A new coffee shop in Denver called Convivio Café is creating clear coffee and cultural connections to Guatemala that extend all the way to the roasts.
Convivio’s coffee program focuses primarily on coffees roasted on or near where the coffees were farmed and milled. In its current soft-opening phase, that includes roasted beans from Guatemala-based Gento Coffee and Paralelo 14, as well as from Nicaraguan coffee company Vega Coffee.
All three of those companies emphasize close partnerships with smallholder farms producing shade-grown coffees, according to Convivio.
“By roasting in-country, they keep more of the profits in the country of origin, create more jobs for farmers and their families, and help boost the domestic market of specialty coffee in producing countries,” Convivio Café Cofounder Kristin Lacy told Daily Coffee News. “Further, we believe this model breaks down the power structures and economic models that exclude farmers from benefiting from and enjoying their very own product.”
The company has been building a customer base over more than two years through online sales and coffee popups at events throughout Denver. Meanwhile, between finding a location, the buildout and inspections, the coffee shop opening was more than a year in the making.
Convivio now occupies a 1,740-square-foot inside a century-old building in the Berkeley-Regis neighborhood.
A blizzard of warm string lights twinkles from exposed ceiling beams, under which black and white murals from local artists decorate a dividing wall. Arched portals through the divider echo the company’s logo image of a bridge, denoting the connection between two cultures.
The shop’s many potted plants and herbs that recall the lush vegetation of Guatemala are nourished by daylight that floods through the corner building’s windows.
The soothing blue coffee bar is accented by handmade tiles the owners sourced from a women-owned business in Antigua. Through grinders made by Mahlkönig and Baratza, a 3-group La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine and a Bunn batch brewer, drinks are prepared for customers to enjoy in repurposed, second-hand furniture around the shop.
“Our goal has been to create a warm, welcoming space where the community can feel at ease, and we wanted to evoke that connection to Guatemala and the earth, where our coffee comes from,” Convivio Café Cofounder Vivi Lemus told DCN. “But what matters most to us is to create a place where nothing is too precious or fragile. We want to be a place where one is reminded about stepping into abuela’s house — that warm, cozy feeling.”
The “cafe de la casa” house drip is a blend of beans from the Huehuetenango and Fraijanes regions of Guatemala, roasted in Guatemala by Gento Coffee Lead Roaster Ashley Prentice for a balanced, everyday crowd-pleasing cup.
“Sometimes coffee can be a little snobby here, like you need to understand all the nuances and appreciate acidity and terroir, but not everyone feels that way,” said Lacy. “Because we’re aiming to be more inclusive to folks that aren’t traditionally into coffee, namely many Latinx folks that live in our community, we wanted to have a variety of options that fit their palate, that can take some cream and sugar — no judgment — and still feature the best of the best when it comes to quality producers.”
For the higher demand of espresso, Convivio does turn to local Denver roaster Copper Door Coffee — a woman-owned roastery run on wind-powered electricity, whose three-bean espresso blend comes entirely from farmers who are women. The food menu at the shop features fresh, traditional Guatemalan-style pastries and small-plate antojitos.
Lacy and Lemus both come from nonprofit backgrounds, and both feel special connections to Guatemala.
“Both of our backgrounds and life choices have been informed by the community we live and work in, the community we want to see flourish,” said Lemus, who was born in Guatemala City and traveled through all 22 states growing up.
After working for a time as a paralegal at an immigration law firm in Denver, Lemus transitioned into a full-time managerial position at nonprofit Sun Valley Kitchen running “no-cost grocery” and youth employment training programs.
Meanwhile, Lacy devoted the past 12 years to working for a variety of organizations both in the United States and abroad, including Guatemala-based farm development nonprofit Semilla Nueva.
Said Lacy, “These experiences really inspired my admiration for farmers, the risks they take, the insistent innovation that they have, and overall just wanting them to earn more of the profit from their incredible product.”
Lacy and Lemus now look forward to hosting documentary screenings, support group meetings, art shows and more in Convivio’s permanent home, while continually showcasing all things Guatemalan.
“We have such unique flavors and food offerings that highlight the incredible palette of Central America, so many things you will never find in other coffee shops here in Denver,” said Lacy. “The original motivation for all of this was to have a convivio; a get together where we’re all welcome and we can share new flavors, new languages, new experiences, and celebrate community. So, that’s what’s next for Convivio Café, just a lot of fun community.”
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Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.