A cobalt trailer with a multicolor saguaro painting on its white door stands in a rocky downtown Tolleson lot, its long ordering window hinged open.
Tunes bump, Tajin swirls in lemonade. A line of cars wait to order cold coffee from owners Brittany Martinez-Chavez and Raul Chavez. Jovial greetings fly when cars roll to the window, guided by cones.
Open since just late spring, Native Coffee Co. already draws a crowd.
People come for the community and out-of-the-box approach. Coffees are “Mexican-style, but with a twist.” Teas have roots in the borderlands. There are a few Indigenous touches that Martinez-Chavez, Akimel O’odham and Xicana, plans to expand and magnify soon.
For now, though, both she and her husband are just happy to be open.
Though they’re newcomers to coffee as a profession, the beverage has long been central to Martinez-Chavez’s life rhythms. “For my family, it’s coffee all day,” she says. “Coffee for breakfast. Coffee when we’re talking. Coffee at night. Coffee has always just been my thing.”
Five days a week, she and Chavez park their trailer in the rented lot on 93rd Drive and West Van Buren Street. Saturdays, they work events in near and far parts of greater Phoenix, and rest Sundays. They don’t have drip coffee. Many of their coffee creations, like a churro macchiato and Mexican hot chocolate mocha, originate in an espresso machine. Lemonades get flavors like lavender, prickly pear, and cucumber-mint.
Native Coffee Co. is more than a coffee trailer, though. It has taken steps, at many business turns, to give back to local and Indigenous communities. “I love focusing on whatever I can give back to the people,” Martinez-Chavez says. “Not just my tribe. All tribes.”
Native Coffee does so in a few ways.
One way is through giving, including to groups helping tribes fight the pandemic. “All our tips one night we donated to Protect Native Elders,” Martinez-Chavez says. “They donate PPE and supplies to all the Indigenous tribal communities.”
They also use coffee from Quetzal Co-op, a downtown Phoenix purveyor that sources fair trade beans from global Indigenous growers. “Number one, it’s Indigenous,” Martinez-Chavez explains. “Number two, it’s local. Number three, they give back to the community.”
Native Coffee also does its part to bolster its community by carrying a few local products, both food and drink. Foods include jerky, chamoy, and trail mix — nice adds because the trailer doesn’t have a kitchen. On the drink side, one main local event is tea.
Native offers teas like saguaro blossom, prickly pear, and desert-mint-sage. These come from the Tucson non-profit seed distributor and the conservation entity Native Seeds/SEARCH. One of the tasks of this nonprofit is to provide Indigenous people with free dry-climate seeds, a process disrupted by the pandemic.
“I really like that they have a free seed program for native farmers, or Native community members,” Martinez-Chavez says. “So I buy from them and the money goes back into the community.”
The trailer's coffee menu offers some refreshing finds. They make a horchata cold brew. They mix a Vietnamese-style iced drink. But the churro macchiato is the duo's signature. Martinez-Chavez makes it partly in the tradition of her grandmother, who added cinnamon to coffee, a habit that Martinez-Chavez picked up and has retained at home.
No churros are harmed in the making of this coffee. The target flavor arises from cinnamon, nutmeg, and a caramelly syrup that thickly webs and glides down the drink's walls. The churro macchiato is named B.B. King after (twist!) Martinez-Chavez’s father, nicknamed B.B. All drinks take the names of family members.
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So far, Native Coffee has been in something of a stage one. The plan is to begin a new phase when summer ends (if the pandemic cooperates). Then, expect to see more of Martinez-Chavez's O’odham roots. “I’m excited for fall and winter because I’m going to be doing more Indigenous drinks then,” she says.
She wants to craft ancient staples like champurrado and a pumpkin twist on atole. She wants to start using saguaro syrup.
For now, the current menu is attracting customers, even to a gravel lot under a sun that regularly sends days north of 114 degrees. (Check social media for more about hours and location.) Until Chavez and Martinez-Chavez break to wait out the heat at 10:30 a.m. and reconvene in the evening, they will be busy. They lid lemonade, pump syrup, cross in front of the trailer's interior art by local artists, hand out tall drinks.
“I just wanted my trailer to be something by the people for the people,” Martinez-Chavez says. In the grip of the summer heat and endless pandemic, the cobalt trailer has been just that.