Skip to main content
Coffee Stories

Esmeralda Peña Sanchez

By 13th May 2024No Comments6 min read

Finding a safe community to belong to can be arduous, especially in condensed cities like Seattle, Washington, where socializing with strangers is not something that the local people are often open-minded about. But, for Esmeralda Peña Sanchez, her job as a barista involves interacting with dozens of faces throughout the day, which is what drives her when she’s building her inner circle of friends who turn into family. 

Esmeralda Peña Sanchez, not just a barista

Esmeralda Peña Sanchez, not just a barista

For the past five years, Esmeralda (@kitty.fresa1010) has worked as a barista in three different coffee shops around Seattle, but her current employment at Freya Bakery & Cafe (@thefreyabakery) in Pike Place Market is where she has found her safe space to not only be a welcoming barista towards customers, but a respected service worker. Esmeralda’s experience as a barista has guided her toward meeting new people and creating relationships through conversations over cups of coffee. 


“One of my favorite things is meeting the community. A specific memory that comes to mind is how I invited one of my regulars to my birthday party. Seattle is known for the ‘Seattle freeze,’ but there are so many cool and interesting people. When people open up and are themselves, that makes me so happy.” 


Other than inviting friends to personal gatherings, Esmeralda works particularly to remember her customers’ names and drink orders. She bonds with them through genuine interactions and conversations that spark past mundane formalities. Esmeralda especially loves engaging with the elders who often visit her store from the senior center that is located nearby, especially when they admit to her that they’ve stopped by just to have a chat. 


Through treating customers like family, she’s able to make them feel at home. This aspect of her job is important to her identity because of her Mexican heritage and the way she was raised. Esmeralda was born in Idaho but spent a couple of years growing up with her family in México before officially moving to Seattle. 


“Growing up in a Mexican household, you have coffee from the minute you’re five. I always thought of coffee as a way to connect with your family and friends. In my family, we have coffee twice a day, sometimes three times a day, especially if we have guests coming over. We bring out a pot of coffee and just talk. I always thought that was such a sweet fact.”


Just like every other barista, Esmeralda has aspirations that stray away from the espresso machine. Outside of the service industry, Esmeralda has used her passion for art as a way to connect with others, and further build the community she longs for. Domingo En La Luna (@domingoenlaluna) is a Latinx creative collective business that is directed by Esmeralda, her sibling, and her best friend. Their main points of focus are community, expression, and the femme divine, which they use to highlight the importance of appreciating the Latinx community and other communities of color. Through jewelry, embroidery, and photography, Esmeralda and her team can further express their sense of self at vendor markets around the city, where they sell their products, and, more importantly, meet people to welcome into their circle. 


“It all really started with us centering around community. We have so many creative outlets that we do on our own, but we didn’t want to do it alone. We wanted to support each other and somehow put it out in the world… My passion really is art. Art is constantly surrounding us.” 


So far this year, Domingo En La Luna has been showcased at Aqui Mercado in Pioneer Square, Slow Dance Shop in Capitol Hill, and Sho-nuff’s Retro Rewind on 1st Avenue. Esmeralda, her sibling, and her best friend have even taken their art outside of Seattle, selling it in other cities like Bellingham, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. 


Although Domingo En La Luna has allowed Esmeralda to feel secure outside of her daytime job as a barista, being confident in her artistic outlets has come with its hardships because of the negative stigmas of the service industry. Seattle is overrun with coffee shops, so standing out as a barista can be silencing. Socializing as a barista, shift after shift, day after day, can be exhausting. Tending to people’s needs, taking care of them, and doing exactly what and how they want, are tasks that often leave baristas feeling like robots behind the counter, especially when interactions turn sour. Unfortunately, Esmeralda has had to mitigate uncomfortable situations where customers are rude to her for no reason. 


“Sometimes I’m still having to experience microaggressions. You would think people would learn not to disrespect other people, especially people they don’t know, but it can be draining. I feel like setting boundaries for customers is very important. Setting those boundaries where you’re not allowed to is icebreaking.”


No matter how hard it can be to work as a barista, Esmeralda does her best to serve with grace, and also protect herself. As she continues to make Freya Bakery & Cafe a comfortable expanse for her customers, herself, and her fellow baristas, she will bring about the same energy to the artists of the Seattle Latinx community with Domingo En La Luna. Esmeralda’s future business endeavors involve a Domingo En La Luna website that the team hopes to be up and running by Spring 2024.