For more than 28 years, Cheyenne Xochitl Love has worked in almost every part of the Bay Area’s coffee industry. She’s been a barista, roaster, green coffee buyer, salesperson, marketing specialist, brand development director, educator, and consultant — but most recently Love founded Queer Wave Coffee, a micro-roaster with uncompromising ideals and a commitment to increasing visibility for underrepresented communities in coffee.
Until she was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, Love worked as the director of operations at Zocalo, a coffeehouse in San Leandro. Over the summer she used her unemployment benefits to buy a 154-pound bag of green coffee from Catracha Coffee Company and started roasting at 444 Collaborative, a co-roasting and coffee collaborative space in Oakland. With some 12-ounce bags donated from a friend, Love started selling her roasted coffee as Queer Wave Coffee. And as the name, labeling, branding, and Instagram presence attest, QWC advocates for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities.
As an Indigenous, two-spirit, nonbinary trans girl, Love puts her values front-and-center, including in her business. To that end, QWC works directly with an Indigenous coffee farm collective in Honduras, and has zero tolerance for transphobia, homophobia, racism, or bigotry; instead, she seeks out allies in her anti-racist work. Following last year’s demands for police accountability after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people, law enforcement will not be served at QWC’s future space, a practice also implemented by Pride festivities across the U.S. Plans are also in the works to start regular donations to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, a woman-led Indigenous land trust that facilitates the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people.
The QWC logo is a bright pink transgender symbol inside an inverted triangle, a reclaimed symbol of gay rights. “No Transphobia, No Patriarchy, No Homophobia, No Racism, No Cops,” says the back label of Landback, one of QWC’s whole bean offerings.
“People who see that [label] and resonate with that are like, ‘Yes, this is my tribe.’ That’s how I look at it because in a more literal sense, I don’t know what tribe I’m from,” Love said, referring to the history of genocide against Indigenous people in what became California, a violent legacy her ancestors survived, albeit at the erasure of their tribal identity. “Now I want a tribe — let’s make one,” Love continued. “Let’s make a community of not only queers, but also people who are on that same trajectory of change and way of thinking.”
It’s been working. Starting with only an Instagram account and word of mouth before launching an official website this summer, QWC has grown its online sales steadily. QWC coffee can be bought at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, East Bay Natural Grocers, and as far away as New York’s Little Skips and in Seattle at Squirrel Chops and the Central Co-Op. “Accounts are seeking me actually … They say, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Great, let’s get it in,” Love said. She’s already been featured on The Matchbook Coffee Podcast, Trans and Caffeinated, as well as in Sprudge and other coffee publications. The trans-owned Fluid Cooperative Cafe opened its doors earlier this month at La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in the Tenderloin, and QWC is one of their featured coffees.
Eschewing the norm for specialty coffee roasters, Love partners exclusively with Catracha Coffee, a community collective of more than 80 coffee farms in Honduras. “The concept isn’t ‘Look at my variety,’ the concept is, ‘Look at what we’re doing together as a supply chain,’” Love explained. “I’m really having a direct relationship with them throughout the whole year.”
Love is the first to point out she’s “not creating any unique ways of roasting,” she said. “I’m listening to and tasting the coffee, and [listening] to those who drink it.” Available now on QWC’s website is Landback, a medium roast with balanced ripe fruit and chocolate attributes, and Molotov Espresso with a big, milk chocolatey body. QWC also sells Reclamation, a decaf coffee produced by Fincas Mierisch in Nicaragua made with a cold anaerobic fermented Swiss Water Process. Coming soon is Marigold, roasted with acidity and fresh fruit notes intact, and Obsidian, a dark roast with toasty, bittersweet chocolate flavors.
Love launched a Kickstarter campaign in July to help secure backers for a brick-and-mortar space. More than just another coffee shop, the future QWC cafe will be a safe place for LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and marginalized communities. “The brick and mortar is 100% for folx, not for me,” Love said. “It’s our space to claim our own and take care of it and keep each other safe. QWC was created for all of us.”
Setting an ambitious goal of $100,000, the one-month campaign ended with close to $22,000. Love still counts the campaign as a win: “It got me a lot of exposure,” she said. “It was a platform to share with others, and it really grew.”
Jen Apodaca, vice chair for the Coffee Roasters Guild, 2019 U.S. Cup Tasters Champion, and founder and head roaster for Oakland’s Mother Tongue Coffee, has known Love for more than a decade. “There are a lot of rosters here in the Bay Area community, and I would say most of them have probably at some point learned something about roasting from Cheyenne,” Apodaca said. “She’s one of the most knowledgeable coffee people from the front to back of the house. She’s one of the most deserving people to support.”
The money that QWC has raised so far is going toward purchasing an espresso machine and batch brewer. While she’s still waiting for the right brick-and-mortar opportunity, Love continues to sell coffee online and scout locations for a regular pop-up cafe. A QWC pop-up would do best hosted at a business with aligned values, like a bike shop or bookstore, Love said. “I just need to get in somewhere and get established,” she said. And wherever she lands, Love will work to make it feel like home for the community.