New coffee shop pulls inspiration from classic Mexican flavors.
When flavors like vanilla and white chocolate reign in coffee shops around the country, it can be difficult to stray off the beaten path when placing your morning coffee order. But White Bear Lake’s newest coffee shop is bringing a lesser-known flavor into the mix.
Often referred to as Mexican caramel, cajeta de Celaya or just “cajeta” is a thickened caramel made of sweetened goat’s milk. It’s the signature taste of Cajeta Coffee, which opened on Fourth Street in downtown White Bear Lake this spring.
Owner Juan Hernandez was born in the city of Celaya in the state of Guanajuato, where cajeta is considered a specialty. At the age of 10, Hernandez moved with his family to Rochester, Minnesota. Cajeta Coffee came out of Hernandez’ hopes to bring something different to the White Bear Lake coffee scene. “It’s been a long journey, and I’m happy we made it happen,” he says.
A New Dream
Hernandez spent much of his career in the food industry, and he always dreamed of opening his own restaurant. But that dream took a turn when he met his now wife, Catalina Morales.
Morales’ penchant for coffee would change the course of his life. “She really liked coffee and took me to coffee shops,” he says. Soon, he was working at one. At Blackwater Coffee & Café in Maple Plain, he learned the ins-and-outs of coffee and different flavors. He eventually purchased an espresso machine to craft his own concoctions at home.
Hernandez laughs at the memory of his late-night coffee experiments. “I’d make something at 9 p.m., and [Morales] would try it to see if it tasted good,” he says, adding how grateful he is for Morales’ support. “She loves coffee so much; she didn’t mind drinking a strong coffee at night.
Open for Business
When Hernandez decided to open a coffee shop of his own, the pandemic exposed the challenges of renting a space. Several landlords, he says, were reluctant to rent to a first-time business owner. But in December of 2022, Hernandez found the perfect spot on Fourth Street. The process went smoothly, and Cajeta Coffee opened in March.
“I was a little afraid at first that it would be too different, and people wouldn’t try this coffee. But they’ve been loving it, and we already have regular customers,” Hernandez says.
In the few months Cajeta Coffee has been open, Hernandez says he’s already been flooded with requests to open additional locations. “It is something I would like to do in the future,” he says. “But I’m going to focus on White Bear right now and work on adding more flavors.”
The coffee shop owner says he’s proud of Cajeta Coffee and enjoys sharing the thought behind the coffee, different flavors and its bakery and food items to his customers. “White Bear Lake is a great community and has been so supportive of me. I’m happy people are liking what we offer,” he says.
On the Menu
At Cajeta, Hernandez’ roots extend to more than just cajeta lattes. Other speciality drinks include the Mazapan Latte (think sweet and nutty) and Mexican Hot Chocolate. Homemade baked goods vary, though customers will often find conchitas (a type of sweet bread) and polvoron (a type of cookie) among banana bread and brownies. The limited food menu includes bagels, a breakfast burrito and breakfast torta and, for lunch, a ham torta and sincronizadas.