Located in Berkeley, CA, just south of the Ashby BART station, Rasa Caffe is a remarkable place. The aesthetic is certainly alluring—clean, bright and funky—but there’s a lot of emphasis on the beauty of taste as well.
To get the full story behind one of the most unique coffee shops in Berkeley, we chatted with Rasa Mott, its owner.
Taking it to Flavor Town
“[The caffe] is named after what Rasa means in Sanskrit, essence of flavor,” Mott explains. He has a culinary background that took him to New York City for school, but he’s from the Berkeley neighborhood where his shop is situated and was pleased to start a business there when the opportunity arose.
Rasa’s relationship with cooking has given him a particular interest in the methods behind the preparation of ingredients and in creating extraordinary flavor combinations. “We do some things differently and people here were delighted with that,” he says. It gives them a chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy the complex flavor profiles.
With the patron, for the patron
For Rasa Caffe, this has always meant that the milk and sugar are organic, all of the syrups are made in-house, and that the espresso drinks are well-balanced to bring out the best flavor notes. Both on his own and with neighborhood coffee-lovers, Rasa constantly works to perfect his craft.
Rasa’s lattes truly exemplify Mott’s palate. The rose latte is floral with undertones of vanilla bean and saffron, while the golden latte features molasses, to provide a rich, earthy enhancement to the coffee, and a bit of orange oil to brighten the taste.
Rasa is also known for adding spices to their drink blends. The Rasa coffee includes espresso with cinnamon and cardamom that is blended in-house, and they brew an unsweetened chai that’s intentionally quite spicy.
Barista talent search
However, running a business is not just about good taste. Mott admits that hiring was one of his larger challenges because it can be very hard to find the baristas who can make the special drinks at his coffee bar.
In the beginning, he was using Craigslist, but as he reports, “You got people you felt were cool, but with no experience. Then a bunch of young kids, all upbeat and chipper, came in handing out Localwise flyers. Somehow I kept seeing Localwise all over the place.”
Finding the experienced and motivated
Through Localwise, Mott found applicants with the experience he was looking for, who were motivated to learn and grow with the business.
“When you hire someone, it’s a mutual thing. You both need each other. I don’t think the employer is always right—it’s mutual—and I think that’s why people enjoy working here.”
Mott recently hired a Localwise barista who had previous experience in San Francisco—“She’s great!” he gushes. It's applicants like those who keep returning to the site—even 6 months later, he admits—who are eager to join a growing local business.
Connecting to local talent
Most importantly, he emphasizes, Mott's found it priceless to be connected to local young people through Localwise. This is important to him because he opened Rasa Caffe to do something different.
“We are fortunate to have made the creative things actually work, which sets us apart and gives us this appeal. We’re very passionate about what we do, and we work on being consistent but constantly improving.”
But he can’t improve all on his own. “Nowadays, you really have to start with the youth,” he says. "That's why we turn to Localwise."