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Cecilia Lopez, or Cecy, as her friends and family call her, didn’t grow up drinking coffee. She hated the taste.
“My parents always drank Folgers or Nescafé,” Lopez said. The instant coffee “was the most disgusting thing to me. So I said to myself, ‘I’m never going to like coffee.’ I like cafe de olla.”
It wasn’t until her junior year at Oakland High School that her relationship with coffee changed. Stepping into a Peet’s to use the restroom, she decided to try a mocha. When a friend got a job at Starbucks, Lopez became a more regular coffee drinker.
“I started thinking, ‘I’m addicted to coffee. I’m going to buy coffee regardless. I might as well give back to mom and pop shops,’” Lopez said. “It was a sort of mini scavenger hunt for me.”
At first, she looked for independent and out-of-the-way coffee shops through Yelp, or she’d drive around during her lunch break, seeking new businesses to visit. She’d tell family and friends what she found, becoming their go-to person for coffee recommendations.
In 2018, Lopez started an Instagram account called “Oakland Coffee Lover” which has about 1,500 followers. When asked if she considers herself a social media influencer, Lopez said that she isn’t, at least not in the widely understood sense. She doesn’t have any partnerships with any coffee brands, and pays out of pocket, spending around $150 a month, for the drinks she consumes.
She also doesn’t like to be recognized when she visits a new business to try out their offerings. “I want to be treated like everyone else,” she said. “I want to walk in and experience what any customer would.”
The closest she comes to traditional influencer behavior is that, every once in a while, she’ll post a selfie while holding onto a drink. “A coffee shop owner told me that it helps with the [Instagram] algorithm,” she said.
Since getting on Instagram, Lopez has visited over 200 Oakland establishments that sell coffee drinks. She’s also studied books like Bay Area Coffee: A Stimulating History, which explain the Bay Area’s role in the global coffee scene. These days, she can easily recognize the quality of the beans used for her drink and can tell how her coffee was made.
Here’s a pro tip from Lopez: Getting a latte is the best way to assess the quality of the coffee at a new place, she said. Her drink of choice when we met at Red Bay Coffee was an “iced quad shot oat milk charcoal vanilla latte.”
Lopez has also figured out how to quickly assess if a coffee shop is welcoming to all. One of her goals with her Instagram account is to help more Black and Brown people feel comfortable walking into coffee shops where the clientele tends to be white.
Cecy Lopez’s favorite coffee drinks in Berkeley and Oakland
- Oat milk latte from Alchemy Collective Cafe & Roaster (1741 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley)
- Boba latte at Bicycle Cafe (364 Second St., Oakland)
- Mexican mocha with an extra shot of espresso from Casa Latina (1805 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley)
- Espresso shake and iced or hot oat milk mocha from Chocolate Dragon Bittersweet Cafe and Bakery (5427 College Ave., Oakland)
- Iced or hot oat milk mocha from The Crown (2523 Broadway, Oakland)
- Quad shot oat milk mocha from Highwire (2049 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley)
- Honey oat latte at Mellana Cafe (4539 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland)
- Oat milk latte, or a seasonal/specialty drink from MY Coffee Roastery (2080 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley)
- Rasa coffee from Rasa Caffe (3140 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley)
- Sixteen-ounce quad shot oat milk charcoal vanilla latte from Red Bay Coffee (3136 International Blvd., Oakland)
“I’ve had people reach out and ask me about the atmosphere at certain places,” she said. “And I’m honest. I’ll say that it’s good coffee, but you’re going to stick out, so be prepared.”
“I happen to be fat, brown, and tatted, and have the money to spend on drinks,” she said. “I’ve had people prejudge me, and look me up and down,” she said, gesturing toward her facial piercings and casual dress.
The first time that happened, she said, “I walked out, and went across the street where the coffee isn’t as good but the customer service is impeccable.” That spot went on her Instagram feed. The previous place did not.
If an establishment clashes with her values, she doesn’t need to post about it for “clout.” “I have to post content, but I’m not going to patronize places that aren’t being fair, or lack human decency towards their employees,” she said.
“I’m not getting paid to do this. I owe nobody nothing,” she said. “I do it because I love coffee.”
“I call [coffee] my emotional support beverage. When I’m happy, I get coffee. When I’m sad, I get coffee. If I’m having a bad day, I get coffee.”