Fly with me to Quito, Ecuador and meet coffee icon Felipe Cisneros; owner of Traviesa.
At an altitude of 2850 meters above sea level lies the city of Quito. Constructed on the foundations of an ancient Incan city, Quito is known for its well-preserved colonial center and the beautiful surrounding area of the Andean foothills. Somewhere just outside the colonial center you will find Traviesa; home to Felipe Cisneros, the ‘padrino’ of the coffee culture in Quito.
The story of Felipe started in Oregon, USA in the year 1999. Undergraduate Cisneros was studying as a foreign student at the local university in Oregon. Like so many other students, Felipe used coffee as a means to survive uni and did so at the local coffee shop ‘Java’. Felipe was used to coffee being that dark brown liquid that you drink to stay awake, but the coffee here was different. It didn’t take long for Felipe to fall in love with coffee and applied for a job at ‘Java’.
Java was a great coffee shop to work at. During the 3rd wave explosion, roasters such as Stumptown were sending this ‘Single Origin’ coffee to the shop. I had never tasted coffee like that before and I immediately felt a passion for the product. Needless to say that I was elated when Java offered me a part time job. Before I knew it I was preparing all the milk based coffee drinks there and got pretty good at it. People were eventually asking for me to brew their coffee.
During one of his vacations back in Quito Felipe noticed the lack of good coffee in the city. The coffee was like charcoal and there was not expertise whatsoever when it came to brewing espresso. It was then that the idea of his own coffee shop started to form. The idea was to bring the American coffee culture to his hometown and introduce the ‘Single Origin’ coffee to the people of Ecuador. It was the year 2003 when that idea became reality; Felipe opened his first coffee shop Cafeto; the name of a coffee plant.
While the idea was great, I soon noticed that Quito was not ready for the American coffee culture yet. I opened up my shop but the people did not come. Every day my shop was open from 7am to 6 pm but business was slow, real slow. I soon learned that the people did like coffee, but they did not start drinking coffee before 6pm. Coffee just wasn’t a social thing yet. The moment I adjusted my opening hours things started to turn around. In 2005 I opened up Cafeto inside a monastery in the old center. People started pouring in and soon I got voted best coffee shop in Quito for 8 years straight by The Lonely Planet. I like to think that at that moment, a coffee scene started to develop in Quito.
When you chat with Felipe Cisneros you see something in his eyes; a hunger for new innovative ideas. As if he is never done reinventing himself. In 2009 Felipe went to Quindio, Colombia to visit a coffee farm before finishing his second masters, Governance Development, in Belgium. While talking to the farmer he heard the word Traviesa: the first harvest of the coffee plants. From that moment on, Felipe knew his next coffee shop would bear this name. But first he needed to get things in order in Quito. By now he was still using external roasters to roast his coffee but he wanted to take matters in his own hands. Roasting his own coffee and spreading the knowledge about coffee was his future aim.
The roasters in Ecuador were roasting according to a commercial profile; dark and robust. The lighter roasting profiles that I experienced in the USA and Belgium was what I wanted the bring to the coffee scene in Quito. In 2012 I ordered my first 12 kg Diedrich and started roasting my own coffee. I was the only in-shop roaster in Quito and the first to produce lighter roasted coffee beans. The people loved it! I also opened the first Traviesa that year and I knew I was walking along the right path. All around me there were more specialty coffee shops opening; the scene was starting to develop more and more now.
After a short move back to the old shop of Cafeto, Traviesa opened it’s doors in 2016 at the current location. Nowadays Traviesa is a beacon of quality coffee in Quito and people come from all over the place to work and socialize while enjoying high quality single origin coffee.
I have seen the coffee scene develop and, with the help of the millennials, coffee has become a social thing in Quito. The ‘coffee after 6pm’ tradition has been traded in for an ‘all day every day’ tradition. I am pleased to see the coffee scene grow; we have coffee shops that focus on competitions and training, shops that focus on the social aspect, or delivering special experiences like we do here at Traviesa.
Felipe Cisneros steered away from training baristas for competitions. The chance to fail in a competition is so much bigger than the chance to succeed he says. Instead of training his students for peaking at a competition, he encourages them to reinvent themselves.
Traviesa is a place where we look to the future. How can we bring coffee to the people in new ways? We are already talking to the high-end restaurants in Quito to think of ways to implement coffee in the menu’s. We also have pop-up shops that are miniature copies of the Traviesa cafe what we bring to conventions, weddings etc. The message that I want to pass along to my employees and the coffee scene is: dream, innovate and invent. Coffee is a beautiful product and there is so much we can do with it as long as we dare to dream.
It was time to say goodbye again. Felipe was moving his roaster out of his shop to a new location somewhere else in town. This would enable him to roast more coffee for Traviesa and for other shops in Ecuador. Typically Felipe Cisneros: always looking forward.