Meet the man behind Bootleg Beachfront Coffee in Bolinas and Chai Pop-Up

Three teens, one of whom is a black lab on a skateboard, approach a tent positioned among damaged RVs on Brighton Street in Bolinas, California, a small coastal community in the North Bay area. The tent appears to have been built in Christopher Robin’s backyard, and covers a number of pots, kettles, and mugs. Small wooden bench sitting right outside. There is general excitement and mystery to the process, like finding a rare old album at a flea market. Rauri Mickey, a 36-year-old who has lived in Marin County for the past 20 years and spent a few summers in Bolinas as a child, pours near-boiling water over coffee grounds behind a table while teens ask him about it. Done, Mickey is smiling through his thick beard the entire time.

Mickey says Bolinas is where he first felt inspired for coffee and pop-tea, whose name he has yet to name. But when he first set up in a limited space of private property near the beach, the neighbors wavered between excitement and anger. However, Miyake remained committed to what he saw as ideal A place to interact with his chosen home community. It appears that those angry neighbors and local law enforcement have given him the green light now that he has moved his operation further along Brighton Street. Coffee won’t necessarily blow you away, and Mikai won’t be easy to find (unless you head to Bolinas Jetty on the right weekend). But to visit its makeshift café is to witness something special: individualism in pursuit of the communal, and occupation as a demonstration. At least, that’s what Mickey claims. “I am involved in social projects,” he says. “I want to encourage people to do what they want to do.”

Illegally selling coffee – which Mickey does, to be clear – not all will be smooth sailing. The pop-up was initially fired at a local park for only a few hours before a friend of Mickey’s, who works at the park, informed him that his operation would never fly in that location. Soon after, in late May 2022, he stayed at the beach launch at Bolinas Pier. Within a few days, the property manager came to see him outside the vacant house overlooking the beach. Although AirBnB guests at the sprawling house seemed excited about his pop-up coffee, he knew it was a temporary facility. None of the sites were bad, says Mickey, but they weren’t promising long-term premiums. “There was a contradiction about where the property line was,” says Micay. “But that is no longer part of my story.”

Mikai uses Equal Exchange coffee in his popup.
Paulo Bequeri

In his current location, where he’s been for three weeks, Mickey says he makes hundreds of dollars a day and sells only three items: coffee, tea, and spiced oatmeal. The coffee comes from the Equal Exchange, a well-connected company born in 1986 that imported into Nicaragua, and Mikai sells both refreshing and cold brews. The tea is made from scratch, and then the oatmeal is cooked in the same pot. Cardamom, tea, and black tea are the main ingredients to serve up the brew, a recipe he always messes with while he’s gone. Mikai makes coconut milk from scratch too, derived from coconut shavings and water in a blender. The coconut pulp is then mixed with oatmeal after squeezing the milk, which is a good thing because none of the milk on the market matches his hopes for the flavor and simplicity of the ingredients. The name, of course, is in flux because it gets a feel for what works and what doesn’t. “When I started, it was just dripping or pouring, so I called it Hypervious Drip,” says Mikai. “But now that tea is more than half of what I do, I think of Chai Striving.”

Close-up of oatmeal prepared by Mickey.

Oatmeal is brewed in this off-grid pop-up in the same pot as tea.
Paulo Bequeri

If it seems strange that this process has continued without permission, it is because it is. But Mickey doesn’t seem concerned, and frankly, neither do local law enforcement. A representative from the Bolinas Community Public Utilities District (BCPUD) said there were no complaints, although they did hear some opposition about the pop-up through the vine. A local mayor came in and said the new operation “obviously doesn’t” create a traffic hazard – and soon after, law enforcement came to say hello and ask how it’s going. On the other hand, George Krakauer, fire chief at Bolinas Fire, described any issues as a “small town drama” and offered no further comment. Mickey says that one of the main antagonists still visited him from time to time, but the two of them succeeded recently. “There was controversy over my first position,” laughs Mickey. “I’ve taken to the street, though, and it seems a lot less controversial.” The bounce seemed to come and go, like a gentle wave on the beach.

Now that the discussions are in the rearview mirror, Mikai wants to preserve his reputation in Bolinas while trying out new locations. Although he is not on social media, he encourages customers to find him on the weekend or reach out to him via email. He wants to maintain the good vibes while expanding what he is capable of. “Day after day, a lot of energy goes into being here,” he says. “But I will keep trying to spend my weekends here.”

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