From Panama to Alexandria: Via Volcán

From Panama to Alexandria: Via Volcán
Christopher and his wife Janina own Via Volcán. (Photo/ViaVolcá

By Kassidy McDonald

In the City of Alexandria, there are plenty of ways – and reasons – to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, a nationally recognized month where diverse cultures and rich history are recognized and honored. The holiday began on Sept. 15 and will continue until Oct. 15.

Every year, the month consists of celebrations like festivals, art exhibits, conferences, community gatherings and educational opportunities in cities around the country. Many events will take place in the city, such as the Hispanic Heritage Fiesta, multiple dance and coffee workshops, art celebrations, book discussions and bilingual storytimes.

Originally, the holiday began as only a week-long celebration in 1968, known as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to last a month starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. The holiday was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

National Hispanic Heritage Month also celebrates the independence days of several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua on Sept. 15, Mexico on Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Here in Alexandria, the Hispanic population is growing – 16.4% of city residents identified as Hispanic or Latino in the U.S. 2021 Census.

An important aspect of celebrating Hispanic culture involves business. Discovering and supporting small family-owned Latino businesses in the city is a surefire way to learn more about different types of diverse cultures.

In Alexandria, one particular Old Town business embodies the celebration of Hispanic culture in their brick and mortar storefront, business motto and coffee.

Via Volcán is a family owned business that sells single responsibly sourced origin specialty coffee from Panama. It is owned by Christopher McCausland and his wife Janina. Their daughters, Ana and Daniella McCausland, work for the family business part time. Other siblings Isabella McCausland and Hector Camacho also lend their parents a helping hand. 

The story of how the family’s micro-roastery opened a storefront in Old Town is filled with love, passion and rich Panamanian culture. It began when Christopher met his wife Janina living and traveling throughout Latin American countries for his job with the government. Janina’s family has roots in the Chiriquí Province in Panama, which is also a province with longstanding coffee culture. Janina’s family taught Christopher about the practice of owning a coffee farm and how to brew coffee in the region. The couple then purchased their own farm for growing coffee in 1998 and began planting.

The farm is located on highland slopes of the Barú Volcano on 22 hectares of land. (Photo/ViaVolcá

“My family has a lot of history in that province,” Ana said. “My great great grandfather was the mayor of one of the little towns called Boquete. It’s just a beautiful place with a lot of coffee culture.”

The way in which their coffee business name came about is special to the McCausland family and the Chiriquí Province. The farm is located on highland slopes of the Barú Volcano on 22 hectares of land and can only be accessed by driving eight hours from the city.

“That is how the name came about … when we were on our way to the farm, we saw that the road was named Via Volcán and of course it is surrounded by the Barú volcano, that’s also what makes the coffee especially good,” Ana said.

The family has owned the farm for years and had sold their beans to other roasters, but it was always a side business for Christopher while his main job involved working for the state government.

“He’s been roasting coffee basically his whole adult life,” Ana said about her father. “Even with us growing up, I would wake up to the sound of the crackling of the coffee roasting in a pan. At some point, he just evolved from roasting a coffee in a pan to getting his own roaster. We’re just like a coffee family – so we all drink coffee together and it’s a big part of Panamanian culture and who we are as a family.”

The family finally moved to the U.S. after years of the children growing up between Panama, Colombia and Mexico for Christopher’s job. Once they arrived in the states, they decided it was finally time to commercialize their coffee business and create their family-owned coffee brand.

Ana was passionate about the business from the very beginning and wanted to help her parents make their dreams come true. They started in a kitchen, where many other businesses in the DMV start before they are able to open their own storefront locations. While at the location they designed the logo and concept of their business idea.
In December 2020, Christopher and Janina opened the brick and mortar storefront in Old Town.

They worked with Panamanian architects and interior designers to help them conceptualize their store – both inside and out. Using Panamanian designers and architects was in sync with Via Volcán’s branding of being small and Hispanic owned, casual and also leaves customers with the impression they are “drinking the best coffee in the world,” Ana said.

Via Volcán is a micro-roastery in Old Town. (Photo/Via Volcán Instagram)

The McCausland family wanted to purchase a location in Old Town because they were drawn to the quaintness and charm of the neighborhood and felt as though the vibe matched what their business stands for being small and family-owned. While the family didn’t have crazy expectations for the business, Christopher, Janina and Ana all had a passion for coffee and for sharing Panamanian culture through coffee. The way Via Volcán’s coffee is sourced differentiates it from other types of coffee. Plus, it’s considered a delicacy because of its distinctive Panamanian flavors.

“We’re not at Starbucks. Our expertise is not drinks, our expertise is roasting the perfect coffee beans. When you walk into our store in Old Town you definitely get that sense that this is a family-owned place. My mom is there greeting customers while my dad is in the back roasting,” Ana said.

Via Volcán offers two types of coffees and grows two types of beans on the farm in Panama. In the future, they plan to grow even more beans and introduce more varieties on their 22 hectares of land. Their practices are all environmentally friendly, Ana said, and they air dry all of their coffee beans. They installed electricity on their coffee farm, but are conservative with the way they use energy in the region.

Every year Ana goes to Panama to take videos and pictures, as well as to check on the farm.

“We’re doing everything ourselves,” Ana said. “Which we are pretty proud of, but there is also a lot of learning from that.”

Since opening their storefront, the McCausland’s have begun importing their Panamanian beans from their beloved farm and roasting them in Old Town to share the culture of Panamanian coffee. They also sell their coffee in an online store and at the Cleveland Park Farmer’s Market in Washington, D.C. every Saturday morning. This market has been an influential vehicle for their success due to the continued support other small businesses give each other.

Ana said she is proud of the praise the family business has received, adding that Via Volcán has customers who come every single week, which shows how much success the business has had in the two years they’ve been open.

Ana also said she admires her parents and their dedication to this business. Their “immigrant mentality” is something that she inherited; it drives her work ethic and goal to realize the business’ full potential.

“We made a decision to start this business in the U.S. and not in Panama … which was a hugely uncomfortable idea for my mom, but in the end she persevered to the point that she loves it and is always there – [Via Volcán] is her baby. There’s also something beautiful about how [Via Volcán] has brought their marriage together … and there’s also a lot to be said about becoming an entrepreneur in your 50’s and an immigrant in your 50’s,” Ana said.

For the rest of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Via Volcán is celebrating by offering customers a free drink in store with any online purchase. Ana will also be at Barrett Library on Oct. 7 for “Charla de Café,” a workshop that will highlight the McCausland’s story, have video footage from the farm in Panama and also have coffee samples for attendees to try.

“It’s really exciting because we didn’t really expect much out of this,” Ana said. “We just walked into it with a passion for the coffee and hoping people would love it as much as we do.”

For the rest of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Via Volcán is celebrating by offering customers a free drink in store with any online purchase. (Photo/Via Volcán Instagram)