Best Coffee Empowerment: Sin Frontreras Coffee

Oakland’s Rocio Cervantes and Jose Rodriguez run a cafe and coffee production company — ventures that, in their view, have less to do with what ends up in the cup than all the people who helped put it there.

Their Akat Cafe Kalli sits just east of Lake Merritt, an oasis of color, warmth, and acoustic jams on the speaker. Since 2013, it’s emerged as a hub for creatives and the community-minded, with poetry nights, craft workshops, and activist artwork on the walls. Cervantes and Rodriguez initially opened the cafe with the primary goal of self-reliance, all the while having the time to raise their young child, who is now six years old.

“This place was a dream before and now it’s real,” Cervantes said, observing the afternoon’s busy, diverse crowd.

While the husband-and-wife team was always committed to pouring ethically-sourced coffee, they grew more ambitious last year when they officially launched Sin Fronteras Coffee. It’s their production arm — their own sourcing, roasting, and related efforts — which they hope can push the coffee industry forward in a humanity-focused way.

Namely, they want people to start thinking about the exploitation of labor that’s all too common at points of origin and how relationships can change that. With the third-wave cafe boom, plenty of coffee companies in the United States boast about their direct relationships with coffee farmers — and Rodriguez agrees that’s a great start, though he takes it a step further.
“It’s about understanding and accepting and working within their social context and their rhythm,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not trying to impose anything — we’re just trying to collaborate. That’s the difference.”
Thus, Sin Fronteras Coffee works with the Zapatista Coffee Cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico, because of their similar values based on autonomy, self-determination, and empowerment.
[pullquote-1]Eventually, Cervantes and Rodriguez hope to launch a workshop side to their roasting company, geared toward immigrants from coffee-producing regions. They’d hold free classes so more people could experience the economic benefits of coffee.

“Our focus is to collaborate with folks who come from those coffee lands, to build that community — and not just in terms of building a customer base,” Rodriguez said. “This is about building something that’s gonna translate beyond transactions.”

Cervantes and Rodriguez have taken trips to coffee farms in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and elsewhere, even before they met in Mexico City ten years ago. At the time, Cervantes was still living in her native Mexico while Rodriguez, a third-generation Chicano born in California, was visiting the country as a student activist. They remember the day they met well.
“I was going through the subway, coming up the stairs, and I heard these drums,” Rodriguez recalls.

He recognized the beat immediately and chased the sounds to a circle of dancers. Cervantes was one of them. They made eye contact, continued the ceremony, and after, bonded over their politics.

Naturally, Rodriguez asked Cervantes out for coffee.

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