Cocoa Cinnamon’s Love Letter to Espresso Tradition


The Latinx-owned, womxn-forward café and roastery is one in every of Durham’s foremost tradition bearers and occasional educators.


Cowl picture by David Solow artwork + design, fashion by Alyssa Noble, Lakewood wholesale consultant and communications specialist 

Stroll into any of Cocoa Cinnamon’s three areas in Durham, N.C., and also you’ll discover a place the place the historical past and tradition of espresso and chocolate are boldly informed by means of the senses. House owners and artists Areli and Leon Barrera de Grodski draw on their household roots to weave a sensory story of flavors, aromas, textures, and language that join espresso to these to whom it belonged pre-colonization. For Cocoa Cinnamon, or Cacao Canela, and their counterpart Little Waves Espresso Roasters, espresso is rarely simply espresso. It’s a dwelling communion with the lands and individuals who produce it. 

Final September, Little Waves Espresso Roasters was the roaster-in-residence at Seattle’s La Marzocco Café. Pictured left to proper: Mariah, Cocoa Cinnamon director of retail; Areli Barrera de Grodski, co-owner and inexperienced purchaser; and Midiala, Lakewood store captain. Picture by Jenn Callender.

“The enterprise may be very rooted in what I prefer to name the Love Frequency. Largely as a result of it’s type of like Leon’s and mine’s love little one, and it’s rooted in our cultures,” Areli says. “It’s actually essential to us to spotlight the cultures and the individuals who existed earlier than colonization, by way of bringing to life the spices and this cacao. … The place is espresso from? How is it consumed there? Desirous about how regular it’s to sip espresso with spices in it. For us it was essential to acknowledge these histories and people cultures, and share that in our menu. It’s about storytelling and honoring.”

Signage at their cafés is in each Spanish and English. Drinks just like the Darkish Skies of Teotihuacan (a milk chocolate drink with chipotle and cayenne pepper, topped with black whipped cream and edible glitter), Cortadito Cubano, and Palmyra (a latte with cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, anise, date sugar, and crushed rose garnish) all embody the origin tales of their substances. The Al Mokha (with house-made darkish chocolate sauce and cinnamon) is an homage to the primary port in Yemen that exported espresso. Drinks are additionally impressed by the cultures of their crew members, just like the Nowruz, a pomegranate soda drink with espresso, named for the Persian New Yr. The Lakewood location, which homes Little Waves Espresso Roasters, sells churros, and tables are decked in oil material. “The design of that location may be very impressed by our journey to Mexico after we went to go to household in Guadalajara and in Nayarit,” Areli says. 

A pre-COVID-19 public cupping; making espresso training accessible to all is a precedence for Cocoa Cinnamon. Picture by David Solow artwork + design.

Cocoa Cinnanamon’s story started in 2010, the identical yr Areli and Leon obtained married. The 2 began the enterprise in Areli’s mother’s kitchen in western North Carolina. In 2011, the couple moved the corporate to Durham, launching with “$75 within the financial institution,” and no entry to credit score. By way of the help of pals and group they had been capable of set up bikeCoffee, their first incarnation. In 2013, they opened their flagship brick-and-mortar café on W. Geer St. as Cocoa Cinnamon. Their second location adopted in 2016, and their third store and roastery opened the subsequent yr. 

Central to Cocoa Cinnamon’s mission is making espresso training accessible. Areli and Leon intend to develop into Q-certified this yr, bringing that data again to their crew. They have already got an intensive providing of on-line courses and a digital training middle because of Michael Harwood, director of high quality management and improvements, and head roaster Mandy Spirito. Mandy obtained their Q certification just a few years in the past, and was requested to write down a weblog publish about it, which become a much bigger instructional initiative. “I didn’t need to write the weblog publish to fellow Q Graders,” they are saying. “I wished individuals to learn it and suppose, ‘Oh, I get these items now’ … I additionally wished to write down it as a result of I feel the cupping desk may be an intimidating place for some individuals. In case you grew up in a meals desert, how are you going to know what a star fruit tastes like? is gonna be 5 elements, and we’re going to do a tasting by way of Zoom to type of convey all of it collectively.”

Mandy Spirito, head roaster, cupping coffees. Picture by Little Waves Espresso Roasters.

Cocoa Cinnamon goals to foster well being at each stage of the availability chain. Areli can also be the inexperienced purchaser, and seeks out espresso from ladies producers like Anny Ruth Pimentel’s Loma La Gloria farm in El Salvador, and Ana Milena Claros of Colombia. An distinctive occasion was shopping for from so much in Nayarit. “It’s a wonderful reference to rootedness and ancestors and simply having the ability to help producers which can be from the identical space that my dad is from,” Areli says. “We nonetheless have household there. Serendipitously, the espresso we ended up sourcing was all female-produced.”

Success as a enterprise additionally means producing the sources to create significant careers in espresso for his or her crew members. Areli notes that many of the workers are ladies of coloration or younger individuals. Seeing first-hand the correlation between illustration and extra alternative for marginalized of us in a white-dominated business is a part of their mission.

In July, a crew member on the Lakewood location examined optimistic for COVID-19, however Cocoa Cinnamon already had a disaster plan in place. The placement instantly closed and the subsequent day everybody who labored there obtained examined. Whereas not one of the different crew members examined optimistic, the workers had been quarantined for 2 weeks as a precaution, together with the roastery crew. As a part of the plan, they’d a back-up crew in place to take over the 2 weeks’ value of orders on the roastery. Everybody obtained paid, together with the quarantined staff. 

“The factor that was essential for us was having open communication with everybody, your entire crew, and the general public, and being clear about what occurred and the way we had been taking good care of it,” Areli says. “We’ve got this plan and we’re completely satisfied to share it with anybody.”

A storyteller for espresso and chocolate origins, Cocoa Cinnamon can also be writing new futures, serving to to usher in additional BIPOC communities in specialty espresso.

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Journal’s social media content material developer and a frequent contributor. He’s additionally a contract author, social media supervisor, and novelist primarily based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s most likely biking to his favourite vegan restaurant. Discover out extra on his web site.


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