Little Waves’ Production Roaster, Maricarmen Paz Hernandez, and Production Team Member, Orapin Brent.
As not just a brand but a member of our local Durham, North Carolina community, it’s important to us to support Latina-led businesses in our neighborhood. We’re thrilled to have Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee Roasters—a finalist for Micro Roaster of the Year!—fueling our team as we process custom orders 24 hours a day. Like Spoonflower, Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee Roasters thoughtfully source their products with social responsibility and ethical practices at the core of their brand values. We sat down with the Little Waves team to learn more about the women-forward roastery and how the art of roasting coffee often mimics the art of making a handmade wardrobe. By the end of this interview you’ll be asking yourself, “Who roasts my coffee?”
Production Roaster Maricarmen Paz Hernandez, Production team members Orapin Brent, and Luna Juarez, and Wholesale Account Manager Ariel Studenmund show off their Spoonflower masks.
Get to Know Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee Roasters
Alyssa Noble, Wholesale Account Manager and Communications Specialist (she/her): Little Waves sources coffee seasonally through relationships that we develop over time at well above fair trade prices. We roast in small batches and are passionately working to achieve the highest quality roasts we can to make our coffees shine. We offer specialty coffees from all over the world and roast to order the day before delivery.
Social responsibility is at the center of our business model both as Little Waves Coffee Roasters and Cocoa Cinnamon. As such, we are committed to paying all of our employees a living wage, and to pursuing equitable, inclusive practices in every part of our business.
With every decision we make, we work to honor people, places, cultures, and histories. We integrate personal narratives into our cafe spaces and menu offerings in an effort to help our guests and clients feel more connected to us on a human level. We name our roasts and drinks after places that inspire wonder, have cultural significance, and after people and places that we love (as an example, our Amor Prohibido espresso blend is named after a Selena song!). Every act is an invitation to connect, and we are fueled by the joy we get from cultivating health and wonder with the world around us.
Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves have people and human connection at their cores. Everything we do is motivated by community health, and we work diligently to honor individuals and groups in ways that feel meaningful. Cocoa Cinnamon wouldn’t exist without the support of this community – and when I say community I mean both near and far. Leon and Areli opened their Geer Street (OND) cafe with tremendous community support after operating for a few years as bikeCOFFEE. Leon talks often about the abundant generosity they have benefitted from at every step of the way. I think Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves are an ongoing love letter to all of the folks who made them possible.
Co-founder Areli Barrera de Grodski measures the density of a newly-arrived green coffee.
The fiber content of a fabric can determine what types of projects it’s suitable for. How is this similar to the roasting process and choosing the right beans?
Mandy Spirito, Head Roaster (they, them): For coffee, terroir makes a huge impact (terroir can be everything from soil content to growing altitude), as well as processing (how the pulp of the coffee cherry is removed). All of these factors guide us towards what we call a “roasting profile,” where we manipulate how heat is applied during the roasting process to bring out specific flavors and qualities, which I think is comparable to creating a pattern or project for a specific fabric.
Sewing a handmade garment is a slow process that can take you away from your surroundings and transport you into your quiet corner of sewing. Garment sewists don’t make their own clothing because it’s quick, but more as a way to focus on the process. How does the coffee roasting process at Little Waves relate to this feeling?
Mandy: The woman who taught me to roast always stressed that it should be a place where comfort is found in focus—a place to zen out. I took that advice to heart from the very beginning, and it’s made my job very rewarding.
In addition to that, the journey coffee takes from seed to cup is incredibly powerful. I feel connected to that effort, the process, and the land when I’m roasting. It’s such an amazing process. It takes about three to four years for a coffee plant to flower. Most of the coffees we purchase are selectively hand-picked. The way that the pulp is removed from a coffee cherry (we call this processing) has a big impact on the taste of your cup and takes a lot of care, and coffee is often hand-sorted for quality purposes. And that’s the simple version.
We named one of our blends Don’t Forget to Look at the Moon, which refers to the book The English Patient. And I think about it a lot:
“I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission, but signs of pre-occupation.”
Coffee is so ritualistic. It’s so ubiquitous that I think most of us don’t really think twice about it. Even I forget, lost in the minutiae and preoccupations of the day to day parts of my job. But I always try to take moments to remember how lucky I am, and how much I love what I do.
Ariel: One reason it is important to ask who is making your clothes or who is roasting your coffee is because it is an extension of trust. You don’t always have the time or ability to research the origin of the products you are buying, how many hands they are passing through, and if people and the environment are being taken care of at every step of the production process. However, it is possible to find a business that is doing that work, that is sourcing the highest quality product, in a sustainable way, and paying producers and workers what they deserve and what they need to live.
Mandy uses smell to assess a roast and Areli does the same with a sample roast.
Fashion and coffee both have a tendency to be exploitative industries that have done vast amounts of damage to people and ecosystems. In asking the question, “Who made my clothes?” you are finding the answers to social and environmental questions along the way. The same goes for asking, “Who roasted my coffee?” If you find a roastery that is taking great consideration for social and environmental factors into its process, that is transparent about the supply chain, that is paying fair prices to coffee producers, you can entrust them to take care that your money is going to support everyone in the supply chain and support environmentally sustainable practices. As a result, you get to enjoy a beautiful product that not only uplifts you, but others as well. That is something that creates a much more long-term joy, and the kind of joy we are chasing at Little Waves Coffee.
What Little Waves roast are you most excited about right now and why?
Maricarmen Paz Hernandez, Production Roaster (she/her): I’m currently in love with our Rio de Estrella honey-processed coffee. This cafecito is from La Palma-Citalá, Chalatenango, El Salvador. It contains notes of Golden apple, baker’s chocolate, toffee, & cinnamon. You should give this coffee a try because it tastes like fall in a cup. It is smooth and evenly balanced. I like to pair it with oat milk. Yummm.
Little Waves Team Picks
Designs listed from left to right, top to bottom.
Anabella – Japanese Water Garden: I chose the Koi fish, and I think I like it a lot because I’m a Pisces and the fish in the Pisces sign are koi fish so I think I was naturally attracted to it. The colors the artist chose made it look really pretty, and I love the idea of it being a Japanese garden. It’s simple beauty.
Ariel – Pink Mermaid: I chose this mermaid print because I’ve always thought of myself as part mermaid due to my name, but also because the ocean is my happy place. I also love the sisterhood of these mermaids, and it makes me think of my beautiful team at Little Waves 🙂
Mary – Vintage Anatomy Halloween: I chose a spooky mask because Halloween is approaching and we don’t get to celebrate it the same way this year, so I wanted to have my own way of getting to celebrate the season by having a special mask!
Areli – Metatron’s Cube: I chose a sacred geometry pattern for my mask because I try to activate balance in my life in as many ways as possible. Metatron’s Cube is a symbol that’s meant to represent the journey of energy throughout the universe, and of balance within the universe. This pattern not only activates balance for the person wearing it, but also for anyone who sees it and is open to receiving what it offers.