Cool beans: Cafilia keeps it local by serving up coffee subscriptions

Aleksandra Brankov is starting a movement—a coffee movement. A local coffee movement in Northeast Ohio. Supporting Cleveland’s local coffee industry is what motivated Brankov to start Cafilia, an environmentally friendly, subscription coffee service that works solely with local cafes, brewers, and roasters.

“Anywhere you go, you can drink local coffee—don’t default to Starbucks any time,” the Lakewood resident says. “If you’re in the city or metro area, there are local coffee shops. I’m just filtering [the local shops], and if they’re a part of Cafilia they have credibility.”

To promote Cleveland’s local coffee industry, with a sustainability twist Aleksandra Brankov launched Cafilia in July 2020.To promote Cleveland’s local coffee industry, with a sustainability twist. Brankov launched Cafilia in July 2020. The idea is simple: Customers buy a reusable Cafilia coffee mug with their account number on the bottom of the mug and select a coffee subscription of either drip of crafter coffee and between 10 and 20 drinks per month.

Customers can then take their mugs to any coffee shop in the Cafilia network—currently about 20 local companies from Cleveland to the Akron area—are simply get their mugs filled and be on their way.

“Go to the website, sign up for a coffee subscription, get the cup in the mail, then just walk into a [coffee shop] and do your thing,” Brankov explains. “There’s no transaction needed—it’s faster than using a credit card—and now you’re exclusively subscribing to local coffee.”

The goal is to strengthen communities by supporting small businesses and practicing sustainability. “It’s a very novel concept,” says Brankov. “It combines the whole shop local [movement] while being environmentally sustainable.”

In fact, Cafilia’s motto is “A community of like-minded people who just want to make the world a better place through each coffee they drink.”  

The idea for a sustainable local coffee subscription service came to Brankov shortly after moving back to Cleveland in 2017 after living in London and Madrid, where she was working as a consultant in strategy implementation and organizational development.

Customers can then take their mugs to any coffee shop in the Cafilia network and simply get their mugs filled and be on their way.She was on a winter retreat with friends in Canada and she says she was surprised to see them use their reusable travel mugs to get coffee at the lodge, instead of using the Styrofoam cups provided.

“The light bulb then went off inside of my head,” she says. “[I thought], is there a way I can transform a reusable travel mug that merely carries liquid into a ‘coffee wallet’ of monetary value, with which you could essentially purchase ‘once’ and then get coffee anywhere you go just by showing the mug.”

Brankov envisioned local businesses benefitting from the concept. “I then realized that it would be the local independent coffee shops that would benefit most from this concept, since they don’t have as many resources as the national chains to increase their visibility, foot traffic, and sales as easily,” she says. “And the idea for Cafilia was born!”

She was all set to launch Cafilia when COVID-19 turned the world upside down.

“It was in the works, then all of the sudden the pandemic arrived,” she recalls. “People’s habits changed in general, and people weren’t going out as much. Hopefully, that’s adjusting slowly.”

Despite the pandemic, Brankov has more than 50 subscribers and the response from the coffee shops was instantly positive, Brankov says. Root Café in Lakewood was the first shop to sign on, and the list has been growing ever since then.

“They have been so great and supportive from the beginning,” Brankov says. “It’s been really great to have then be such a big support.”

 Brankov says she has agreements with many of the local coffee shops between Lakewood and University Circle, and she’s continuing to grow her list “You have to go one by one,” she says. “My goal is to have every local coffee shop in Cleveland be a part of Cafilia. But I want to grow this to other cities across the country, one city at a time.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.