Make That One Whole Cafe, To Go

By Sarah Mupo Globe Correspondent / September 22, 2010

Equal Exchange is giving to-go coffee a new meaning.

The West Bridgewater company, which focuses on sustainability and green business practices, is taking its fair-trade coffee to the streets in the form of free-range cafes. This month, you’ll be seeing three-wheeled, mobile coffee trikes popping up around the city.

Equal Exchange cafe developer Meghan Hubbs proposed the coffee trike concept earlier this year, in an effort to reemphasize the company’s local image while changing Boston’s coffee culture. The trikes are the first of their kind in New England. Similar ventures have been introduced in New York; Colorado; Portland, Ore.; London; and Copenhagen.

The trikes have a tactical advantage over traditional carts, Hubbs says, because they can move without the help of another vehicle. But the company’s most important innovation may be more intangible. “The other thing was to create a very intimate connection between consumer and barista,’’ she says. The direct contact will give coffee buyers a greater understanding of where their brew comes from.

Even with the high price tag of these custom-built vehicles — trikes cost $10,000 to $15,000 each — Hubbs says they are still far cheaper than opening another brick-and-mortar location to join Equal Exchange’s existing cafe on Causeway Street in Boston.

Equal Exchange enlisted the help of Metro Pedal Power, a Somerville-based bike delivery service, to design and build the trikes. Co-owner Wenzday Jane says the company has made mobile vending units for one other client. The roving cafes are a natural project for Metro Pedal, which happens to deliver scones from Petsi Pies to Equal Exchange Cafe. “It’s great to see them get behind the concept,’’ she says. “It’s really encouraging.’’

The trikes are equipped with a cabinet that stores all the necessary cafe accoutrements: cups, sugar, napkins, and stir sticks, all of which are compostable. A built-in ice chest is next to the brewing machine, holding milk, cream, and iced coffee, which is made off-site. The coffee itself is brewed with the help of marine boat batteries, but Hubbs says she would like to have a truly pedal-powered brewing apparatus in the near future.

A prototype of the trike premiered at the Boston Food Truck Festival in August. This month, Equal Exchange riders will be pedaling around in the city in the latest model trike. An additional trike will be added in October, and both will operate five days a week. Next year, for its first full season, Equal Exchange is hoping to operate them from April through October.

The company hasn’t yet finalized the spots where the mobile cafes will set up, but the most likely areas are the corner of Boylston Street and Tremont Street, Copley Square, and Christopher Columbus Park. Customers will be able to track their locations on Twitter.

Eventually, Hubbs says she’d like to see the trikes become local fixtures, offering more products like espresso, tea, and food — even if they don’t bear the company name. “Whether it’s Equal Exchange or another local company,’’ she says, “it’s a win-win to build that culture.’’

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Karen Stein