Campus coffee shop fosters interaction and a sense of community

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: August 27th, 2012

At 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in what may be the breeziest, most agreeable place on campus, English Professor Amy Porter and fourth-year student Luan Kaiber from Brazil sit at a café table oohing and aahing over the leaf and heart designs drawn into the foam of their cappuccinos by EARTH’s resident and adored barista, Marcela Solano.

Amy comes occasionally with students to Aromas, the popular campus coffee shop, to get a change of scenery from her office. Luan agrees: “We come to look for new inspiration. The office can feel formal, but at Aromas we feel more relaxed and open to converse.”

It is precisely this informal interaction between students, faculty and staff that fueled the initiative to develop a coffee shop in the first place. And in less than two years since its creation, Aromas has become an integral part of EARTH’s campus culture.

“The point never was to make money, but rather to create a place for the community to be and interact,” reflects Roger Ruiz, the General Manager of EARTH’s commercial branch, VTH, who adds that the cafe generates enough sales to break even.

Recent photos of Aromas posted on EARTH’s Facebook page generated a strong reaction from alumni, such as this one from Ivelisse Ramírez (’94, Dominican Republic), “Wow, how cool! In my time at EARTH we just had La Jama [a student convenience store and snack shop]…how our beloved EARTH has advanced. Congratulations to all of those who can enjoy it now!!”

And a coffee shop is born…
EARTH’s entrance into coffee shop culture began initially with then-student Hugo Gonzenbach (‘07, Ecuador). For his entrepreneurial project, his team developed a popular frozen coffee beverage that was sold at the Oropendola gift shop. Later in 2006, he completed his third-year internship with EsCoffee, a well-known Ecuadorian specialty coffee shop chain founded by alumnus Miguel Rendón (´97, Ecuador), and returned for his final year of school with the idea of a creating a campus coffee shop.

Lacking financing to move forward with the project, EARTH was later approached by another EARTH graduate, Hortensia Solís (‘06, Costa Rica) who then was leading the sustainability efforts of the Costa Rican coffee farmers cooperative, Coopedota. The two organizations partnered to develop an EARTH- branded coffee for the local market and for EARTH’s commercial partner Allegro Coffee. It was Allegro Coffee that then agreed to support the creation of a campus coffee shop, providing financing and initial designs.

Trial by fire
Marcela Solano had been a cashier at EARTH’s Cafeteria when she was selected to receive eight-months of barista training. The course couldn’t have prepared her, however, for Aroma’s opening week.

Aromas opened just in time for Graduation week and the more than 600 invited guests and parents in December 2010. Marcela now laughs while recalling the experience. Intensely committed to delivering an excellent customer experience, she learned quickly that she had made several big errors. First, she had opened with an extensive menu, but with just one person to help her. She also hadn’t come up with all of the recipes of the specialty drinks. And then she had only one blender and one blender jar.

“Everyone was asking for a cold blended beverage. I had to wash the blender jar after each drink. The line was around the corner. It was a disaster,” she laughs.

She has learned a lot since then. She offers a reduced menu during events. She knows all of her recipes by heart. And she has five students who work at Aromas to cover her during the café’s evening hours and support her during peak times.

Marcela, who is taking English courses and working toward her degree in Business Administration at the National Distance University, loves making cappuccinos and decorating the foam. Her espresso beverages have earned her such a loyal following that, according to sales records, beverage orders actually change when she’s not on-staff. For example Cecilia González, who works in the Student Affairs Office is Aromas’ and perhaps Marcela’s number-one client and takes photos of every cappuccino she orders.

EARTH’s most popular coffee beverage…
In spite of the popularity of Marcela’s cappuccinos and lattes, students are the café´s largest client base, and the most popular beverage reflects that younger demographic: the cold blended mocha.

While definitely not health food, it’s sweet, cold and delicious. If you can’t make it to campus, here is how you can get a taste of Aromas at home.

Aromas’ cold blended mocha
(Recipe developed by Marcela Solano)

1 oz. espresso (or strong coffee)
5 ice cubes
1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
4 oz. of milk
1 oz. chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon of condensed milk

Blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Drizzle with chocolate syrup.

If you try the recipe, send us a photo at  and we’ll post it on our Facebook page. Or tell us about your favorite coffee experience in the comments section below!

You can support EARTH University through the purchase of Allegro-EARTH co-branded single origin coffee available at Whole Foods Market stores in the U.S.

One Comment

  1. Melissa C. says:

    ¡Quiero un café de Aromas! 😀 Sin duda un lugar tan especial como lo describe esta nota.

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