Espress yourself at Portsmouth's Cafe Kilim

Kilim barista Jessica Colon is also an artist, and latte foam is often her medium.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 edition of The Square Magazine.

Caffe Kilim is the least touristy coffee shop in Portsmouth. This is evidenced by the fact that you have to be looking for it to find it, and by the sheer number of locals who pledge their allegiance to the Turkish spot on Islington Street.

Along with its signature blend of Dancing Goats coffee (strong and robust) and its personable patriarch (co-owner Yelcin Yazgin), the shop at 163 Islington St. has another claim to fame: latte artist Jessica Colon.

If you’re thinking of ferns drawn in foam, stop. Colon’s works are more personal. The 25-year-old barista specializes in portraits of her Portsmouth customers (and occasionally their cats in fluffed-up foam or chocolate, designed with a metal stylus). Also a painter and mixed-media artist, she’s been caffeinating with her craft at Kilim for six years now.

Before even heading to Kilim, you might have seen some of Colon’s work. It’s pretty hard to resist taking a picture of your mug drawn on your mocha latte. Dropkick Murphys’ lead singer Al Barr, a proud Portsmouth citizen, has one on his Instagram page, and social media darling Geoffrey Palmer, of local pop-punk band The Connection, has one on his Facebook page as well.

A typical portrait takes “oh, about 30 to 45 seconds,” and Colon knows not to hold up the line for the morning crowd. The way her latte art is received is really special.

Kilim co-owner Yelcin Yazgin with his portrait.

“One time, this lady gave me a hug,” she says. “I just love surprising people. I always got really good surprises on my birthdays, and to have something like that out of context be a surprise, it’s always really cool to do because it takes people out of their own heads and they’re like, ‘whoa,’ like a mirror sort of effect.”

Colon is from Kennebunk, Maine, originally, but found the town’s artwork too rigid“It’s all lighthouses and flowers and 50 percent commission.” Having relocated to Rye, she is happy to call the Seacoast home.

And it seems the Seacoast is happy to have her. Her work was even featured in a Portsmouth indie film. Google “Tech Roulette” and look for Colon and a latte in the opening credits. And, in August, some of her non-latte artwork was on display at Kilim. 

Visit Colon at Caffe Kilim Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Service with a surprise, and a warm heart.

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