Coffee Guide: Caffe Umbria

Caffé Umbria appeared on the scene a few months ago, with all the flash and glamour you’d expect for a major restaurant opening. Getting through the door and fighting my way through the mob, it was hard to believe all of this fuss was for yet another coffeehouse.

This new cafe is in the Casey Building, at the corner of NW 12th and Everett St (Across from Everett St. Bistro). They put a lot of thought into the design and it shows; black granite counters, new glass display cases, both stand up and sit down tables, and high quality fixtures throughout. According to one of the employees, many of the design elements were shipped over from Italy. Every detail has a slick “planned” feel. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It fits the neighborhood, and is the only coffee house I can think of in the Pearl District that has a modern feel but isn’t part of a huge corporate conglomerate. I can’t imagine how much money they spent on the build-out, but rumor on the street, is they are paying upwards of $38 dollars a square foot.

Caffè Umbria roasts their beans in-house in Seattle. You’ve probably had their brew at various restaurants around town. I’m certainly no expert on coffee, but to me it’s rather unremarkable; smooth, without a whole lot of depth. Still, it is a huge step up from Starbucks, and I know a lot of people that will love the space.

Drinks are as well made as you might expect; certainly better than the chain shops. Orders to be consumed on premise are in a nice ceramic cup, accompanied by a small chocolate. On busy days the employees behind the counter are frequently talking back in Italian. Made me all misty eyed, wishing I was back in Italy. They also play a selection of music that fits the Pearl District vibe, but it’s never too loud. A large plasma TV is in a nook around the corner, that I’m told will be used to show Italian soccer.

Along with traditional coffee drinks, they serve various scones, pastries, pannini, and cold sandwiches, as well as gelato. I’m not sure where they get the gelato from, but the over saturated colors put me off a bit. Beer and wine are also available.

If a smooth cup of coffee in a modern, slick environment is your thing, Caffè Umbria may be what you are looking for. For best results, I’d suggest you stay with simple drinks. My only complaint, no free internet. I was going to try to sneak some pictures, but the website is pretty thorough. Check it out through the link below.

  • Phone: (503) 241-5300
  • Address: 303 NW 12th Ave, Portland OR. 97209
  • Hours: Mon – Wed 7am – 9pm, Thurs -Sat 7am – 10pm, Sunday 7am – 7pm
  • Website: CaffeUmbria.com/PDXCafe

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. kdaphoto says

    Food Dude,
    Caffe Umbria is not the only coffee shop in the Pearl that isn’t owned by a huge conglomerate. Urban Grind, World Cup, Cafe Allora, Sip & Kranz, and Acorn all are either independents or very small family owned chains. I believe there are more independents or small family owned chains than Peet’s, Starbucks, or Boyd’s shops in the ‘hood.

    Caffe Umbria is owned the same family (Bizzarri) that had the Torrefazione chain before they sold it to Starbucks. At present the company has a list of 400 clients for its wholesale roasting business. So in reality, they are much bigger than the other coffee shops I mentioned above, but they only have a couple retail shops.

    I think we have a good variety of coffee shops that serve great coffee in a wide variety of atmospheres. You can find what you want here, and avoid the conglomerates.

  2. PestoGal says

    Hey FD, The link to the website isn’t working. It directs me to a PFD page that says I’ve had too much to drink. Which is not the case (right now).

  3. says

    kdaphoto, welcome to the site. You are, of course, correct. I reworded the line to what I meant to say “It fits the neighborhood, and is the only coffee house I can think of in the Pearl District that has a modern feel but isn’t part of a huge corporate conglomerate”. Personally, I tend toward the family owned shops, because I dislike the corporate vibe, however I think Umbria will do well (It’s frequently very busy)

    MyNextMeal, I go to Costello’s now and then, but think their coffee drinks, ie. espresso, cappuccinos are less than stellar. However, I like the vibe.

    PestoGal, fixed the link. Thanks!

  4. MyNextMeal says

    Costello’s Travel Caffe (on NE Broadway) uses Caffe Umbria beans. I really like their coffee/espressos. I work near this establishment in the Pearl, and I’ve been there twice. The coffee is fine but Costello’s coffee tastes better, IMHO.

    (However, I do like the way the Caffe Umbria is dressed up in a nattily European way. A refreshing change from the “typical” PDX slacker hipster barista look. But ultimately I just want good coffee, not good costuming.)

  5. says

    I was going to leave a “ahem” comment on the

    “It fits the neighborhood, and is the only coffee house I can think of in the Pearl District, that isn’t part of a huge corporate conglomerate”

    but kdaphoto beat me to it. Welcome to the Pearl Cafe Umbria. Looking forward to a gelato with espresso chaser.

  6. Joisey says

    Pasquale is a truly great person, a rarity in this business. I wish them nothing but the best and hope to get down there soon.

  7. patrickinpdx says

    You’d never find someone sitting with their laptop in Italy. Perhaps this is the reason for no WiFi. Maybe they are going for that vibe.

    Remember in Italy there is very little dawdling for your caffe’. You hit it at the bar and move on.

  8. Marshall Manning says

    I haven’t been to their cafe, but Caffe Umbria definitely has the best beans for espresso at home. We’ve tried everything that the local Market of Choice carries (Stumptown, ZBeans, Mudd, etc.), and the Caffe Umbria Gusto Crema blend outperforms everything else for espresso in terms of taste (it’s not overroasted), complexity, and overall Italian-style espresso.

  9. teamsplashi says

    Caffe Umbria’s coffee is far superior to Stumptown, imho. Very well done. Their food is also excellent, as is their love for futbol – go in on the weekends and you’re bound to find a match or two being played. Their coverage of Euro 2008 was fantastic with Pasquale being a very welcome host. Very highly recommended!

  10. Bruce Hollcroft says

    I wouldn’t recommend it on a week night unless you want to deal with the family’s own personal Kindercare. Their kid was running wild and it ruinned our night there.

  11. Mike says

    I don’t think Umbria’s coffee drinks are near as good as nearby Barista or any of the Stumptown shops. Still, I like it because its look and feel is unlike any place in Portland, where many coffee shops feel remarkably alike. The majority of them plays the same music, sells the same products, and attracts the same clique of tatooed anglos on lap-tops. Now, I still love these places, but it’s nice to have variety. Umbria feels pretty urban and authentic, like a place you’d actually find on a busy corner in Zurich or Milan. That said, the chocolate they serve with their espresso drinks could be much better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *