It’s a quiet Saturday morning in Portland, Oregon, and coffee professionals Lucy Alvarez and Angel Medina are settling in for the day at their 14”x 14” coffee bar. The duo are glad to be home—they just arrived back in the city from a trip to Mexico, visiting coffee farmers in the Colima region, in the villages of Arrayanal, Yerba Buena, Cofradia, and Suchitlan. Alvarez and Medina pride themselves on their personal connection between the origin of the roast, their coffee shop, and their families. You can taste it in every cup of coffee served at Kiosko, their small coffee shop nestled on the SW bank of the Willamette River.
Alvarez and Medina opened back on July 1, 2017 with intentions to infuse the Mexican-American experience into Portland’s coffee scene. Starting out as a fundraiser for a national pro-DACA initiative, Alvarez and Medina went from small-scale roasting to shop owners overnight. Throughout the process, they’ve stayed true to their roots as small business owners with a deeply felt Mexican heritage.
Back in 2016, Alvarez was in school for pre-med, while Medina worked at the Portland headquarters for Airbnb. His role there was as a tech-y sounding “Launch Experience Agent,” focused on advancing the customer experience in Latin American countries. But then coffee started creeping into their lives in a big way. At home, Medina fell in love with roasting coffee on his Behmor roaster. At first he primarily roasted for personal use, but eventually started sharing with friends, and that soon led to other opportunities.
Angel Medina unveiled his roast to the public for the very first time in support of United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led foundation built to recognize and support DACA recipients. When customers donated $10 to United We Dream, they received a half-pound bag of Medina’s “Kickstarter Blend.” The couple received 48 orders during the initial roll-out, with Medina and Alvarez hand roasting and bagging their coffees in half-pound batches on the Behmor, 15 minutes at a time.
“When I grew up, my family had this saying ‘do what you can with what you have,’” Medina states.
This would be the beginning of their aptly-named roasting company, Smalltime Roasters. The couple went on to open Kiosko a few months after that to have more space to function and to establish their identity within the community. Slowly but surely they were falling into coffee as a life pursuit.
“We didn’t have as much experience with espresso machines because we’re pour-over people,” Medina tells me. “So we got a machine a week before we opened hoping people wouldn’t be turned off by our latte art,” he laughs. Once a loose end in their launch plan, espresso drinks are now a favorite at Kiosko. Here in Portland, the shop has built a glowing local reputation for their innovative and boundary-pushing latte creations, including fan favorites like the mango sticky rice latte, maple bacon latte, and candied yam latte.
The most popular drink here is the “True Mexican Mocha,” made with espresso, textured milk, house-made Mexican hot chocolate powder, cocoa nibs, freeze-dried raspberry dust, and dark chocolate shavings. Kiosko’s creative approach also extends to their pour-over methods. Medina constructed a new contraption called the “Copper Flower” (pictured below), which he’s convinced is the optimal way for expressing his coffees as pour-over. “The science behind it is to extend the extraction process without compromising the taste,” Medina says. A washed process Mexico Colima is the most common brewed cup served in this method.
Since Kiosko has found their rhythm, they’ve had the ability to shift their daily focus to providing a unique experience. “We wanted to create the warmth and passion for coffee. It’s an extension of our home,” Alvarez says. The reciprocity can be seen in Kiosko daily; as Alvarez and Medina learn more about the community they serve, the city of Portland is exposed to the couple’s unique take and hospitality and heritage. “We feel love from the community,” Medina tells me. “When people walk by, we want it to feel like they are in a different country.”
Not only is Kiosko enticing new customers, they also attracted a staff of like-minded coffee professionals from similar backgrounds. Alvarez and Medina are both descendants of Mexican immigrants from the Jalisco area—a three-hour bus ride from their last round of farm visits—and the baristas on staff at Kiosko are of Puerto Rican, Peruvian, and Guatemalan lineages. Amid their shop growing in popularity, Alvarez and Medina still support groups that align with their personal upbringing. Last winter, they raised money for We The Dreamers, an undocumented-led group focused on their narrative through art. Kiosko bagged and sold single-origin Mexican coffee and donated the sales to the group.
These days, Kiosko is trading in what they deemed “starter” equipment for better options to support their workflow. They recently added the La Marzocco Linea Classic espresso machine, installed by Black Rabbit Service Co. They have the Zenith Eureka high-speed grinder and the G4 ThermoPro brewer from Wilber Curtis Company to round out the gear in their shop.
This story would be enough—a tiny cafe with deep roots and a huge heart, putting out some of the most innovative coffee drinks in the competitive Portland market. But there are no signs of slowing down for Kiosko. Alvarez and Medina are working on plans for their second and third locations, focused on a bigger footprint, improved efficiency, and a focus on highlighting the coffees of Mexico. Kiosko is creating a buzz in the community around their experience, and Portland is a better place for it.
Giovanni Fillari is a social media manager at Nike and the publisher of @coffeefeedpdx. Read more Giovanni Fillari for Sprudge.