Brew Tulum Brings Yucatán Coffee, Cuisine and Culture to St. Louis

The cafe is part of the bustling Delmar Makers District

click to enlarge Brew Tulum serves traditional Mexican coffee, like cascara, which is brewed from the coffee cherry.
Cheryl Baehr
Brew Tulum serves traditional Mexican coffee, like cascara, which is brewed from the coffee cherry.

For the past four years, Alberto Juarez and Laura McNamara have been serving traditional Mexican coffee, beverages and food specialties to patrons at their Yucatán cafe, Brew Tulum. Now, the husband-and-wife team are offering that same experience to this side of the border with a second location of Brew Tulum (5090 Delmar Boulevard), located in the Delmar Makers District, which opened in late November.

For McNamara, Brew Tulum's St. Louis location represents the culmination of a coffee journey that traces its roots back to her time abroad in Rome, through Vietnam, then Latin America and ultimately to Mexico's Yucatán region. A St. Charles native, McNamara was immersed in Latin American culture during her childhood thanks to her stepfather, who is first generation Mexican-American. That experience ignited in her a passion for learning about different cultures, which she pursued out of Mizzou's Journalism school as a news reporter in Rome. There, she had what she describes as a food awakening, eschewing her cereal and fast food ways for locally grown, home-cooked meals.

"I was floored by how amazing food tasted when it was fresh and homemade," McNamara says. "It made me want to know more and see where my food was coming from. Eating fresh and local was a game changer."

click to enlarge The coffee bar at Brew Tulum.
Cheryl Baehr
Brew Tulum offers a wide range of coffee specialties.

From Rome, McNamara's news career took her to Vietnam, where she had a second culinary epiphany, this time centered around coffee. Though she admits to drinking the beverage to fuel her undergraduate studies, she never appreciated it for all that it could be until she arrived at a curbside stand in a small town in Vietnam and was stopped in her tracks by what coffee tasted like when it is consumed close to where it's grown. That experience inspired her to seek out good coffee anywhere her job took her, including Guatamela and the Mexican Caribbean, where she fell in love with Mexican coffee.

That passion sent her down a rabbit hole to learn and experience as much of Mexican coffee culture as she could. To her surprise, it was difficult to find, as most of the restaurants and cafes in the area served Nescafe as a way to cater to tourists. Fortunately, McNamara was able to find a local roaster who delivered freshly roasted beans to her and Juarez's doorstep. They came to rely on him as their source of great coffee, so when he told them that he was getting ready to give up his business, it filled them with a sense of dread at first but then inspiration.

"I got off the phone with him and told my husband that the sky was falling," McNamara says. "He said to get him back on the phone. The next thing I knew, he was off the phone and telling me we were going to buy the roaster."

click to enlarge The enfrijolades feature housemade tortillas filled with cheese and smothered in a black bean sauce.
Cheryl Baehr
The enfrijolades feature housemade tortillas filled with cheese and smothered in a black bean sauce.

When they bought the roaster, Juarez and McNamara thought they would simply pick up where their predecessor had left off. However they quickly found out that the roster of direct-to-consumer clients they thought they'd have waiting for them was not there. They pivoted to restaurants and cafes throughout Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, assuming they'd have no problem convincing them to switch to local beans from Nescafe, but most were not interested. In need of a plan, they decided to take matters into their own hands, opening up their own cafe, Brew Tulum, in 2018. It was hard-going but successful until the pandemic shut them down, and they needed to figure out what to do.

The pair decided to move to McNamara's hometown and began roasting and shipping coffee to their established clientele while making new customers at area farmers markets. At a pop-up last year, they were connected with the landlord for one of the buildings in the Delmar Makers District who was looking for a cafe to anchor the area. It was the perfect match.

"The concept works well with what we want to do," McNamara says. "The makers district fits in well with who we are. It's a great fit."

In that sense, Juarez and McNamara see Brew Tulum as more than a cafe; they want it to be a place where their customers can experience and learn about Yucatán culture through food and beverage. Their extensive coffee menu underscores this idea and is filled with a wide range of drinks featuring various brewing methods and ingredients, ranging from a well-executed cup of freshly roasted, ethically sourced Mexican coffee served in a traditional vessel to pink horchata, which consists of chilled coffee, rice milk, cinnamon, beet powder and crushed almonds that is sweetened with local honey and garnished with strawberries.

click to enlarge Churros are fried and covered with cinnamon and brown sugar.
Cheryl Baehr
Churros are fried and covered with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Despite its name, Brew Tulum is about much more than coffee. The cafe features a menu of traditional Latin American breakfast and brunch dishes, such as chilaquiles made with strips of fried corn tortillas smothered in salsa, Mexican cream and cheese, onion, avocado and cilantro. Another specialty, enfrijoladas, features corn tortillas filled with molten Mexican cheese and covered in black bean puree. Tamales, enchiladas and sopes are also available, as are outstanding churros, which are custard-like on the inside, yet crispy and cinnamon-brown sugar-covered on the exterior.

Juarez and McNamara have a major undertaking on their hands with one location of Brew Tulum in St. Louis and the other in its namesake Mexican city. However, they hope to soon begin offering their signature coffee experiences, that allow guests to sample and learn about the beverage in a tasting seminar format. For them, these experiences, together with the traditional food and beverages they are serving, will provide diners with more than simply something to fill them up; it will give their customers a window into a culture that means so much to their family.

"We are passionate in showing people this heritage and cultural roots," McNamara says. "We couldn't ask for a better location that is filled with super creative-minded people who are passionate about making this a cool area and giving St. Louis a super artistic feel."

Brew Tulum is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., Sunday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Scroll down for more photos of Brew Tulum.

click to enlarge A nook features traditional Yucatán items.
Cheryl Baehr
A nook features traditional Yucatán items.

click to enlarge A cozy nook.
Cheryl Baehr
A cozy nook.

click to enlarge The space is light-filled and outfitted in Mexican Caribbean decor.
Cheryl Baehr
The space is light-filled and outfitted in Mexican Caribbean decor.

click to enlarge Freshly roasted beans.
Cheryl Baehr
Freshly roasted beans.

click to enlarge A platter of corn adorns the coffee bar.
Cheryl Baehr
A platter of corn adorns the coffee bar.

click to enlarge Coffee bags decorate the space.
Cheryl Baehr
Coffee bags decorate the space.

click to enlarge Enfrijoladas.
Cheryl Baehr

click to enlarge A cup of cascara.
Cheryl Baehr
Cascara contains only a quarter of the caffeine in coffee.

click to enlarge Brewed Mexican coffee.
Cheryl Baehr
Brewed Mexican coffee.

click to enlarge Mexican coffee is served in a traditional clay vessel.
Cheryl Baehr
Mexican coffee is served in a traditional clay vessel.

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Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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