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DTPHX In/Flux: Fair Trade Café Brews 'Coffee with a Conscience'

by Elizabeth Montgomery
Arts & Culture Community DTPHX In/Flux Elizabeth Montgomery August 24, 2022

Perfect things require pressure, from diamonds to espresso, but none compares to the pressure Stephanie Vasquez has applied at Fair Trade Café for over a decade.

Maybe that’s why it’s perfect.

Known for its rotating local art gallery, comfy couches and cozy décor the café is one of the longest standing coffee shops in Downtown Phoenix. It’s also a pillar in the community as a safe space where business owners and organizations often gather for meetings or events.

Vasquez wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re coffee with a conscience,” she said. “All of the coffee and teas that we bring in are sustainably sourced, Fair Trade certified and shade grown. All of the products we have are brought in from local suppliers and we bake everything in house.”

Sometimes your dream chooses you

Coffee wasn’t the goal. Born and raised in Maryvale, Vasquez graduated from Arizona State University and returned to the West Valley with a plan to be a middle school teacher forever.

A trip to Costa Rica spoke to her heart in a way that would change everything.

“We went to this coffee plantation and I was watching the people cultivate the land and they were doing it in a way where they were proud. The guide shared with us that it’s generational, it was like art,” Vasquez said.

“They hand you the coffee with such love, I had never had that experience before.”

For Vasquez it was a drastically different experience compared to hearing your name shouted once your latte was ready. At that moment she realized she was part of the problem.

“I learned how extremely exploitative coffee can be to the Earth and to our people,” she said.” “When you really start to read about coffee it is the second highest trade of commodity next to oil and the way that it’s done is extremely sad. To know that I was part of it. I felt like I just had to do something.”

In 2007, Fair Trade Café opened for business at Roosevelt and Central Avenue, and the mission to serve coffee with a conscience began.

Downtown Phoenix has a neighborhood feel

Switching career paths was not easy for the independent mother of two and it didn’t happen overnight.

For a while Vasquez said she was teaching in the West Valley then running Downtown to Fair Trade Café to work on the business.

Through it all she has seen change and growth within her business and in Downtown Phoenix.

“The community Downtown continues to change,” Vasquez said. “It’s extremely diverse. You can go from table to table [in the café] and have conversations with mind blowing people. [Downtown Phoenix] has a neighborhood feel and there’s so many things to do, yet, we all are so connected in such a large city.”

When you see Vasquez behind the café counter you know you’re going to get a good cup of coffee and a good story. She’s part of the community, and so is Fair Trade Café.

“It’s just exciting to stand by the trash can because that’s where you get to make your decision as a consumer. Is it going to go into the compostable? The recycle bin? The landfill? It’s all labeled this way and it’s very exciting to me,” Vasquez said.

“There’s still a massive majority of our customers that don’t know all that we do and the reason why this is exciting is because there’s still so much more work to do. There’s still much more education. There’s still so many conversations.”

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