Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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ABNER ROLDÁN CALLS THE STAFF of the coffee shop he owns with his wife, Karla Quiñones, his coworkers. They're not his employ- ees, but his colleagues. This passing description comes out as he re- counts his day, which begins before his Café Comunión opens at 7 a.m., as the sole barista responsible for each and every espresso drink that passes over the shop's blond-wood counter, and it tells you everything about how this two-time Puerto Rico National Latte Art champion wants to run his business. Here in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan where he and Karla also make their home, Abner's main interests are in creating a space for good coffee, jobs for those who've remained in their home city even after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and, as made clear by the café name, community for the residents of an island that's undergone far more than its fair share of crises over the years. "Our situation as an island is that we don't have anywhere to go," he says. "You have to get on a plane. We're not trying to be the prophets of coffee, but we wanted to bring people another way of serving coffee. Here, we are a couple of years behind; we're still in the second wave. [Coffee is] just to wake up and stop being grumpy." At Comunión, they're trying to both push the coffee culture forward toward a more holistic appreciation, and also simply slow it down. "People sit down and relax and then forget about the coffee they ordered," Karla says. "I'm impressed: We don't sell a lot of to-go cups," adds Abner. "Peo- ple understand the name as soon as they are here." The road to opening this shop was longer than anticipated. After 36-year-old Abner and 30-year-old Karla returned to San Juan in ear- ly 2016 from a year spent in Portland, Ore., they immediately began the process of fi nding a location and acquiring the money necessary to get their vision off the ground. They were set to open in October 2017, but Hurricane Maria arrived on September 20 and changed their plans. "We had everything: equipment, chairs," says Abner. "We were so sure that the rolling doors weren't going to go away," says Karla. But after the hurricane hit, they started getting texts telling them that the entrance was destroyed. Abner ran, worried that everything would be stolen, but neighbors had been standing outside to make sure there was no looting. With repairs necessary, Abner started serving coffee at El Local, a music venue near their home that was keeping people fed in the aftermath of the storm. Eventually, he moved his drip-coffee opera- tion to the sidewalk in front of the future café to serve pick-me-ups to passersby. "People knew we struggled to be here," Abner says, and that ended up being a great advertisement for the business, which fi nally opened in January 2018 after a successful GoFundMe campaign raised enough money for the couple to fi x the entryway. Now, the open, welcoming space that is Café Comunión is fi lled with people throughout the day— some having meetings, others working or studying. The Wi-Fi is free and strong; outlets are plentiful. Abner and Karla are not interested in forcing table turnover, but rather in creating a space where people feel comfortable—especially if they're cut off from electricity or the Internet at their homes, which many still are. "After Maria, this bar La Penúltima opened their Wi-Fi and opened their bar at 9 a.m. just to have it available for people. We learned so much from them," says Karla. "You didn't have to buy anything; you could just work." "Maria is still here," she continues. "There are a lot of people with- out power, and internet especially has been really affected." Because of this, Comunión often gets packed, but it means people are buying multiple meals in a day and ordering many cups of coffee. One Monday night, as Abner and Karla clean and turn chairs over onto the tables, a woman lingers to fi nish what she was reading. She doesn't leave until 30 minutes after the café's offi cial closing, but no one is concerned about hurrying her out. Designed by local artist Melissa Xiloj, Café Comunión's logo of fi ve people riding one bicycle has little to do with coffee at fi rst glance (aside from the cup the driver holds). Days spent within the café make its meaning clear, though, once you realize the true spirit of together- ness being cultivated. That togetherness becomes evident in the menu, as well, which offers a host of espresso drinks, pourover coffee, tea, and elaborately topped toasts. There was a conscious decision on the parts of Abner and Karla to make sure that the prices didn't alienate any older or less well-off residents of the surrounding neighborhood, which is home to artists, bartenders, chefs—all the usual markers of gentrifi cation. "I know people are going to say, 'Oh, these hipsters, gentrifica- tion,'" says Abner, "but we've been living in this community for 10 years." The shop is located at the end of a stretch of Avenida Juan Ponce de Leon that serves as the address of many of the city's most innovative food and beverage spots, from the restaurant Gallo Negro to the food hall Lote 23 to the aforementioned La Penúltima, and is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Centro de Bellas Artes, and bookstore Libros AC. It's an area that in any other city, one not long-suffering under a recession and economic crisis, probably would have already become unaffordable to most. " We have a coffee for them, the colada," Abner says of the traditional drink listed on the menu primarily for customers with more old-style, and perhaps less expensive, tastes. " We didn't want to copy what we saw in Portland, because it's a different commu- nity here. When we see people from the community, we have this cheaper option." One of the drinks that's most rooted in Puerto Rico is the Valencia- no, served with a cube of cheese on the saucer in homage to Abner's agrarian hometown in the east of the island. "I created the Valenciano because in my hometown, Juncos—it is also called La Ciudad del Va- lenciano—people use condensed milk on their coffee," says Abner. "I added the cheese because my grandma and many other grandmothers of Puerto Rico serve coffee and hot chocolate with a piece of cheese that you put or dunk into the coffee." There is another conscious effort afoot in the café to protect the Spanish language, even in a city where many young people have spent time abroad and are familiar with common English terms like "pourover." 72 barista magazine

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