Contagem is a heavily industrial city in the midst of the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. There isn’t much to be seen or to visit here that any other big city does not possess. Unless, of course, you plan to visit Will Santos’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—for coffee.
Santos and his wife, Michele Miranda, have been married for 10 years and live in a house in a commercial neighborhood of Contagem. Santos worked with thermal equipment maintenance (rendering services to McDonald’s) and was always eager to learn more, about anything. He would open machines so that he could build them again from scratch, always wondering what he could learn next.
Then came coffee. He had always liked it, and eventually he started to dig deep into books and articles and the internet, and suddenly he was collecting material for what would be his coffee shop. Santos and Miranda started small and decided they would make their living room a coffee shop. Santos would go out in the street and grab people by their arms to bring them inside. But people from Minas Gerais—Mineiros—are known for being suspicious, so not many would buy into Santos’s idea. It was all a little strange, after all: you enter someone’s house, pass through a narrow alleyway, then end at their living room to pay for coffee? Basically, that was the idea.
Despite the not-encouraging results, the couple persevered. They officially opened Cafeteria Will Coffee in 2012, with an automatic espresso machine, and sourcing the roasted beans from a nearby supermarket. It was just the two of them, trying to show the concept of slow coffee to anyone who would venture inside. After a time, their living room was not enough, so the coffee shop took over their bedroom next to it, and they moved their living quarters to the basement—where they have been living ever since. “Downstairs we only have a studio-like space,” says Santos. “But, we are happy to live so close to work,” he adds with a laugh.
Access to Cafeteria Will was not easy—customers needed to ring a bell in order to enter. Rumors spread rapidly in the neighborhood. Was it a brothel? An undercover casino? Miranda still laughs at those comments, and in fact there remain some people who don’t believe it is indeed a coffee shop. The fact that Santos added a London telephone booth door out front didn’t help much. “We still want people to ring a bell when they come in,” says Miranda. “It’s like we are having guests, and we want them to be welcomed in that manner. After all, this is still our house.”
As they show me their “house,” Miranda and Santos are psyched to tell me about the decoration: everything—I mean, everything—is about coffee. There is a story behind each piece of furniture, and Santos is proud to say he built most of it himself, from the lamps, which are basically V60 filters upside down, to some of the coffee gear. Santos invented, for example, the “Aeroprensa,” which is basically a tool to help you easily handle the pressing when extracting a cup of coffee from an AeroPress.
In 2013, as Santos learned more about specialty coffee, the couple stepped up their game with higher-quality beans and many methods of extraction, and in 2015 Santos started roasting. That’s when they surrendered the last room of that floor of the house, which now contains the roaster. They have also started working closely with a farm—Fazenda Barinas, in the Cerrado area of Minas Gerais—where they produce their own lot, so they have 100 percent control of the chain from crop to cup.
There are numerous extraction methods available at Cafeteria Will, plus espresso drinks. The cold drinks are Miranda’s specialty, the Forest Coffee being the best-selling: a sort of frappuccino, it’s made with espresso, ground coffee beans, cocoa powder, cream, and a cherry.
In the Willy Wonka movies, you had to find a golden ticket in order to get a tour of his candy factory. At Cafeteria Will Coffee, you just have to be willing to travel some 40 minutes from downtown Belo Horizonte, ring the bell at the oddly placed London telephone booth door, and wait to be greeted by one of the cafe’s founders. Get ready to see the world of coffee through Santos’s eyes. None of the neighbors have dared to yet.
Juliana Ganan is a Brazilian coffee professional and journalist. Read more Juliana Ganan on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Kellsens Willamos.