2019 Houston Rising Stars Roasters Benji Aguilar and Kaitlin O'Brien of Xela Coffee Roasters

2019 Houston Rising Stars Roasters Benji Aguilar and Kaitlin O'Brien of Xela Coffee Roasters

Xela Coffee Roasters
4409 Canal St
Houston, TX 77011


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.

Dallas-born Aguilar began his coffee career frothing pumpkin spice lattes and whipping up frappuccinos at Starbucks before transitioning to Houston’s Katz Coffee where he learned all about roasting. An injury kept him from physically roasting beans, but nevertheless, he landed a job as a quality grader at Farmer Brothers Coffee and continued to hone his skills and develop his palate. While Aguilar was mastering all things coffee, O’Brien was on a very different path. 

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.