Receiving a shipment of product from Cartel del Café has a certain illicit appeal: Pulling aside the packaging reveals bulky white oblongs wrapped in faux duct tape, giving the initial illusion that the box may contain something a bit stronger than mere caffeine.
The bricks do contain an agricultural product from Nicaragua—coffee beans, not cocaine. Founder Noel Salinas says the drug-inflected branding is intentional. He hopes customers will take a minute to wonder, "What really is the difference between coffee and any other controlled substance that inevitably comes from the same earth?"
Noting that coffee itself has gone through periods of prohibition and legalization, Salinas says his primary goal is to make good coffee. But he and his co-founders also hope "to bring this thought to light without being so political." The startup's single-origin Nicaragua-Pacamara beans, which are roasted in Long Beach, California, produce a light, drinkable cup of coffee with citrusy notes.