April 6, 2024
Today´s Paper

Brew Tulum is bringing the soul of Mexican coffee to St. Louis

When most small business owners decide to open a second location, it’s not usually 2,000 miles away from their first. But Laura McNamara and Alberto Juarez, who curate small batches of specialty coffee at Brew Tulum, are not most small business owners. “We are very grassroots. We are small business owners. We are dreamers,” McNamara says.

They met in the tourist destination of the Yucatán Peninsula in Tulum, Mexico, where McNamara was working briefly. McNamara is from St. Charles, Missouri; Juarez is from Mexico.

“I was trying to stay away from Latin America because my stepdad who raised me is Mexican and I’ve always been drawn to Latin American culture,” McNamara said. “I had a hunch that once I was in, I wouldn’t make it back out.”

In December 2018, the pair opened their first concept – the first Brew Tulum – in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Two Locations: Two Countries

“When we opened the restaurant and coffeeshop in Mexico, we definitely had to get this product up to the U.S. because most of our clientele in Mexico are tourists,” McNamara said. “A lot of them come from either the U.S. or Canada and others from Europe.”

Unfortunately the pandemic shut down the Quintana Roo location temporarily. In the interim, McNamara brought the Brew Tulum business concept to St. Louis, using the same coffee growers that had supplied the original Brew Tulum location, who exported their product to the U.S. “It was amazing,” McNamara said. “We were able to hit the ground running.”

They started selling products – like their popular café de olla – at farmers markets. The original recipe calls for coffee brewed with clove, cacao and piloncillo, but Brew Tulum substitutes warm cinnamon for clove.

“Our traditional Mexican spiced coffee is a coffee beverage that actually dates back to the Mexican revolution,” McNamara said. “It went over crazy, and it was always one of my favorite drinks.”

They gained a steady following at farmers markets due to their take on café de olla, especially in Lake St. Louis. At the same time as they were expanding their reach in St. Louis, McNamara and Juarez also worked to re-open their Tulum location during February 2021.

How did the Delmar location come to be? All it took was a conversation at an Olive Ovation pop-up in Clayton: things fell into place, and Brew Tulum opened their doors in October 2022.

By November, Juarez was running the Mexico location while McNamara took charge of Brew Tulum in St. Louis, serving locals and shipping roasted coffee to clients across the country. “[The Delmar community] has been wonderful,” McNamara says. “They’ve embraced us even more spectacularly than we could have imagined.”

Coffee as a “Live Food”

Brew Tulum’s third wave approach to coffee treats it like a live food, similar to yogurt. McNamara roasts each batch at First Crack (a roastery in St. Louis) and keeps it in stock for 30 days or less. Coffee contains antioxidants which die off after prolonged storage. Brew Tulum encourages their customers to buy small bags often to replenish their supply instead of buying coffee in bulk.

Brew Tulum switches out their coffee regularly; recent selections include Doce Uvas, a washed blend from Patlanalan, Veracruz, has notes of black grape, white grape and clove. Rocío de la Mañana, a micro-lot selection from Xico, Veracruz, balances hazelnut, black currant and cocoa notes.

For a culturally transformative experience, the Brew Tulum menu carries cherry coffee (tisana), Mexican kombucha (tepache) and Mayan hot chocolate (xococoatl). The drink menu also offers smoothies, Turkish coffee, lattes, coffee flights, espresso flights, matcha, pink horchata and iced hibiscus tea (agua de Jamaica).

An Aromatic Awakening

Where did this perspective on coffee begin? McNamara marks her first food awakening as an exchange student in Italy where she experienced the sensibility of the Slow Food Movement. Each ingredient was treated with care and coffee was no exception. After college, she worked as a writer and digital journalist, hopping from Asia to Europe to Latin America prior to meeting her husband. In Vietnam, McNamara tasted a cup of coffee that just “felt different.” She had a second coffee awakening in Guatemala.

“Guatemala was where coffee just really blossomed in my life,” McNamara says. “It’s when I first sat down and had a cup of coffee and said ‘Whoa, this tastes like it smells. There is so much flavor going on here.’” She was expecting to have another amazing coffee experience in Mexico. She went on a hunt to find specialty Mexican coffee and found Mario Morante.

“The gentleman didn’t even promote [his coffee] as fresh-roasted because he was a third-generation coffee grower and grew up having access to freshly roasted coffee. It wasn’t even clicking for him in a marketing way that this was huge and not everybody gets access to this,” McNamara says. Juarez and McNamara absorbed Morante’s traditional roasting techniques to start their own venture at Brew Tulum, serving conscious coffee and food to tourists.

The bohemian atmosphere at both the Delmar and the Quintana Roo locations is similar. They both serve perennial favorites like avocado toast and huevos rancheros alongside more traditional Mexican dishes like sopes and tamales. The St. Louis location hopes to incorporate local ingredients and flavors such as “gooey butter” to honor the region.

Brew Tulum, 5090 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 636-578-8321, brewtulum.com

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