TJ has a reputation. There is no doubt about it. Almost everyone who I told that I was going to spend a night there looked at me either with a mix of incredulity, rejection or, as was the case only a handful of times, with a knowing nod. It may be one of the grittiest border towns in the world, a place where the first world clashes with the aspiring first world, where hedonism and capitalism rule and where dream are made and shattered.
Most recently, TJ has come back into the news because of the ‘caravan’ that trekked through the whole of Mexico to try and get into the USA but was ultimately held up at the heavily fortified border. Before that it used to be drug cartels that made the news by hanging bodies off bridges. Not that I am abnormally attracted to danger but there was something deeply fascinating about this place and as a born Mexican I couldn’t wait to find out if it really was that bad and, most importantly, if it had a coffee scene worth mentioning. Well, hombre, it had!
After doing some extensive research to find out where I could get the best cup of locally roasted coffee in Tijuana, I set off to meet Luis Oviedo, co-founder of Electric Coffee Roasters, one of the city’s most renowned specialty coffee roasteries. While they already have several locations around town, including a little kiosk inside the very cool arthouse cinema Tonalá, the main café and former roastery is on Hipodromo in the upscale suburbs of the city.
The space is cosy but personal and offers you a great opportunity to, temporarily, become part of Tijuana’s hip coffee-sipping scene. The menu offers a fine selection of Mexican coffees and the occasional foreign coffee such as the Ethiopia Guji that was brewed for me as I sat down to chat with Luis.
Tijuana, Luis explained, is a bit of a strange creature because of its relative isolation from the rest of Mexico but close proximity to San Diego. As a result, and because it’s just one hour away from Mexico’s gorgeous Valle de Guadalupe, home to the country’s best vineyards, Tijuana often sets the scene when it comes to establishing new food trends in Mexico. It has a spectacular craft beer scene, some of the country’s best chefs have set up shop there and for a city of its size, it has a relatively large specialty coffee scene.
Luis and his co-founder Carlos Escalante wanted to create a brand that could not just become one of the Tijuana’s most progressive roasters but one that could also, possibly, expand across the border into California. Mexico and the USA are so incredibly intertwined that I could totally see them being successful over there. “But before we do that, we still have a lot of work to do here,” Luis explained. He went on to say: “Coffee is really for everyone, right? But there is still a huge percentage of the population that doesn’t really know what coffee is all about. Our goal is to help those people to discover it.”
While Tijuana might strike many as a dirty border town, it has an incredibly creative and ambitious vibe about it. Luis was just one example of someone who embodies this go-getter mentality and Electric Coffee Roasters is a great place to get under the skin of the city. The café on Avenida Hipodromo is far away enough from the centre that you might not even know you’re in TJ but still close enough that you can easily pop back in an Uber.
Right now, Luis and his team are looking to expand the current roasting facilities that Luis called ‘insufficient’ to fuel Electric’s growth plans and they’re always open to new collaborations like the one they recently did with Cerveceria Insurgentes, one of the country’s most prolific craft beer breweries. “We created something called Electric Limonada,” Luis told me as we wrapped up our chat. “It contains our cold brew, tonic and a locally made syrup. It’s like cold brew tonic but better.” With that in mind, I stepped back out onto the street and got ready to explore this vibrant city further, perfectly caffeinated, of course.