American norms around efficiency have transformed many coffee shops, the most common examples of “third spaces,” places where people can find community outside of their homes and places of work, into tiny offices. These shops are often minimally decorated and house more laptops than conversations, making one coffee shop indistinguishable from the next. Fortunately, Portland still has places like Keeper Coffee that are not only well decorated, but care about the community that they make coffee for.
Located at the corner of Southeast 41st Boulevard and Holgate Avenue, Keeper Coffee resides in a reclaimed house that was once a restaurant called “Ye Olde Town Crier.” Open for four decades, the restaurant was an integral part of the Woodstock neighborhood life, according to an article in Willamette Week. Although many residents of Woodstock were sad to see it close its doors, Keeper Coffee and Wyrd Leatherworks and Meadery, the establishment that resides in the right half of the building, are dedicated to maintaining the historic and community structure of the space.Supported by original hardwood floors in the seating area and black and white tile in the kitchen, Keeper Coffee has a certain kind of antique charm. The white marble tables and wooden bistro-style chairs are reminiscent of french cafes while the sage green painted walls and windows facing the wooded neighborhood evoke a distinctly Portland vibe.
When I first visited Keeper Coffee on April 7, I was struck by the warmth of the overall layout and fluid integration of modern and vintage furniture. Walking up to the register, I immediately noticed a large vintage mirror with the drink menu written out on it. Above it, a large collection of dried flowers hung reminding me of the dried flower booths at the Portland Saturday Market.
Although I was at first overwhelmed by the extensiveness of the menu, which includes specialty espresso drinks such as peppermint mochas and teas such as lavender matcha lattes, I settled on an iced rose cardamom latte. I had never tried this flavor combination in an espresso drink before and it did not disappoint. According to the baristas, this flavor started out as a seasonal special, but quickly became a crowd favorite and a permanent drink option.
While waiting in line for my drink, I also learned that one of the baristas, Morgan Eckroth, is the 2022 US Barista Champion and World Barista Runner Up. The two people ordering in front of me shared how she has been an inspiration for them as fellow baristas and how much they love their Tiktok account, @morgandrinkscoffee.
Keeper Coffee sources their coffee beans from Coava Coffee Roasters and makes their syrup flavors in house. Their tea selections are from Aesthete Tea, a local woman-owned business. There is also a large selection of pastries, including cookies with actual rose petals in the frosting. Brittany Huff, the owner, explained the pastry offerings in greater detail in an article in The Bee written by Elizabeth Usher Groff.
“‘Schnecken, or ‘sticky bun’, is my grandmother’s recipe that I’ve adapted over the years. She would not have liked that I added pecans instead of walnuts,” Huff said. “…Our chocolate chip cookie is large and crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle — we sell out of these almost every day, as well as our hand pies that we change the flavors of, seasonally.’”
I ordered the toasted schnecken before I researched Huff’s familial connection to it and I already felt like it tasted like a slice of home.
As a resident of the Lents neighborhood, Huff is fond of the people in the Southeast Portland community.
“I truly hope to be a neighborhood staple — for the community to rely on us for a warm welcome and hot coffee to start their day right,” Huff explained to Groff. “I plan to be here for the long haul, and really look forward to cultivating relationships with our neighbors.”
On the Keeper Coffee website, their business statement incorporates this same passion for inclusion.
“Keeper Coffee is built on friendship, community and good coffee,” The Keeper Coffee website says. “We value our queer, trans, BIPOC and houseless community. We are always learning and striving to do better and more. Please contact us, if you see an area we can improve in or have an organization or individual we can support.”
This concern for the community was apparent during my visit. Close to closing, a young boy came in and ordered what appeared to be his regular drink – a drip coffee. Without a second thought, the barista on shift offered him his drink for free, explaining that they were already close to closing and that they value him as a neighbor before they value him as a customer.
Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, I strongly recommend Keeper Coffee as a place to meet an old friend, read a book, or listen to Bob Dylan, the artist that ruled the aux during the hour of my visit. If you go, keep an eye out for a small hidden red lego man somewhere in the store.