Pangolin Café serves artisan confections, coffee and tea. Their specialty is house-made Turkish delights. The café welcomes diners with worldly flavors and an elegant atmosphere. The owners, staff and menu offer warmth and craftsmanship.
Philosophy built on rigor and world travel
Travis Sandefur and his brother-in-law, Joel Stewart, co-own and operate Pangolin Café. They opened two months ago.
I spoke with Sandefur about his café and the varied path that led him there.
“We’re deeply passionate about being this small batch, artisan confection[er]. We take a lot of pride in it. We’re devoted to doing these blends [with our] coffee and tea. You’re going to get a great experience when you’re here,” he said.
Before café ownership and confectionery, he worked in law and then health administration.
His path to Pangolin Café spanned years and multiple continents.
“I was a lawyer at one point, but then I moved into health care administration. My wife and I were working in Zambia …,” explained Sandefur about this background prior to the café. He continued, “So, we were working overseas, and we did some training in Istanbul. When we went to a baklavaria that had some Turkish delight, we were totally blown away by how good it was … The wheels just kind of started turning. We continued on to Zambia and fulfilled a 2-year contract working in healthcare there. Then, I went back to Turkey after that was complete to do my training.”
The critter behind Pangolin Café
Sandefur’s wife grew up in the small town of Quincy, Calif. Her family enjoyed visiting Reno and the couple met with her family often in Reno. After Africa and when it became time to resettle in the United States, the couple chose to settle in Reno.
Sandefur’s time in Zambia left a lasting impression on him. He showed me some hand-knitted toys on the wall of the café. “These are hand-knitted by ladies in Zambia to help earn some extra money for their families,” he explained. The toys are inspired by local wildlife in Zambia, including the pangolin.
The pangolin is a mammal with scales, and it somewhat resembles armadillos and anteaters, though it’s unrelated to both. According to savepangolins.org, “Although pangolins share similar characteristics with Xenarthrans (anteaters, armadillos, and sloths), they are in fact more closely related to the order Carnivora (cats, dogs, bears, etc.).”
Sandefur shared that the pangolin is the most trafficked mammal in the world. Poachers hunt the pangolin for its keratin scales. The scales are sought after in eastern medicine. Some estimate that the species will be extinct in Africa in the next ten years if conservation efforts aren’t strengthened.
Sandefur and Stewart named their café as such to bring awareness to the plight of the pangolin. They plan to donate a portion of the café’s proceeds to animal conservation once they find the right organization.
Exquisite coffee and tea offerings
Pangolin offers espresso-based beverages made with beans roasted by acclaimed local coffee scientist, Carl Staub. Steve Timko of the RGJ wrote a great article profiling Staub.
I can say with high confidence that Staub’s roasting method and Pangolin Café’s brewing methods are working together to produce some of the tastiest coffee that I’ve tried.
My wife and I tried the Cubano Breve for $4.75. The drink consists of an espresso shot pulled with turbinado sugar and cinnamon; steamed breve and a touch of agave. Turbinado sugar is partially unrefined sugar that retains a portion of its original molasses. Breve refers to steamed half-and-half. The drink was remarkably smooth with subtle sweet and spice notes.
The fine beverages at Pangolin go beyond beans. They also have a vendor based in Los Angeles who imports and custom blends loose leaf tea from around the world.
At Sandefur’s advice, we tried the Manoa – their coconut oolong tea steeped in macadamia milk and topped with agave – for $4.50. Our friendly barista provided us with a timer to steep the tea for exactly the right amount of time. Sipping this drink, listening to the café’s classical music and admiring the beautiful décor had me feeling happy to be alive.
Regarding the décor, co-owner Joel Stewart made excellent use of his background in design. The café is gorgeous. The crew crafted all the beautiful wood furniture in the shop.
Steering the focus back toward the drinks, we also had opportunities to try the Turkish tea for $2.50 and the Jasmine Pearls tea for $2.75. The Turkish tea was strong and somewhat earthy. It nicely cut through the sweetness of the waffles and Turkish delights that we sampled. The Jasmine tea was wonderfully fragrant, floral and clean. You can ask your barista for a second run of hot water. Most of the teas are good for two steeps.
Distinct confections and waffles
Again, the house specialty is Turkish delights. The sugary, starchy confection was popularized by the film, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
The texture is singular with some chew, but much less chew than something like a gummy bear made with gelatin. Powdered sugar makes them easier to handle. Pangolin makes their Turkish delights with corn starch, sugar, water, citric acid and essential oils. Pistachio, rose and pomegranate are traditional flavors. The café also offers sour flavors, Vanilla Rose, a Moscow Pangolin (lime and ginger) and others.
Every beverage purchase comes with a complimentary Turkish delight. We tried the Pistachio, Pomegranate Pistachio, Vanilla Rose, Sour Grapefruit and the Hawaiian. Many of the flavors leaned sweet but not cloyingly so. Vanilla bean, pistachio bits and citric acid contributed nicely to their respective confection varieties.
The Vanilla Rose was my wife’s favorite. I’m split between the Pistachio, Vanilla Rose and the Sour Grapefruit.
We also tried the café’s plain Liège Waffle for $3.75 and the Pangolin Liège Waffle for $4.50. The plain version was topped with powdered sugar and the deluxe variety included house-made whipped cream and salted dark chocolate toffee crumbles.
Sandefur explained that Liège waffles are distinct in that they are dense and dough-based instead of batter-based. Pearl sugar is added to the dough, and that sugar retains a crunch after cooking. The café sources the waffles from local purveyor, Waffle Envy.
I’m a sucker for sweets, and both waffles were fantastic. The texture was akin to brioche with crispy edges and caramelized sugar. I’d happily eat the plain Liège Waffle for breakfast, but I’d reserve the Pangolin Liège Waffle for dessert. The only sample I tried of the café’s almond toffee was that atop the waffle. The dark chocolate, salt and whipped cream kept the waffle well-balanced.
We purchased an 1/8 lb. of the Turkish delights for $3.00 before departing.
Pangolin Café was a pleasure in every regard, and I can’t wait to return. Look out for curated pairings of their food and drink in the coming months.
Pangolin Café’s Details
Visit Pangolin Café at 955 S. Virginia St., Suite 110, Reno, NV 89502. Call the shop at 775-800-1403. They are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and open on Friday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. They are closed on Saturdays. Visit them online at pangolincafe.com.
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his wife.