Portland Cà Phê opened less than a month ago, but its signature drinks have already managed to become iconic—or at least ubiquitous Instagram fodder.
If you follow the Portland food scene, you’ve surely seen what’s already become a signature snap of the Southeast Holgate coffee shop on your socials: a perfect purple ube latte held aloft in front of a wall-sized map of Vietnam.
It’s a photo-friendly drink, sure. But it’s also as delicious as it looks.
Owner Kimberly Dam started roasting Vietnamese robusta beans as a hobby last year, but demand took off. She quickly became the supplier for beloved cart Matta, Mama Dut, and the House of Banh Mi, owned by her mother, Qui Bui.
In opening Portland Cà Phê, Dam highlights the versatility of Vietnamese coffee beans, offering well-balanced drinks with cardamom syrup, rose and a cà phê sua da, or Vietnamese iced coffee, that’s just the right amount of sweet and strong.
The response to the cafe has been so positive, Dam says she had to hire four more people in the first few weeks to keep up.
And then there’s that ube latte. Featuring the subtly sugary, bright purple ube root extract, it’s not nearly as sweet as the grape hue might lead you to think. Same goes for a rose matcha, which hits the right bitter green tea notes, but with a delicate floral finish.
My go-to is adding cheese foam to the cà phê sua da. Cheese foam—a blend of whipped cream, cream cheese and a dash of sea salt—has taken Asia by storm, and Portland Cà Phê is one of a handful of places in Portland to serve it. I like it over iced drinks because it stays thick and aloft at the top, infusing every sip with richness.
“Cheese foam is widely popular in Asia and available almost everywhere. It’s not necessarily a new concept to me,” Dam says. “Cold foam is pretty popular nowadays in the States, so I wanted to provide something almost the same but different.”
The cafe also sells treats, including coffee cinnamon rolls and handmade pastry pop tarts from Jen’s Bagels and Pastries. But the real excitement lies in the banh mi menu: Portland Cà Phê has now become a low-key second outpost of House of Banh Mi. While the menu is more limited than the Northeast 76th Avenue location, each sandwich is $6 and comes with HOBM’s signature egg butter and generous hand with the pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeño. The fried onion tofu banh mi is a standout, and the grilled pork pairs perfectly with the baguette’s crispy exterior and soft interior.
Dam says she sources her beans from two importers who have struggled to keep up with demand because of COVID supply chain issues, but she hopes more importers will decide to start stocking robusta as well. With the way her “caphe,” as she calls it, has been taking off, the demand is there.
“It’s been a blessing,” she says, “and I am grateful.”
GO: Portland Cà Phê, 2815 SE Holgate Blvd., 503-841-5787, portlandcaphe.com. 8 am-3 pm daily.