The entrance to Favela Brazilian Café, housed in the Mt Tabor Presbyterian Church. Its historic location makes this coffee shop unique. Photo by Donovan Selfridge.

Every major city and town has its fair share of coffee shops, and Portland is no exception. Most of the coffee shops are basic carbon-cut copies, but a few rise above the rest. Belltower Coffee at TaborSpace, located in the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church on 55th and Belmont, offers a unique coffee experience.

The Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church was established in 1892 and still stands upon its original foundation. It’s been modified and expanded since then, but aspects of the original church still remain, such as the castle-like bell tower, and the beautiful stained glass windows. After being mostly unused for many years, in 2009, the church aimed to become a larger part of the community by establishing TaborSpace: a coffee house and community space. 

However, the original coffee shop in the belltower closed down during the pandemic, like many other businesses in Portland. During the lockdown, nobody was getting coffee, and the church couldn’t keep the coffee shop open. The entire church suffered during COVID-19, “lots of building codes were violated over the pandemic because nobody was using the building,” said Elizabeth Rose, the building manager.

Rose is the woman in charge of making sure the building runs and is safe and secure. The church makes revenue by renting out spaces for various classes and events. Elizabeth Rose’s job as the building manager is to make sure these spaces are properly cleaned afterward. She was hired around seven months ago and has been keeping the church in good shape, while also dealing with issues left over from the lockdown. We came across one such issue during the interview: an industrial dishwasher that looks like it hadn’t been cleaned properly in years. As I helped her clean it, she explained that the church rented out its spaces but also had partners; more permanent organizations, or businesses located in the church such as the coffee shop. 

The entrance to the coffee shop is easy to find. Right off Belmont, the bell tower looms overhead with an antique-looking wooden door. The inside of the bell tower has been renovated to hold the coffee shop, Favela Brazilian Café. The new owners have decorated the space to feel like you’re stepping into an authentic coffee shop in Brazil, with mango yellow walls hanging leafy green plants, a variety of coffee flavors brewed from Brazilian beans, and cakes and pastries for purchase. This is Favela’s second location, the first on Foster and 53rd. When the church members came across Favela Brazilian café, they fell in love with the sense of culture and community there, and asked Favelas founders to take over TaborSpace. 

Dunya de Souza and her husband Rodrigo founded Favela Brazilian Café three years ago, and it’s become more than just a restaurant. “My husband (who is Brazilian) had been organizing events in the Brazilian community, including the Brazilian Festival and Carnaval, for ten years prior to opening the cafe,” said Souza. She explained that “the cafe was a great excuse to bring it all together.” It’s a place to experience Brazilian culture, with food, juices, live events, community, and of course, coffee. When asked if they would be interested in taking over the coffee shop at TaborSpace, they thought about it and decided it was a no-brainer. The space was already furnished, so moving in was easy.

The coffee shop has minimal seating, but it acts as a hallway to Copeland Commons. The commons area feels like one big living room. Tables and chairs provide plenty of seating space. It has the atmosphere of a library, the kind of quiet only a wide open space can achieve, but it feels more welcoming. It has a home-like feel, somewhere I’d definitely do homework or meet a friend. 

The Favela Brazilian Café in TaborSpace officially opened on Oct 1, and is open every day except Tuesday, from 8am to 2pm. “We are so excited to be in a new neighborhood and to connect to new families and folks who are new to Brazilian Culture!” Souza said. She hopes that more students will come, explaining that it’s a great place to study. If you need a quiet place or want some Brazilian coffee, TaborSpace is officially back. 

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