Urbana Café: Italian Espresso from a Vintage Vespa

Noguera, who is of Italian descent, now sells espresso from the back of a vintage Vespa utility motorcycle under the moniker Urbana Café.

click to enlarge Daniel Noguera and his vintage Vespa Ape
Daniel Noguera and his vintage Vespa Ape

Urbana Café owner Daniel Noguera grew up in the coffee-rich city of Caracas, Venezuela. He moved to Cincinnati in 2001 for a textbook-publishing job but left the position last year after he decided to search for something more personally fulfilling.

“It had to be something that I believe in, that is fun, that doesn’t feel like a job,” Noguera says. “Coffee was something that I grew up drinking, so it was a good segue.”

Noguera, who is of Italian descent, now sells espresso from the back of a vintage Vespa utility motorcycle under the moniker Urbana Café. His cappuccinos, lattes and cold brews are available on the weekends at Findlay Market, and he also caters weddings and corporate events.

The idea for the cafe, whose name is Spanish for “urban coffee,” bloomed after an inspiring trip to Italy in 2013. The same year, he attended the Coffee Fest trade show in Chicago, where he learned the foundations of coffee making.

Then he found a Vespa Ape utility vehicle for sale in Canada and purchased it.

“I like motorcycles. Motorcycles and coffee together — why not?” he says.

The utility vehicle was invented in Italy after World War II as a means for transporting goods through narrow streets. They’re rare in the United States, but in Venezuela and Italy you’ll see them buzzing around. Growing up, Noguera hated the sight of the vehicles but later learned to love them.

“They’re always beat up and they have so much smoke coming out of the back,” he says. “As a kid, you don’t want to see those things. You want to see a Ferrari. You want to see something really cool. But when you don’t see them anymore, then you have this nostalgia when you see them again. I thought, ‘Yeah, I want to get one of those.’ ”

After purchasing the Ape (pronounced ah-pay), Noguera fixed an Astoria Gloria Lever espresso machine to it and installed plumbing and a water heater.

The espresso machine is a throwback to the Naples style of coffee making — brewing coffee using a traditional method of a manual lever, not a programmable machine. Every cup is consistent.

But the coffee part wasn’t enough for him. Part of Noguera’s mission, other than selling a high-quality product, is providing “coffee with a purpose.” His purpose is helping stray dogs. Urbana shares its resources with dog rescue organizations and helps animals find permanent homes.

“I grew up with animals. I’m a sucker for the one in need,” Noguera says.

“The deal with coffee is that it is one of those things you can get very passionate about,” he continues. “If you want to use your money in some other fashion, it is a good way to ‘work’ and use some of your profits and do whatever you think you want to do.”

Noguera donates whatever he can to local organization Dream House Rescue in Norwood and Tierra de Animales in Cancun, Mexico, where he and his wife, Jessica, have volunteered.

“If I can make money, I can also donate money to these organizations but do it on my own terms,” he says.

Currently, Noguera is looking for a storefront to sell his coffee and set up his own roasting business; Coffee Break in Golf Manor currently roasts his beans. Because the political and economical situation in Venezuela is so chaotic, he’s unable to import coffee from his homeland, but maybe that will change someday.

Regardless, he wants to make sure he can somehow integrate the Ape into his future brick-and-mortar location.

“The challenge is how do we bring this experience inside? Right now, it’s so open that you see the barista making your drink,” he says. “You see everything that happens behind the machine. In a brick-and-mortar, you don’t.”

While trying to find the perfect storefront near downtown, Noguera will continue to brew his espresso drinks at Findlay this winter, and he hopes patrons will relate to his passions.

“The experience of the customer is way more valuable than just getting a cup of coffee,” he says. “They’ll remember the coffee was good but they’ll remember that for maybe a few hours. But the experience will keep. It’s almost like having a good dinner: You won’t remember what you had but you’ll remember the company.”

For more info on URBANA Café, visit urbana-cafe.com.

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