Little Waves Coffee Roasters
Take at trip with Areli Barrera de Grodski, Leon Grodski de Barrera, and Michelle Durango Lopez of Little Waves Coffee Roasters as they manifest their dreams through coffee, language & design.
Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week…
Kandace: Little Waves.
Ray: Of Durham, North Carolina. Fly on, Little Waves. It’s like a Hendrix song. Kandace?
Ray: How did we hear about Little Waves of Durham, North Carolina?
Kandace: Interesting you should ask. This is a coffee roaster that is at the La Marzocco Café.
Ray: What did you talk about?
Kandace: Between signing up and starting at La Marzocco, they completely rebranded. We talked to founders and lovebirds, Areli and Leon. They’re really like lovebirds, too.
Cocoa Cinnamon, a Dream
Areli: I am Areli Barrera de Grodski. I am one of the co-owners of Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee Roasters.
Leon: I’m Leon Grodski de Barrera. I am her husband and partner. I oversee the retail side of her business.
Kandace: They have a coffee shop called Cocoa Cinnamon. Asking a question is like going-
Ray: Like going on a little trip together maybe?
Areli: Cocoa Cinnamon was born first. It started out of this dream, literally. The name came to Leon in a dream.
Leon: I had moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to rural Appalachia and ended up opening with somebody a art center and a coffee shop. I had lived in an indigenous Cherokee family. Living there led me to do a lot of reading primarily at first about Cherokee culture and history. Then it led to, in some sense, the history of the world, but focused through coffee, chocolate and tea, and it’s this like beautiful layering of history. After several years of that, for some reason, one morning, I woke up with the words Cocoa Cinnamon in my head. You look at cocoa, you look at cinnamon, you look at coffee, you look at cloves, and you have a view of the last 500 years.
Areli: We started as a bike first because of money and slowly grew our way to one retail shop to two retail shops, to a third retail shop, which then allowed us to have enough space to open up our roastery. Little Waves Coffee Roasters is an extension of Cocoa Cinnamon, but focused more on the roasted beans and the sourcing and the creating of relationships. It started off as 4th Dimension Coffee. That was another Leon dream.
Ray: Is the fourth dimension taste or smell?
Areli: The 4th Dimension to us was more than a scientific, another dimension, but more of being able to look at coffee from different perspectives, from perspectives that we haven’t even yet seen.
Kandace: Then, in September of this year, they rebranded to Little Waves, so this is hot off the presses.
Ray: An Unpacking Coffee exclusive.
Kandace: This was an unexpected development.
Leon: I don’t want to go too deep into it, but there was a little bit of a legal negotiation going on with our old name.
Areli: Little Waves came to us in a text actually when Leon and I were falling in love. He wrote me a text message saying, “Little waves rushing up on a shore”. Little Waves made its way into our handbook. It made so much sense to rename our brand to that.
Leon: One of the things that I’m really happy about going from 4th Dimension Coffee to Little Waves is Little Waves doesn’t have to only be complex. It can roll off the tongue and you can picture the drop of a coffee in a cup in the reverberation, so it can feel simple, but we can also go deeper with it.
Areli: For me, representation is super important. Little Waves is such a great name for what we do because we do set out the indicators with our business.
Kandace: The rebrand happened quickly.
Areli: We worked really hard with our designer, Michelle, who’s also one of our long-term employees.
Kandace: We even got her on camera.
Ray: Oh, sweet.
Kandace: Yeah, totally.
Michelle D: My name is Michelle Durango Lopez. The main thing that they had initially been interested in was my riff on a variant of their old 4th Dimension logo.
Areli: We had been set on a logo that we were ready to launch, and then we showed a different design element to some of our team members and-
Michelle D: Both Areli and my family are both from Mexico. Areli’s family being indigenous. The huichol type of beautiful beading work in Mexican culture, they wanted something that spoke to that and the Mexican roots. A very typical Mexican icon is that image of a gold sun and moon, and, a lot of times, they’re in this position where they’re almost kissing.
Areli: Everyone’s reaction to that was like, “That should be the logo.”
Michelle D: It fit with this whole phrase that they had, the sun and the moon and everything in tune.
Areli: Once we made that decision, all of us were all on the same page that that felt right.
Michelle D: Me, I was really excited that.
Areli: Always honoring the origins and stories and sharing our culture with people.
Ray: The identity is a very approachable and very lovely. I like the colors. They seem soft and friendly and warm.
Kandace: It’s colorful. It’s bright, and it makes you think about-
Ray: Going bump in the night.
Areli: One of the biggest projects that we took on besides the rebranding was the packaging of printed bags for our coffee.
Kandace: Ray, often we have packaging with us to talk about…
Ray: That’s right, Kandace.
Kandace: … but this process is still so on the move that the packaging hasn’t arrived yet.
Areli: It all started with the re-brand. We just started designing our bags and, in some form or fashion, I don’t know how through all these conversations we came up with something that even if it’s a limited edition feels really close to being able to represent some of that, even if it’s within the energy. There’s a little paragraph about what we do on the back, but, other than that, it’s kind of through energy. The terms, the sun, the moon and everything in tune and rooted reverberations which are represented on the sides of the bag.
Leon: Our team is 85% women, 65% bilingual, and we have all these stats that are real that we can put it on our website. Can we put it on our bag? No, but we can tell language on our bag that then makes somebody want to go to the website and dig deeper, and so we can actually be honest about our approach that has complexity to it, but even in the simple blurb that’s on the bag, and know that we’re telling the truth. That’s something that I think the Little Waves is getting us, and I think I’m feeling proud of that.
Areli: Our packaging right now is not as sustainable as it could be, so we looked at Biotrē bags. In the beginning, the minimum order was like 10,000 bags. I think that was out of reach for us, and then something magical happened and, now, you can buy a thousand bags at a time.
Michelle D: We got the Biotrē, the White Kraft on those, so that’s really exciting. That lining up with being LMC, everything is just falling into place, so that feels really nice.
Areli: One thing that I need to get better at is also just making sure that our bags are also represented in the Spanish language because, for me, it’s also important not just who’s working with me, but who’s buying our coffee.
Leon: I think one of the challenges with our business and our names and our approach is that there’s so much layering. Our job in some specific sense is to identify this beautiful thing that is created in this beautiful context that we then develop a roast profile and extraction methods and recipes to release its essential beauty, and, for us, that’s an extraordinary experience, and all the things we’re talking about are the layers of that, and, in this particular case, we’re trying to do that through presentation of packaging. How do we communicate it? How do we present those experiences? That’s what the layers of our project are about.
Areli: Simple, right?
Kandace: Little Waves Coffee Roasters.
Ray: Of Durham, North Carolina.
Watch the Show
The Cocoa Cinnamon name came in a dream to Leon after he had been living with an indigenous Cherokee family and immersing himself in the study of history through the lenses of coffee, chocolate, tea and spices. Yet it’s the Little Waves name that’s most romantic of all. – Daily Coffee News
Location photography by David Solow.