It’s Monday morning. It’s rainy and gray and dreary out. There are lots of coffees that claim to save the world, but really, we just want them to save Monday morning.
Luckily, there are coffees that can do more than drag us through Mondays without attempting to take on the world. Sometimes, modest efforts at manageable scales are the most admirable acts.
Potenciana Café, the mystique of its terroir described here, is an undertaking that has taken lifelong friends turned coffee business partners Bill Bayer and Mike Pannell on a journey through the literal jungles of Costa Rica and the tangly paperwork jungles of international bureaucracy to arrive at just such an admirable act.
On a whim of faith Mike and Bill bought a plot of pastureland atop a particularly remote mountain on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. They began to convert it to a sustainable coffee farm and learned the hard way that growing coffee is an expensive, labor intensive endeavor, but they were dogged enough to work through the tangles and astute enough to see that it is also an activity with the potential to revitalize communities.
On coffee packages we often read promises of fair trade, green frogs, friendly birds, and mysterious shade. It’s hard to know what these things have to do with producing coffee, let alone what they mean in our cup. The “dos locos gringos” of team Potenciana found out that, in reality, producing coffee requires a lot of hands on deck (the deck being the vertical mountainside). Hands on deck mean hands to work, and working hands mean jobs in the community.
Because the plot of whimsically purchased land (at first attractive because of its breathtaking view of the clouds parting to reveal the shimmering ocean at dawn,
newly attractive for its rich soil and cool climate conducive to growing dense, flavorful coffee beans) is on such a remote mountain top, the residents of the community worked their own small plots of coffee and food crops and had to commute considerable mud-slick distances to any sort of formal employment.
Potenciana Café’s emergence as a full-fledged business (with the matching monogrammed polos to prove it!) means living wage jobs right at home. Do jobs equate revitalization? What does it mean to actually “revitalize” a community? “Revitalize” could be one of those “feel good” words we toss around that we maybe don’t quite ever see played out. To revitalize means to give new life to, and to give new life to a community means to allow people to continue to live and work and raise their families on their own land rather than have to move to larger towns.
New life means full time jobs (with benefits!) and seasonal jobs paying above minimum wage with perks like free electricity and kitchens with roofs. New life also means road improvement projects, a new roof for the church, an overhaul for the one-room school house, and a way for teenage girls to commute to the nearest high school (two hours away) without costing their fathers’ a third of their salaries.
All these goals cannot be achieved by business alone, so the gringos locos of Potenciana have broadened their admirable acts to include the founding of the non profit Better Growth, an organization dedicated to revitalizing the community of the Potenciana through reforestation, collaboration with community dollars and labor on infrastructural projects, and the scholarship program for high school girls, Saplings.
Eventually an eco tourism enterprise will be part of the mix, but first things first. The coffee has to be good. You can give your Monday a pick me up like it’s never seen before and try Potenciana’s coffee. For the first time in its ten years of development, Potenciana Café is ready to hit your cup. This year a portion of Potenciana’s harvest has been processed and roasted as a microlot. Potenciana Café donated the entire lot to Better Growth.
Now, when you donate $50 or more to Better Growth (by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org), you will receive a half pound bag of pure Potenciana Café (while supplies last! This stuff does grow on trees, but that doesn’t mean it’s infinite!) This is coffee you can feel good about because it is the unadulterated product of the actual sweat, blood, and tears of people I know by first name.
There’s Luis Angel (interview p. 79 of When Coffee Speaks), the farm manager
His daughter Tatiana, who on the very first day of summer vacation earned her first “paycheck” from picking coffee
Gerardo, special projects manager
Walter, Potenciana golden boy (chief sack hauler, vehicle repairer, picking platoon leader, etc)
Jose Alberto, truck driver, responsible for delivering coffee cherries to co-op mill pick up point
Barbara, lawyer, and Alex, operations supervisor (with their son)
And of course Bill and Mike,
Potenciana Café proprietors with their moral compasses well aligned and the active non profits to corroborate it. With enough PhDs and military credentials and beautiful children/grandchildren between them to fill another healthy blog post, the two friends have become coffee farmers to the core, standing with shiny red bags of Potenciana Café in their hands, puffing their chests and boasting, “this is the best coffee in the world!” ready to go toe to toe with any other coffee producer who claims the same.
Check out more of the Potenciana crew at work on Facebook!