Tucked away on a corner in Kensington, a block away from one of the last train stops on the MFL SEPTA line, sits a vibrant and relaxing coffee shop. Càphê Roasters, a Vietnamese cafe and coffee roastery, sells delicious food and drinks in a hip, calming, and welcoming atmosphere.
Càphê Roasters was founded in 2018 by Raymond John, the CEO of 12+, a Philadelphia nonprofit that works to increase equity through partnerships with public high schools, and Thu Pham, a Philadelphia–born Vietnamese American who formerly served as a 12+ college and career advisor. After winning Shift Capital’s Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge, an initiative that focused on funding the opening of community–driven and sustainable businesses in the neighborhood, Càphê Roasters came to life.
With Kensington being one of Philadelphia's neighborhoods that struggled immensely throughout the opioid crisis, John and Pham hope to use Càphê Roasters as a way to “[revitalize] the neighborhood through coffee." In order to fulfill this mission of social impact, the roastery donates a portion of its profits to 12+. Furthermore, the cafe also directly partners with the organization's partner schools, hiring students from their programs and giving them a safe space that allows for personal and professional development.
But Càphê Roasters' connection to the Philadelphia community doesn't just stop at 12+. By partnering with local retailers like Federal Donuts and Di Bruno Bros., Càphê Roasters' reach stretches far past Kensington. The flavors of Càphê Roasters' unique coffee can also be found in collaborations with Weckerly’s Ice Cream and Lil’ Pop Shop, as both stores utilize the roastery's bold espresso beans when crafting Vietnamese coffee–flavored ice cream sandwiches and popsicles, respectively.
Through this, it seems clear that Càphê Roasters is all about community. This core value stems from Vietnamese culture, where the phrase “đi uống cà phê,” or “let’s get coffee,” is synonymous with connecting with the people around you. As another nod to its Vietnamese roots, Càphê Roasters sources the shop’s coffee beans primarily from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand. In fact, Càphê Roasters prides itself as Philadelphia's first and only Vietnamese coffee shop, paving the way for diversity in the coffee business with its massive success.
Vietnamese coffee has an incredibly strong and rich flavor, and Càphê Roasters’ drinks lived up to my sky–high expectations. I tried the egg coffee, an iced Vietnamese espresso topped with a thick custard made of egg and condensed milk, all sprinkled with a dusting of cocoa powder. The sweetness of the custard and the smooth bitterness of the espresso melded together, creating an unforgettable coffee experience. The drink was a sweet and deluxe treat—perfect for a warm morning.
I paired my coffee with the J Street Sando, a breakfast sandwich made up of brioche bread filled with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, tomatoes roasted with pho herbs, and caramelized onion aioli. The eggs were creamy and fluffy, melting in my mouth and pairing nicely with the cheese. In contrast to the mellow smoothness of the eggs, the aioli was packed with intense and complex flavors while the tomatoes provided a bold acidity to round out the sandwich. These unique flavors were delicately balanced by the sweetness and softness of the slices of brioche, making the sandwich almost addicting.
The cafe itself is bright and colorful, with spacious seating and light flooding in through big windows. R&B tunes play softly in the background as friends chat and laugh over coffee and sandwiches. Standing in stark contrast to the nearby El tracks, this roastery provides an inviting environment where people can lounge around and feel at home. Through this, Càphê Roasters clearly lives up to its mission—it brings together members of the Kensington neighborhood in a welcoming space that fosters connection and community, all while serving up high–quality coffee and delicious Vietnamese meals.
TL;DR: Go to Càphê Roasters for great eats, great coffee, and great people.
Location: 3400 J St. G1
Hours: Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays: Closed; Saturdays and Sundays: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.