Leaving California to Pour Coffee in the Caribbean: The Story Behind Bici Cafe

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Bici Cafe Owner Stephen Swanton has lived on St. Croix for two years and moved from Santa Rosa, California.

After current St. Croix resident Stephen Swanton graduated college in California with a degree in small business, he decided to start really small.  A business the size of a bicycle to be exact.  Combining his loves for cycling and specialty coffee, a mobile coffee cart was born called Bici Cafe.

You can currently find Swanton at La Reine Farmer’s Market Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings (7:30 to 10:30 a.m.).  He also offers delivery of half gallons of cold-brew coffee and kombucha growlers to St. Croix homes and businesses.  Swanton has rotated through other locations for his business, including the morning drop-off line at Good Hope Country Day School.

Does Swanton’s name sound familiar?  He finished fourth in the half Ironman earlier this month, the first American to cross the finish line.  He is truly a cycling enthusiast, serving as the Vice President of the Virgin Islands Triathlon Federation (St. Thomas / St. John chapters).  Swanton also represented the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Cycling Championships in 2016.

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The bike Swanton uses for Bici Cafe is a Danish-built cargo bicycle from a company called Larry vs. Harry, which he imported from Copenhagen.  A perfect fit with consideration to St. Croix’s Danish heritage.  According to Swanton, the bike offered the ultimate in mobility.  Not only to try out different locations for his business around island, but the ability to sell and ship it elsewhere if the idea didn’t pan out.  It was a means of starting a coffee shop with only a nominal investment.

But don’t get your hopes up… keeping a coffee cart open nine hours a week doesn’t completely cover the cost of living in the Caribbean.  Swanton also waits tables at Savant restaurant, advises athletes as a certified triathlon coach, and even trains horses for supplementary income.

Central to Swanton’s business, are goals to source most of his beverage ingredients on-island and leave a minimal environmental impact.  “Living on St. Croix has particularly brought to my attention the importance of using local products and creating as little waste as possible,” he said.

Circling back to the “stars” of Bici Cafe, Swanton serves:

  • Cold-brew coffee (served hot or iced) made with beans from Virgin Islands Coffee Roasters

“Cold-brew coffee undergoes a special brewing process whereby the coffee is steeped for 14 hours in cold water… no heat is introduced,” said Swanton. “The end product is much smoother and less astringent than hot-brewed coffee.  The flavor of the bean really shines through.”

  • Hand-crafted kombucha (a fermented tea product).  Flavors: passion fruit; mango; ginger-lemongrass; surinam cherry; guava; and local watermelon.

“Kombucha has been around for thousands of years,” said Swanton.  “It contains a wealth of probiotics, vitamins and beneficial bacteria that promote digestive health and well-being.  Kombucha is raw, organic, vegan, gluten-free and contains little to no sugar or caffeine.  I infuse my kombucha with local fruit, herbs and produce available on St. Croix.”

  • Local bush tea

“My bush tea is made with sorrel; lemongrass; ginger; basil; mint; Caribbean bay leaf; cinnamon; and nutmeg, a local favorite,” said Swanton.

The next step for Bici Cafe is to bottle and sell kombucha in retail stores, which Swanton hopes to accomplish by year-end.  Aligning with the green goal of the cafe, is to simultaneously start the first bottle return program in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Swanton is certainly using his degree in small business and marketing from Sonoma State University.  He’s built an impressive website for Bici Cafe and uses both Facebook and instagram to keep up with his customers and gain more exposure.

We love to talk with people who are truly living their Caribbean Life, pursuing passions and ideas that make them happy.  When you’re ready to call the U.S. Virgin Islands your home, talk with Chris and Kerri Hanley for expert advice on buying a home on St. Croix or St. Thomas.  With more than 50 years of combined real estate experience specific to this market, The Farchette & Hanley Team can guide your home-buying decision.  Contact them today and download their free St. Croix Event Guide to find the ideal time for an extended visit:

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