Nearly half a century ago, Venezuelan entrepreneur Luis Sain died in a car accident, leaving his robust coffee roasting company, Caballo Rojo, to be carved up by his business partners. Today, with Sain’s love of coffee passed down through his descendants and the love of his memory still running strong, a new generation has taken the reins.
Sain’s granddaughter Gabriela Kavanaugh has revived the Caballo Rojo name for an upstarting roasting company in Durham, North Carolina. As the first guest in a retail popup in a series hosted by the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, North Carolina, Caballo Rojo Coffee will take its first gallop beyond its appearances at area farmers’ markets.
“I have seen the farmers market be an amazing way to get to know my Durham community and I am so excited to get to know others in a different environment,” Kavanagh recently told Daily Coffee News.
Artwork by graphic artist Timothy Reavis sets the visual tone for the brand on its packaging and other materials, in a style that invokes the family legacy and its currently creative, deliberate approach to the craft.
“Each element on our coffee bags are a part of Caballo Rojo Coffee’s history,” said Kavanaugh. “There is Venezuela’s lady liberty, Simon Bolivar, a few horse images, and my grandfather’s red truck that he would drive up the mountains to visit farmers.”
Kavanaugh recalled stories her mother would tell of how Sain and his company were beloved by their workers and the community, even earning the nickname San Nicolas for driving around delivering toys to kids over the holidays.
“I really wish I could have met him, but the fact that I started roasting is a tribute to his character that I wanted to model,” said Kavanaugh. “I hope that my company can have this type of effect on my community, as well. This is why I started roasting. Being here in Durham has made this dream a reality, it has been the best place to gain support as a Latina business owner.”
Kavanaugh introduced herself to roasting on a Behmor home roasting machine while in college in 2015, while at the same time learning the importance of the coffee trade in the global economy through her international studies classes. This jelled with her memories of the farms she visited with her family on trips through various countries in Latin America as a child and was later even further reinforced by her coffee training and experience serving Counter Culture Coffee at Jubala Coffee in Raleigh.
Caballo Rojo Coffee is now poised to outgrow the 1-kilo Mill City Roaster it acquired upon Kavanaugh’s graduation from college, while Kavanaugh is working with greens sourced through importers such as Ally Coffee, Caravela Coffee and Urban Dwellers Coffee, the latter specifically for its links to coffee farms in Yunnan, China.
“I studied there in college, and the tea culture was influential in my palate development,” said Kavanaugh. “While it was not a Latin American culture like I was used to, I felt welcomed and loved by these people. When approached with this farm’s coffee I was overjoyed to know that they were producing high quality coffee that I liked and could support.”
Caballo Rojo will be serving its roasted Yunnan coffee in cold brew form at the popup, while offering grab-and-go cups of Bunn batch-brewed coffees and Kalita Wave pourovers of other origins on its menu.
“People ask me what is different about my coffee,” said Kavanaugh. “I obviously tell them my story, but what I get most excited about is that our average customer hasn’t experienced specialty coffee. I hope that with Caballo Rojo Coffee I get to expand the demand for high quality coffee from farms that work hard at delivering amazing crops.”
Tentative plans for the winter include a relocation of the company’s roasting operation into a space in partnership with an upcoming Durham location of coffee, beer and wine business The Oak House. Further down the line Kavanaugh anticipates a standalone Caballo Rojo cafe.
The Caballo Rojo popup launched yesterday, and will run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday until Friday, Aug. 31 at 359 Blackwell St. in the Diamond View III building on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.