Nearly a decade ago, Mario Jimenez and his wife Thanh-Thanh Dang found a property for sale in Rincón, Puerto Rico, that had twenty banana trees on it. Inspired by that natural abundance, as well as noticing how the locals thought bananas were the perfect fruit to enjoy with coffee, often walking out of coffee shops double fisting a to-go pour-over with a banana in the other hand—they founded the original Banana Dang! and operated it for eight years until they moved the business to downtown Oceanside, San Diego.
The tropical setting and warm ways that Puerto Ricans interacted with each other influenced Jimenez and Dang’s views of how to create and run the café, from wall colors to customer service. “Puerto Ricans hug and kiss a lot!” Mario said, “On the island, people have to make due at times with power and water outages—how positive and happy island folks remained despite utility meltdowns was amazing. They don't sweat the small stuff. What's important was a genuine smile and quality time to enjoy a fine coffee with family and friends.”
The internet did not have as much information then as it does now about specialty coffee, but Jimenez and Dang followed along the global third-wave movement following Intelligentsia and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) modeling the ideals that would eventually inspire Jiminez to lock in a specialty coffee ethos.
In the meantime, the Banana Dang! family had the unique constraint of having to source from one region. But exploring, in-depth, the variety of beans available only in Puerto Rico deepened and clarified to Mario just how amazing and special coffee can be even from just one part of the world. “We got first hand experience as to how micro climates affect coffee. Or how the coffee borer beetle—the “broka” in Puerto Rico—damaged coffee and, how farmers struggled to protect their crops.”
Another opportunity the Banana Dang! family had was working intimately with Sandra Farms from Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, where they were able to experience changes in coffee within one harvest, and from harvest-to-harvest. “Being able to have conversations directly with the farmer or roaster on a regular basis was amazing,” Mario shared. “Learning first hand the tweaks and struggles farmers have to deal with to produce high quality coffee was an eye-opening experience.”
But being forced to remain in one region means that Banana Dang!’s new Downtown Oceanside location will explore a rotation of roasters enthusiastically. “We will enjoy preparing extractions from different roasting companies local to the area,” Mario said, “in Puerto Rico, it was really nice to have such an expertise on the roasts there because we were able to dial it in. But we were stuck in one small library of coffee.” Here in the United States, Banana Dang! aims to take full advantage of their cut leash, and wants to showcase a full library of roasters that they and their customers express enjoyment over. They have already featured Lofty’s Keeping It Classy Espresso, Zumbar’s El Mundo, Revolution Roasters’ Smooth Operator and Cafe Virtuoso’s Guatemala Guaya’b.
In August 2014, the Banana Dang! owners searched the whole north country area to find the little community that best matched Rincón’s eclectic traditional Puerto Rican community. Downtown Oceanside, with its surfers, artists and emerging culinary scene, matched the quirk, and a perfect spot opened up just a stone’s throw from the pier. “We really love how surf and skate shops are designed. They focus on specific merchandise areas, accented by bright but warm lighting, and are not afraid of colors and funky designs.”
Mario said that Banana Dang!’s mission is to create art in every cup, and to provide an inviting space for their customers to explore third-wave coffee if they are not yet experienced in it. Their Synesso sits front and center to create a social space that patrons can congregate around while waiting for a drink. “It's all about Think, Drink and Link,” Mario explained, “We are definitely inspired by workers who grow and process a high quality coffee at origin. With that experience in mind, we gained a deeper respect for seed-to-cup connection and how vital dialogue and communication are.”
Visit Banana Dang:
115 South Coast Highway (at Seagaze + Topeka)
Oceanside, Calif. 92054
HOURS: 7am to 5pm Open every day!