Portrait Coffee: Reimagining the Face of Specialty Coffee
*Some quotes have been shortened for clarity and length.
In a modest brick building in Atlanta's West End, inconspicuous to the unknowing eye, there exists a space filled with rich history, cultural significance, and a team of young entrepreneurs brimming with fresh ideas and a passion for their community. Portrait Coffee, a micro-roaster out of Atlanta, Georgia, is driven by a desire to revitalize its beloved neighborhood while encouraging black and brown representation and growth in specialty coffee. Through a combination of community events, catchy playlists, and of course, phenomenal coffee, Portrait is working energetically to promote its mission of “pouring a new narrative.”
“We want to inspire more entrepreneurs from the Black community to see coffee as a legitimate career path,” Portrait’s marketing coordinator Christine Ramirez said.
Displeased by the disparity he witnessed on an origin trip to Rwanda, co-founder and CEO Aaron Fender felt moved to address the dissonance between a man of African descent working on the US side of the coffee supply chain, and the reality of native Africans living in poverty and working tirelessly to produce a global commodity. It was this experience that served as the connecting link between Fender and fellow co-founders John Onwuchekwa and Marcus Hollinger.
“Their shared cups of coffee, conversations, and common burden lead them to see how their unique resources could make a difference through coffee,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Portrait was gaining momentum in the community, hosting pop-ups, sharing their cause, and providing the city of Atlanta with specialty coffee. But, like most small businesses during the pandemic, all of that came to a halt once lockdowns began. However, this did not slow them down. In 2021 they moved their roasting operation into the Lottie Watkins building, continuing the legacy of Black entrepreneurs operating out of the space.
“we believe the overwhelming support was due to the desire to show and share in the solidarity our community has organically created as they’ve bought into the value of Portrait.”
“After almost a full year of no programming, we hosted an event in the parking lot of our roasting facility and the attendance was overwhelming with over 500 people showing up,” she said. “While many might've come for the beverages, we believe the overwhelming support was due to the desire to show and share in the solidarity our community has organically created as they’ve bought into the value of Portrait.”
Portrait continues to connect with the residents of The West End and beyond through pop-ups, in-person coffee tastings, and notable marketing efforts. One example is their monthly newsletter that includes a carefully curated music mix directly to their subscriber's inboxes, providing a multi-sensory experience to their audience.
“We’ve had the playlists for a little while and recently realized how valuable connecting through music is,” she said. “We started doing a monthly mix with different themes to go along with our monthly newsletters and people have been loving it! When making the playlists, we use the theme to pick songs from our libraries that we love and want to share.”
Although much of their effort resides in Atlanta, their mission spans beyond borders and hopes to minimize the disparity in coffee production. One way they’re playing their part is by partnering with importers like Unblended Coffee that work with producers to aid them in becoming more profitable and help make a lasting impact across the coffee supply chain, ensuring sustainability at all levels.
“It’s an ongoing effort,” she said. “This program is helping producers in Colombia grow their company's profitability through the creation of differentiated products. We’ve leveraged our brand equity to introduce our customers to this mission and are dedicating our time to deepening this and similar relationships to produce change across the coffee-supply chain and creating sustainable coffee careers.”
Their unwithering dedication to their vision of “pouring a new narrative" and passion for specialty coffee have proven to be a successful endeavor. They are expanding to a storefront that is projected to open at the end of March 2023, furthering their reach into the community and shaping the future of specialty coffee.
“We hope to reimagine the picture that comes to mind when folks think of specialty coffee”
“We hope to reimagine the picture that comes to mind when folks think of specialty coffee in a myriad of ways, but a few come to mind,” she said said. “First, representation. We want black and brown folks to be participants. Second, sustainable careers. We want members of our community to see Portrait as an opportunity to pursue a legitimate career in coffee.”