southeast Portland within the next few years.
We tried a few of the shop’s signature drinks, and found them refreshing, not-too-sweet, and unique. Here’s our take.
Iced Ube Latte
If you’re looking to brighten up your mundane drink order, the iced ube latte is a solid way to start. This signature purple yam drink, made here without coffee, offers subtle earthy, marshmallow-like flavor and is made with agave, leaving you with a subtle sweetness that lightly lingers on your tongue post-sip. (Also available hot!) —Dalila Brent
Cloud Cream Mocha
New to the menu, Less and More’s Cloud Cream Mocha is like a reverse mullet: party up top with a pillowy puff of homemade cream sprinkled with a dark cacao garnish, and two shots of espresso and dark chocolate below. Sit and sip at the bar, or take a foam-lipped stroll around the city. —Dalila Brent
Iced Ssuk Latte
The ssuk latte is not too sweet, not too bitter. We didn’t know what to expect from ssuk, but it delivers a mellow, earthy taste, though it could have been slightly more pronounced. —Isabel Lemus Kristensen
While hojicha is often drunk on its own or served with milk (I love it iced with boba), I’d never seen hojicha paired with coffee. This is a veritable rocketship of caffeine, with roasted green tea combined with two espresso shots. But the taste is surprisingly mellow and drinkable, with the tea providing toffee-like notes that pair well with the coffee’s hint of bitterness. —Katherine Chew Hamilton