Hispanic Heritage Month: Café owner establishes a corner of Colombia in Brownsville

Hispanic Heritage Month

Johanna Lozano at Cafe Canasto [Courtesy: Johanna Lozano.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) – A Colombian business owner in Brownsville is serving a taste of her home country while honoring the people and culture that make her product special. 

Mural by Alejandra Zertucho at Cafe Canasto. [Photo: Gaby Moreno]

Colombia may not be known as the biggest coffee bean exporter, but it does have a reputation as the best. The South American country’s geographic location, high altitude, and climate make it a suitable place for coffee plants to grow, but the high standard for the bean’s cultivation is what makes it unique. 

Because of the hard-to-access, mountain-side terrain, small family farms make up the totality of the production force in Colombia. High-skilled workers select the coffee bean to ensure its quality and consistent flavor.  

The quantity at which the country exports is not too shabby either. A region in Colombia comprised of three departments, Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindio, is responsible for much of the yearly export of 14 million bags of coffee that make up at least 10% of the global supply. 

It is in this coffee region where Johanna Lozano grew up picking coffee on her parent’s farm. Though Lozano’s is far from her home in Armenia, Quindo, she did not leave her culture behind.  

Lozano has been in the United States since the age of 18 and moved to the Rio Grande Valley eight years ago when her husband was offered a job in the Harlingen school district. Once here, she continued her education in business administration and later began importing coffee and selling it at local farmer’s markets. She later decided to open her first coffee shop: Café Canasto.  

“I wanted to give some exposure to the product before I opened a store, to see if people were going to like it. We got good feedback, so we decided to look for a location and we found this one here in Brownsville,” Lozano said.  

The drive-thru was the main selling point for the location in Brownsville and was what helped her keep business going during the pandemic when restaurants were forced to close. “I think God put it in my heart because when we opened, five days later is when everything shut down,” Lozano said. “What saved us was having the drive-thru.” 

Chicken filled Arepa. [Photo: Gaby Moreno]

Lozano was able to wait until vaccines rolled out to open her café for walk-in business and her vision of exposing people in the RGV to authentic Colombian food and drinks was finally becoming reality.  

Each of the food combo on her menu is named after the area where they are most popular, and the drinks, not just the specialty coffee, are authentic to Colombia as well.  

“I wanted to include food so people could have a taste of my culture, my country. It took me a long time to create a menu,” Lozano said. She went back home to learn how to make the food and drinks from her family that could be made quickly for drive-thru customers.  

It is not just food and drinks that Lozano uses to create an immersive experience for her walk-in customers, she also used art. She worked with local artist Alejandra Zertuche to create murals in her café representing the life of a coffee grower in Colombia.  

“My main focus is to honor the coffee farmers,” Lozano said. “I grew up in a coffee farm and I know how hard it is to be up on the hill regardless if it’s super hot outside or if it’s raining. It’s a very difficult job that they do.” 

The name Café Canasto comes from the baskets that are used by the coffee farm workers to carry their beans.  

Café Canasto opens weekdays at 7 a.m. and is located at 4008 Paredes Line Rd, Brownsville, Texas.

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