Two shops engaging in social change to check out for International Coffee Day


Coming almost right after National Coffee Day, Oct. 1 marks the seventh year of International Coffee Day, an occasion meant to celebrate the classic beverage.

With that in mind, here are two Latino-owned coffee shops in the region that put forward a passion for brewing coffee, bonding local communities and engaging in social change.

Amid the pandemic, couple Carissa and Mauriel Vega wanted to find a way to connect with their local community in Woodbridge. 

Carissa is from Puerto Rico and her husband is from Nicaragua. Coffee was a big part of the couple’s upbringing, and they loved that it always brought people together. In June 2020, they opened their online coffee shop, Café Rebelde. The couple started off delivering coffee bags sourced from countries like Nicaragua and Peru. 

“It always was something we did with family and friends,” Carissa Vega said. “There was really not a great place to get coffee … we had to share this with people. So that was really it, it just felt right for us. It connected us to our culture, to our ancestors, but also connected us to our community.”

Café Rebelde’s dark roast is from Nicaragua, their medium roast is from Peru, and their dark roast decaf is from Mexico. They also now serve a new espresso blend from Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil. 

A coffee truck supporting people of color

Café Rebelde prides itself not only on the quality of its products but in its support for independent farmers and local cooperatives in Mexico, Central and South America who grow their coffee in “harmony with nature.” 

“They’re growing it in the shade with love and care,” Vega said. “They’re not big corporations that are just coming in cutting down forests bringing in pesticides, they’re growing it right.”

Just a few months into their online coffee business, their virtual retail shop evolved into a pop-up café outside of the Woodbridge Town Library. Over the summer, Café Rebelde added a mobile truck to its list of offerings. With their recent expansion into a mobile shop, the couple can connect with more people across the state, having the ability to offer more drinks, services and products for people looking for an ethical cup of joe. 

For their coffee truck, they serve hot drinks, iced lattes, and specialty lemonades ranging from $3 to $6. Café Rebelde also partners with bakeries led by people of color.

“Whether it’s pastries, whether it’s Gluten-free cookies, (or) it’s our coffee,” Vega said. “We really want to provide a space for those businesses to also flourish and collaborate with them.” 

Café Rebelde partnered with Bread and Chocolate, a Latino-owned bakery in Hamden, and gets their gluten-free and vegan cookies through Partake Foods, a Black-owned cookie company. The coffee business also sources its chocolate-covered expresso beans from Bedré Fine Chocolate, a Native American-owned chocolate company.

Mendel Ezagui from Bethany is a regular at Café Rebelde’s spot at the Woodbridge Town Library. He said their coffee is a bit more “fresh” and “just tastes more like coffee.”

“I love coming to see Mauriel,” Ezagui said. “ I love his coffee. It’s always great to hang out with him.”

According to Vega, the overall feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I just get so excited to share something that I love with people, and hearing that they love it back, It’s been beautiful.”

People can purchase a bag of Café Rebelde coffee from their online retail shop, visiting their regular twice-a-week spot in front of the Woodbridge Town Library or taking advantage of their monthly subscription service. 

“I would love everyone to know that we’re out there, to come and visit us, support us,” Carissa said. “I would like people to know that they can get really good quality coffee and doesn’t need to cost them an arm and a leg.”

Coffee shop in West Hartford

J.René Coffee Roasters, a Latino-owned coffee storefront in West Hartford shares a respect for their culture and ancestors through their customer experience.

José René Martinez, the Puerto Rican owner of J.René Coffee Roasters, explains on his website that coffee can act as a way to link people together through significant conversation while also creating long-term memories in the process. This is why he doesn’t describe his store as a coffee shop, but rather as an “artisanal coffee gathering place.” 

Aside from J.René Coffee Roaster, Martinez also owns VICTUS Coffee, where $2 from each bag goes to local and global advocacy organizations all the while strengthening social causes while also providing customers the taste of quality specialty coffee.

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