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Third-generation Kenyan coffee farmer Faisal Mutua has officially opened the Abundancia Coffee Studio in Portland, Oregon, the city in which he has lived for more than a decade importing and selling coffees grown by his family in the sloping volcanic soil and tropical climate in the highlands near Mount Kenya.
It was in 2015 that Mutua also started roasting the stuff himself on a 10-pound-capacity U.S Roaster Corp coffee roaster, raking in a Good Food Award and high praise from Coffee Review almost immediately. Now the Abundancia Coffee brand is expanding with the opening of a Southeast Portland coffee bar, where coffees of impeccable quality and scarcity are prepared for customers with uncompromising expectations.
“There are people that like horror movies, and you don’t need to convince them to watch a horror movie. And there are people on the fence; they can be convinced to watch a horror movie,” Faisal Mutua told Daily Coffee News. “There are people who don’t like horror movies — you don’t need to convince them to like horror movies. That’s how we see our coffee.”
Mutua described Abundancia as specializing in roasting, selling and serving the hardest-to-get coffees — coffees with unique or experimental processing methods, exceptionally high scores for whatever reason, and high-quality coffees that would otherwise still be prized highly by virtue of limited supply, such as Kona, Jamaica Blue Mountain and even a Kopi Luwak Peaberry the company offers for $600 per pound.
Mutua’s grandfather reportedly devoted his life to growing and processing quality coffees in Kenya. Today, creative processing methods and other innovations on the farm continue, such as fermenting coffee in carefully purified water that’s salinated precisely to 0.9 percent, or washing coffee in water steeped with the cascara from the same coffee, or playing with anaerobic fermentation of coffee. Said Mutua, “We like to play with things and see what happens.”
The Abundancia Coffee Studio, so named for its intimate size and creative approach, honors that commitment of other producers around the world by serving the exceptional lots in a style and in an environment reflective of their quality.
In the approximately 1,000-square-foot facility, roughly 300 square feet is devoted to roasting that now occurs on a 10-pound-capacity San Franciscan roaster led by roaster Justin Kagan, who is also the owner-operator of his own Portland-based roasting company Badbeard’s Microroastery. Mutua is confident that Kagan, who won the Cascadia Cup “People’s Choice” trophy last year, will maintain the momentum of craft for Abundancia.
The company partnered with Portland designer Mark Oakley to craft a space that felt both comfortable and focused — “very welcoming, calm, cool and natural” as Mutua described it, inspired by such coffeehouses as Curators Coffee in London and Saint Frank in San Francisco. The attention to detail goes all the way down to audiophile-caliber Arnie Nudell Genesis speakers for quality even in the shop’s music.
On the warm, blue pine-fronted bar, Curtis Seraphim pourovers, vac pots and a Rocket espresso machine constitute the predominant brew methods, the former being the only method in which Abundancia’s highest-end coffees are prepared. While Mutua is confident that his family’s farm produces “the best Kenyan coffee,” Abundancia also seeks out direct partnerships for small lots of extreme rarity and quality that cup consistently well week after week.
“We still want to acknowledge that Aida Batlle grows amazing coffee,” said Mutua. “There’s room for us to share the table and enjoy all these good coffees.”
So far the selection has included coffees from Aida Batlle’s Finca Kilimanjaro, the Peterson Family’s Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama, select Costa Rican Volcan Azul estate coffees, and others.
“Very few people in the U.S. have the Vulcan Azul,” said Mutua. “Some of these coffees, you can’t go to a coffee shop and get them every time. We try to get those lots.”
And yet despite Portland’s general reputation for being a leader among excellent U.S. coffee cities as well as a renown foodie city in general, Mutua hasn’t found as fertile a market for his family’s coffee there or on the West Coast overall as he has in cities such as New York or Chicago, which he said are also markets with greater numbers of James Beard Award-winning and Michelin star restaurants.
“Portland is one of those places where you can you go to a restaurant and get 7-out-of-10 good food every time; very few 3-out-of-10,” said Mutua. “You go to New York, you can get 10-out-of-10 food all the time.”
The coffee culture in Portland is in some ways reflective of this phenomenon, as well, according to Mutua, who said that while in New York the market supports the occasional cup of brewed coffee for $10 and similarly top-dollar whole beans, the Portland market has yet to go there, ultimately resulting in a scene whose excellence is not without constraints. “It’s nothing too exciting,” Mutua said. “People like to say ‘let’s play it safe.’”
In order to maintain Abundancia’s retail platform for the most precious coffees available, Mutua said that in the coming months Abundancia Coffee Studio will transition into “the first and the only” members-only coffeehouse.
For a current annual membership fee of $200, the top-shelf coffee “social club” promises not only access to exclusive coffee experiences and discounts on beans and brews, but “connections with Portland professionals, coffee connoisseurs, pampering bites, drinks and utter exclusivity,” as stated on the company’s website. Members also receive one brewed cup of Abundancia “boutique”-level coffee with each visit to the store, or a glass or pint of one of the cafe’s carefully curated wines or beers.
Presently Sundays and Mondays are members-only days, though soon Abundancia will shift to offering a majority of members-only days with only one or two days per week open to the general public, although the exact details of the membership system are still a work in progress, according to Mutua.
In the meantime, Mutua said he’s holding onto the original USRC that started the Abundancia roasting program for installation in the next Abundancia shop, which he thinks will mostly likely be in a different city. Perhaps not for a while, as he prefers not to uproot his young family which includes a three-year-old daughter and, as of this writing, a five-day-old son. But additional shops are part of the plan.
“I think the next place for a shop will be somewhere in Philly, or somewhere in New York,” said Mutua. “But Portland is an amazing place for us. It’s been our home for the past 14 years, and we wanted to bring something [that] is not there.”
Abundancia Coffee Studio is now open at 5829 SE Powell Blvd in Portland, Oregon.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.