Portrait is named for a desire to change the picture of what comes to mind when people think of specialty coffee. Portrait Coffee is as committed to rewriting that narrative as it is to reflect the history and culture of its Southwest Atlanta community. Since its 2019 founding, Portrait Coffee stays true to both missions on a daily basis as they serve up genuine coffee while “pouring a new narrative”.
Let’s talk specialty coffee and culture with Aaron Fender, co-founder at Portrait Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia.
[MB] What’s the most important thing we all should know about Portrait? What brought you to specialty coffee and roasting?
[Aaron] You should know the story behind the name. Portrait represents a desire to reimagine the picture that comes to mind when [most people] think of specialty coffee. Coffee was first discovered by [Africans] over 1,000 years ago. These trailblazers couldn’t have foreseen the global impact of their discovery. On the other hand, they likely never imagined their faces would be forgotten, even though the pigment of the drink reflected their own. We hope to paint a more accurate history. A history that includes those who have been photoshopped out.
[MB] What makes you the most excited about the future?
[Aaron] The growing diversity & inclusion of folks who look like us as well as those who have experiences quite different from ours. It’s really cool to see brands like GlitterCat, The Chocolate Barista, and our local friends at Finca to Filter really take off.
[MB] What has kept you motivated?
A pursuit of excellence. We’re constantly trying to tinker and get better at our craft. We believe excellence wins, and we’re constantly striving to get there.
[MB] We love the look as much as we love your coffee. Could you tell us more about your unique branding and design?
[Aaron] Our new design is aimed at representing the soul of Black culture wherever our coffee finds itself. Like the taste of its content, and the people we represent, we want our visual presentation to be memorable, brilliant, and reminiscent of joy—Black joy.
We’ve been inspired by the labels that commercialized Black music. Portrait fashions itself as the “Motown of Coffee.” Bold color and iconic type choices combine to carry a visual appeal as large as the voices that revolutionized Black music.
We are pouring a new narrative by celebrating the legacy of Black folks in coffee and inviting everyone to enjoy our heritage as much as we do.
[MB] How do you go about naming your blends?
[Aaron] Our Toni coffee is an ode to Toni Morrison — a favorite of the Portrait Coffee team. Morrison did so much to shape not just Black folks, but also the picture that comes to mind when people think of Black culture. We’re grateful for her unapologetic Blackness. The coffee is savory, smooth, and unapologetically chocolate.
Another fan favorite is Barry. It’s named after Barry Jenkins, director of the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, my favorite filmmaker. If you look on our Instagram, he ended up buying the coffee and reposting it. I love the creativity and detail he brings to filmmaking, and that’s how I like to think about business and life. The notes are berry, juicy, and well-balanced.
[MB] Does Portrait have any coffee heroes? Who do you look up to in the industry?
Lem Butler & Cameron Heath!