Latina Baristas Reconnect Coffee to Their Culture

By combining their coffee expertise with their cultural backgrounds, Lena Enriquez and Evelyn Rangel are presenting coffee through a different lens.

BY EMILY JOY MENESES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

What does coffee mean to you? Over the past several decades, the coffee industry has massively evolved. From first- to second- to third-wave coffee, with an itch to define what the fourth wave truly is, we’ve witnessed an incredible shift in how coffee is sourced, brewed, and consumed. Amidst all of these changes, it’s easy to overlook what coffee is at its very core: a powerful emblem of culture and ritual.

When it comes to representation in the coffee world, it’s about so much more than having people of color behind the bar—it’s about centering their voices and stories: understanding what coffee means to them and their communities, and using that knowledge to shift our perception of, and approach to, the industry as a whole.

Today, we’re highlighting two Latina coffee professionals who’ve set out to recognize the roots of our industry, particularly within Latin coffee, by combining their coffee expertise with their rich cultural backgrounds. By bringing their unique family histories to the table, Evelyn Rangel and Lena Enriquez are presenting coffee behind the bar through a fresh and much-needed lens.

Early this year, Evelyn Rangel launched Pyramide del Sol, a coffee company anchored on the preservation of ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rangel.

Evelyn Rangel (she/her)

Born to a father from Petatlán, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, and a mother from Ensenada, Baja California, Evelyn Rangel took her first barista steps at cafés Portola and Augie’s, where she first connected with the coffee community and developed her knowledge and skills. However, as Evelyn delved deeper into the coffee world, she noticed a gap in the industry that she wanted to fill.

“I received an opportunity to take an origin trip to Antigua, Guatemala, sponsored by Augie’s back in 2019. Antigua offered a genuine representation of coffee as a craft—from seed to cup, there was an invigorating sense of adoration,” Evelyn shares. “Currently, coffee (in the Western world) feels like an accessory—it’s trendy and pretty but, in my opinion, it’s missing the depth and recognition of coffee; coffee’s true essence.”

Seeking to reconnect her approach to coffee with both her own cultural background and her experience in Antigua, Evelyn launched Pyramide del Sol: a coffee company anchored on the preservation of ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Located in Rancho Cucamonga, Pyramide del Sol offers beverages with ingredients inspired by ancient Mesoamerican civilization, including cacao, purple corn, and a variety of spices.

“Coffee is my source of energy,” Evelyn states. “My seed for coffee has flourished, and I’ve found purpose through my passion. The fresh smell of coffee in the morning was always present throughout my childhood … (and now), it’s become a morning ritual set with intention to fuel the rest of my day, grounded and guided. I invite people to stop by Pyramide del Sol every Monday and Wednesday—let’s open that door for dialogue and remembrance.”

“Growing up, my mom and my grandmother embedded in me that family is everything. My coffee community—our customers and regulars—I feel as though they’re an extension of my family,” says Lena Enriquez, head barista at Cult Coffee. Photo courtesy of Cult Santa Monica.

Lena Enriquez (she/her)

When asked about her start in the coffee world, San Diego-born Lena Enriquez brings it all the way back to her childhood, when she’d make her mother’s coffee on the weekends. “She always drank out of the same two mugs, and I would jump at the chance to make it for her,” Lena shares. “What I remember most is the ritual of it, and the attention to detail. She was always able to tell if I made it the ‘right way’—her cup of coffee had an exact recipe to her liking: sugar first, then coffee, then cream. Always in that order.”

As a teenager, Lena took on a job at Peet’s Coffee, where she fell in love with the craft. She’d eventually move on to working at local businesses like Superba and Menotti’s, until finding a place at Cult Santa Monica as a partner and head barista. At Cult, Lena works with an all-Latina crew, something she takes great pride in.

“When it came to picking my team here at Cult, I didn’t have to search for that representation—my baristas came to me,” she explains. “Ashlee and Jacky were the first hires here at Cult, and they’re so much more than ‘baristas’; both of them had similar upbringings to me, and we all have that same understanding of being there for one another. We call and check in on each other; we reassure and empower each other. I love my crew, and I love what we do.”

Lena credits her Mexican background to her emphasis on family, community, and loyalty. “When I’m at work making coffee for people, I see people coming together; I see people meeting for the first time; I see people falling in and out of love. I see so many things … and I’m a part of it all. Growing up, my mom and my grandmother embedded in me that family is everything. My coffee community—our customers and regulars—I feel as though they’re an extension of my family, and I believe that feeling comes from my culture.” Lena’s Mexican upbringing also shines in Cult menu items like “The Other Paloma,” a refreshing cold brew infused with grapefruit juice, and her own personal creation “horchato”: a fusion of the traditional cortado and her favorite childhood drink, the horchata. 

The Other Paloma is a Mexican-inspired drink featuring cold brew infused with grapefruit juice. Photo courtesy of Cult Santa Monica.

When asked what advice she has for other young women of color in the industry, Lena shares, “Don’t ever let someone discourage you from your passions; don’t ever let someone make you feel less than because your life doesn’t look the way they expect it to. Commitment looks different for everyone; if you’re a full-time student and at the same time a part-time worker, that does not mean you’re less committed. If you pronounce words differently from your native English-speaking coworkers, that does not make you less capable to work that counter.”

“I am a huge believer in the law of attraction: what you put out is what you will get,” Lena continues. “So, one drink at a time, I will put out as much good and love that I can, because you can never have too much good energy.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in Los Angeles, Emily Joy Meneses (she/her) is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams. Explore her poetry, short stories, and soundscapes on her website.

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