Rising Star Roaster Kaitlin O'Brien of Xela Coffee Roasters - Biography

Houston, TX

November 2019

From their untraditional coffee labels designed in-house to selling cold brew in cough syrup bottles, Coffee Roasters Benji Aguilar and Kaitlin O’Brien are making waves in Houston. XELA (pronounced Shey-Lah), is short for a city in Guatemala—where Aguilar’s parents are from—and was founded by Aguilar and O’Brien in 2014 in a small roastery/retail space with a walk-up window in Houston’s largely residential Second Ward neighborhood. 

With a degree in communications from Texas A&M University, Houstonite Kaitlin O’Brien embarked on a career in e-commerce and marketing, working for tech companies like the Houston Technology Center, Qukku, Direct Energy, and HATCH Pitch. Wanting to make each other stronger, the couple agreed to learn each other’s skills and slowly realized they each took to the opposite’s skills remarkably well. While both still participate in both sides of the company, O’Brien is now mostly responsible for roasting and Aguilar’s graphics have become the retail/wholesale face of Xela (and cover of this magazine). The roasters source direct-trade, lesser seen coffees from around the world to brew handcrafted beverages for customers, upping coffee culture in Houston and leading the way for a future wave of independent, artisan roasters in their city, where they aim to become a multi-faceted life-style brand.