While still learning the lay of the land in Los Angeles, Dennis Garsinii once rode his 120-pound bicycle equipped with an espresso machine from Santa Monica to East Hollywood. The 15-mile ride, which took a full hour, was a hard and hilly lesson for the recent New York transplant who started WAFI Coffee, a mobile coffee bar serving the Southland, in December 2023. The roving business can usually be found parked in popular pedestrian zones like Westwood Village, Rancho Park, Pan Pacific Park, and Century City (near Garsinii’s home in Beverly Glen), pulling espresso shots and pouring cold-brew coffee.
WAFI Coffee is named after the West African Farmers Initiative, an organization that Garsinii co-founded with his college roommate Shane Himmelman in 2020 to train farmers and help them gain access to global markets. Garsinii hails from a family of farmers in Liberia. “My family comes from a background of growing coffee, rubber, rice, and cocoa over the last 300 years,” he says. The family stopped farming during Liberia’s first civil war, which took place from 1989 to 1997; the Second Liberian Civil War interrupted farming in the region from 1999 to 2003. The two civil wars and the Ebola epidemic from 2014 to 2015 greatly impacted every industry in Liberia, including Garsinii’s family’s farm.
In 2020, Garsinii and Himmelman, who were working as commodity traders in New York City, launched a long-term plan to grow coffee and cocoa with Garsinii’s family across their 54-acre organic farm. Additionally, they sought to engage with other small-scale farmers across West Africa facing significant challenges in a highly competitive global specialty coffee market. WAFI works with farmers to improve the quality of their beans and increase exposure on a global scale, as they often don’t have the same supply chain access as better-known East African producers.
After moving to Los Angeles last year, Garsinii crowdsourced funding for WAFI Coffee’s custom-built bicycle in October 2023. Though he fell short of his $7,700 goal, raising nearly $4,000, he was still able to purchase a mobile espresso machine from Espresso Parts and a suitable bike that his girlfriend found online. WAFI Coffee uses a gas generator to power its espresso machine but plans to shift to a battery set-up soon. In addition to equipping the coffee bar, Garsinii made sure his mobile setup was legal across various municipalities since cities like West Hollywood and Beverly Hills have their own regulations.
Garsinii sources the beans for WAFI from farms in his organization’s West African network and roasts the majority of the coffee himself. Currently, the menu features arabica beans from Liberia and Cameroon. Garsinii describes Liberian arabica beans as “fruit-forward and punchy, almost like eating a mango, but also tasting earthy and woody.” Garsinii plans to use liberica and excelsa beans from Liberia next, along with robusta beans from Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“I wanted to do something I knew how to do and help my people back home,” Garsinii says. He tells Eater that coffee farmers typically make 1 percent of the retail price of a cup of coffee. WAFI’s business model provides direct access to significantly more of the proceeds.
While a handful of LA’s mobile coffee bars moved to more permanent spaces over the last few years including Velo Coffee into the Fig at Seventh complex in Downtown and Farm Cup Coffee in Century City and West Hollywood, Garsinii does not have plans to open a brick-and-mortar cafe in an effort to pass savings on to customers. WAFI will start selling coffee beans online in May.
Check Instagram to see where WAFI Coffee is parked for the day.