Juan Miguel Hernandez (right) poses for a portrait with his mother-in-law, Catalina Bahena (left), at Juan’s new coffee shop, Cajeta Coffee, in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, on April 13, 2023. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

After almost nine years working in the food service industry, Juan M. Hernandez decided it was time to chase his dream of opening a Mexican coffee shop.

He bought an espresso machine for his north Minneapolis home in 2021 and started experimenting to find the best Mexican coffee flavors. He tested how coffee interacts with classic sweets like horchata, tres leches, and mazapan until he found his favorite combinations.

Now, those flavors are available to the public at Hernandez’s new Mexican coffee shop in downtown White Bear Lake, Cajeta Coffee. Hernandez believes it’s the first Mexican coffee shop in Minnesota.

Hernandez named the shop after one of his main offerings—coffee infused with cajeta, a rich caramel special to his childhood in Guanajuato, Mexico. He describes it as a “smoky, burnt sweetness.” 

“At first, that was a hard one for me to figure out,” Hernandez recalled.

He worked to find the balance of the cajeta’s strong taste with the coffee. The solution? Adding some vanilla.

“You can still taste the cajeta, but it doesn’t have the strong flavor, so that’s why I think people are liking it so much,” he said.

Other specialty menu items include mazapan (peanut candy) latte, miel (honey) latte, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Customers can also find breakfast and lunch foods, along with Mexican pastries like conchas and polvorónes—all handmade by Hernandez’s mother-in-law, Catalina Bahena.

The $8 breakfast burritos and tortas with ham, bacon, or chorizo have been popular and bring in morning crowds, Hernandez said.

The current menu will shift as summer comes along. Hernandez said he plans to offer mushroom and flor de calabaza quesadillas for vegan customers, chilaquiles, and occasionally, tamales.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our menu,” he said. “We want to focus on some items for people to try the flavors.”

Since they opened in late March, community members of all backgrounds have enjoyed the cafe’s offerings after hearing about the shop mostly through word of mouth, Hernandez said. It’s been nice to see Latino customers coming from Eagan, Hugo, and other parts of the metro, he said.

“They were like, ‘Oh when are you gonna open close to Minneapolis?’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is our first one!” Hernandez recalled while laughing, adding that the focus is currently on the White Bear Lake location, but that he hopes to open another location in the future.

Cajeta Coffee is located inside the Avalon Mall, 2179 4th St., in downtown White Bear Lake. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Ironically, Hernandez didn’t like coffee until he started dating his wife, Catalina Morales. At the time, he lived in Rochester and would visit her in the Twin Cities. They would go on dates at coffee shops, and he began to love the comfort of drinking coffee. He moved to the Twin Cities in 2017.

After almost two years of searching for a location, Hernandez and Morales felt like they found a great fit in downtown White Bear Lake. The space came with a beautiful brick wall that reminded them of the warmth of their grandparents’ home in Mexico—a place rooted in community.

“That’s how we felt growing up. Our grandparents were that safe haven [where] you go and you drink a bunch of coffee and sweets and bread and sugary things,” Morales, who works full-time as a community organizer, said at Cajeta Coffee’s ribbon cutting ceremony on April 4.

“Everytime I went to my grandma’s house, I always felt welcomed,” Hernandez recalled. “That’s how I want people to feel.”

The couple also runs Mango Limon, a Mexican sweets food truck, in the summertime. Mango Limon has offered desserts like mangonada, strawberries and cream, and pina colada smoothies at local county fairs, festivals, and other events since 2019.

Cajeta Coffee is open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays on the ground floor of the Avalon Mall, 2179 4th St., in downtown White Bear Lake. Visit the Mexican coffee shop’s Facebook page for more information.

Samantha HoangLong is the audience growth manager at Sahan Journal. In her role, she leads innovative digital strategies to expand the nonprofit newsroom's reach to Minnesota's diverse communities. Her...