By Elyse Wild | photography Two Eagles Marcus
Most West Michiganders will be unfamiliar but no less enchanted with café de olla, a traditional Mexican coffee brewed with an exhilarating blend of star anise, sugar cane and cinnamon. The Rodriguez family—Gabby, Mario, their father Cesar, and Mario’s partner Erinna Espinosa— brings the delicious drink to West Michigan with Soldadera Coffee while raising awareness around issues affecting women.
The Rodriguez family, who immigrated to Grand Rapids from Mexico City more than two decades ago, launched Soldadera three years ago after long-contemplating opening a coffee shop. In 2016, Mario returned from a trip to Mexico with the idea to bring the flavor of café de olla to West Michigan; and so it began.
“I never imagined my life building something from the ground up,” Gabby commented as she recalls the early days of the company. She describes the various roles each family member plays on different days, oscillating between sales, events, production and marketing.
It was Gabby who represented Soldadera at numerous idea pitch competitions across West Michigan: she won three Start Garden 5×5 competitions and landed the company a spot in the top 10 of Start Garden’s 100 Ideas competition in 2018, an achievement that earned them $20,000.
Soldadera Coffee is a cold brewed version of café de olla, traditionally served warm. The recipe the Rodriguez’s use is inspired by their grandmother who they hold in such regard that the company is in part dedicated to her memory. Their grandmother, Christina, raised her nine children on her own in addition to being a dedicated social activist and a figure of strength in her community in Mexico City.
The family shares memories of Christina’s fierce kindness that are tinged with the distinct flavors of cafe de olla. On the company’s website, Mario recalls finding inspiration as a child on the mornings he accompanied his grandmother by bus to serve the homemade coffee to the community.
“She wasn’t afraid to speak up, which is one of the reasons we decided to dedicate Soldadera to her,” Gabby expressed. “The way she spoke up and was a part of the community and went out of her way to help others is something we want to emulate.”
The name Soldadera itself honors the origins of café de olla and draws attention to their mission of spotlighting women’s issues. The drink was invented in 1910 by women soldiers, called “soldaderas” or “adelitas,” during the Mexican Revolution. While women long had a presence in the Mexican military, their numbers increased significantly with the outbreak of the revolution, and they were fundamental to the movement’s success. The company’s logo is striking in its inspiring depiction of an adelita against a rising sun. When sampling the rich flavor of Soldadera Coffee, it’s almost thrilling to know that more than one hundred years ago, the very same blend of coffee and spices permeated the revolution that changed Mexico forever.
Espinosa heads Soldadera’s ongoing campaign to bring awareness to women’s issues by inviting people to participate in the evolving story of the brand.
“Our mission is to share the stories of women in the community,” Espinosa expressed. “We prompt people, whether on social media or at events, to think about the women in their lives and share their stories.”
Soldadera participates in a number of community events, and in January served café de olla at the Women’s March in downtown Grand Rapids.
“Our future goal is to hopefully open up a place in Grand Rapids to serve coffee and host women’s events,” Epsinosa said.
She goes on to say that nurturing a dialogue between Soldedara and the community in which their products are available is important.
“Since we are a family business, we want people to feel like family with us,” she said. “We want to talk to people, not just give them their coffee. We want to talk with them and get to know their experiences.” t
Currently, Soldadera Coffee is available for purchase online at soldaderacoffee.com, in the Bridge Street Market and Tacos El Cunado in Grand Rapids, and Colin’s Market in Holland. As the company grows, they plan to develop other flavors to add to their line up.