It’s not an art show, but the images streaming from Coffee ME Up pack a graphic punch. When Portland’s newest coffee shop opens Jan. 29 on Cumberland Avenue, unicorns, bears and kittens will magically appear in your lattes.
No, this is not a hallucinogenic shop, but a corner cafe with an x factor. Intricate latte art created by barista Olivia Byars is the house specialty. The teal-haired espresso slinger, who worked for years at Starbucks, taught herself to turn steamed milk and espresso into frothy, drinkable images. “I learned on YouTube,” she said. The key? “How you wiggle the jug.”
Latte art has been part of the coffee circuit for years. Greater Portland cafes host their own throw downs to see who can create the best patterns. But most baristas don’t freestyle like this on a daily basis. When Byars is behind the La Marzocco espresso machine, customers ordering a latte to stay will automatically find artistry in their cup. (If you become a regular, watch out. You might start to see your own likeness staring back at you).
Wielding a thermometer like a pencil, she etches the surfaces of perfectly pulled espresso drinks with laser-like focus. In an instant, quirky, picture book images, like a fairy hovering behind a teddy bear, come to life. They’re almost too beautiful to drink.
Coffee ME Up owners Alba Zakja and Mateo Hodo, of Albania, met Byars at Starbucks on Exchange Street and immediately developed a crush.
“We kept dropping hints that when we open, we wanted her here,” said Hodo.
Byars, who views coffee like wine, got the hint.
“I wanted to be part of a local coffee shop to further fulfill my interest in the coffee world,” she said.
Brewing Coffee By Design beans, Coffee ME Up opens with a few more specialities: cold brew on tap and Turkish coffee.
The latter is the sweet and rich brew that Zakja grew up making for her family in the Balkans. Cold brew is steeped in stainless steel vessels for 24 hours before serving. The couple also plan to trot out unusual drinks like salep, an herbal Chai-like beverage derived from orchids and topped with ground chocolate or cinnamon.
Coffee ME Up occupies an unheralded pocket of the city, behind City Hall near Franklin Street, that is changing fast with new apartments rising all around. Hodo, a carpenter by trade, built out this warm, inviting cafe that will soon become a frequent stop on the coffee lover’s map.
Coffee ME Up, 221 Cumberland Ave., Portland. Opens Jan. 29. Hours are 6 a.m to 6 p.m. seven days a week.