At the end of October 2013 I self published 400 copies of “When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople” as the culmination of a year of research travel, four months of nonstop translating/transcribing/compilation, and a successful Kickstarter campaign.
As soon as the books were printed (literally hot off the press; freshly bound and warm to the touch), I turned back around (with 150lbs of luggage) and went to Costa Rica and Panama to personally distribute copies to the interviewees from those countries. I had interviewed many people a full year before the book was printed, and much had changed in their lives since I had last seen them. Fathers had passed away, land had been purchased, ties had been cut and severed, and coffeepeople had weathered the storms of sky and market with admirable fortitude.
Because “When Coffee Speaks” is filled with the voices of real people rather than invented characters, it is merely a snapshot of what people were thinking, feeling, and saying at one moment, and the perspectives it captures belong to people who change their minds. I reflected some of those changes in the “Updates from Coffeepeople” post I wrote after I returned from my “distribution trip” last year; I also edited the book, so every copy printed after that first run of 400 reflects the input of interviewees. (My self-publishing set up works “on demand.” You order a copy, they print and ship it.)
Now another year has lapsed, and to celebrate the first anniversary of the first printing, I asked interviewees to share any notable accomplishments they’ve had in the past year.
Marie Tournon (p. 49) is the tenacious Frenchwoman who uprooted her life and her family in order to resurrect her grandfather’s farm in Turrialba, Costa Rica. In her interview she mentions APOT, a dying organization of organic coffee producers in Turrialba, of which her Monte Claro farm was an active member. From the ashes of APOT Marie started the Naturalba organic processing mill, which I was able to see chugging out its first harvest when I gave Marie her book last November. Another year later, Finca Monte Claro is a founding member of the new group APOYA, Turrialba’s Asociation of Organic and Agrosustainable Producers. Marie, APOYA, and all new association’s fearless members were able to get organic mill up and running for another harvest and right now are celebrating their second year of continuing to produce, process, and sell organic coffee against impossible odds. Marie comments that, “more and more producers continue to be interested in our work and want to turn to organic production methods. Fabio Obando (p. 63) continues with organic production and is now a member of APOYA!” Soon, Naturalba coffee will be available online. The moment that happens, I’ll be the first to let the world’s coffee drinkers know.
Luis Angel (p. 77) continues as mandador of the high mountainous Potenciana Café farm and is also now a proud grandfather. Potenciana scaled back the number of trees in production by 10,000 in order to focus on environmental preservation. This, however, hasn’t reduced the number of fairly paid seasonal jobs the farm provides, as they now use would-be pickers to help fix erosion issues, a major problem for mountains whose primary forest had been razed for generations in order to create cattle pastures. Potenciana continues to plant trees, but the process of restoration is not a quick fix. Potenciana might be producing slightly less coffee this harvest, but what they’ve got is certainly a “golden bean.” Potenciana’s coffee was cupped by Costa Rican coffee authorities earlier this fall and earned a whopping 89 out of 100 points, placing the farm—and all its dedicated workers—well among the ranks of the country’s specialty producers. Stay tuned for Cup of Excellence 2015…
Jose Manuel (p. 90) continues working with Cooperativa Selva Alta de Pichanaki in Perú, and this year they signed, sealed, and delivered 14 contratos to Germany. Even though it was a difficult year, they hope things will improve in favor of coffee growers.
Ramacafe (p. 105) in La Dalia, Matagalpa, Nicaragua signed a three year direct trade contract with Bewley’s Coffee & Tea Company of Ireland, solidifying the longstanding relationship between the two parties. The deal made headlines in Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario newspaper, with the economics section proclaiming “The Irish Choose Nicaraguan Coffee.” Ramacafe was again in the news when the new Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) president Shawn Hamilton visited Finca La Virgen to cup coffee and check out operations.
The community of Cedral (p. 123), headed by the efforts of Froilan, Hania, and Donald, turned the Los Jilgueros mill into a cooperative, CoopeCedral.
In September, Coopedota barista Fernanda (p. 149) of the Santa Maria de Dota town in Tarrazú participated in the Costa Rican National Barista Championships in San Jose, where she and several other Coopedota baristas proudly represented Coopedota’s 800+ members by preparing drinks with their beans and acting as liaisons between Costa Rica’s productive mountains and coffee drinkers in the urban Central Valley hub.
Javier Meza (p. 171), continues work on Mutute, a local café serving 100% San Pablo de Leon Cortes Tarrazú coffee. Only 5% of his current volume goes to this endeavor, with the rest being exported. He feels the most direct connection a coffee grower can have with a consumer is to serve him or her the finished product, so he would like to see the café grow and be able to roast, grind, and serve more of his and his neighbors’ own coffee to people he can meet face to face, rather than shipping the results of his efforts to unseen foreign countries.
Exclusive Coffees (p. 181) has been working nonstop in response to the increased interests of Costa Rican smallholders in building their own micromills and finding more direct buyers. Hidenori Izaki of Japan, world barista champion used coffee from the Monte Copey micromill of Monte Copey de Dota, Tarrazú to craft his winning drinks, particular cause for celebration among Tico coffeepeople like Francisco, who lauded this as, “a great achievement for Costa Rica!” Exclusive is also moving forward with a partnership with Thr!ve Farmers coffee, who in turn partnered last year with Chick-Fil-A, who now offers Farmer Direct Coffee in their 1800 stores.
The Hartmann Family Estate (p. 193) in Santa Clara, Panama is building a climate controlled warehouse which will allow them to export coffees with even higher quality and a more holistic preservation of their various coffees’ unique qualities by precisely regulating storage conditions.
Coffeed, a roasting company and community-inclined cafe in Queens, roasted and sold a batch of Kotowa coffee from Ricardo Koyner (p. 217) of Boquete. I started hosting monthly Community Cupping’s with Coffeed and was able to tell attendees, “I’ve been to this farm; this coffee was grown by friends of mine.” It’s a small, simple, and incredibly meaningful step in making coffee more personal and helping coffee drinkers connect with a plant cultivated thousands of miles away.
Wilford Lamastus’s (p. 233 and p. 246) Elida Geisha coffee from Boquete was nominated by Verve Coffee of Santa Cruz, California for the Good Food Awards.
In Antioquia, Colombia, Leon Bedoya (p. 268), coffee buyer for the Ciudad Bolivar branch of Cooperativa de Caficultores de Los Andes (Cooperandes) helped open a new purchase point that offers producers a premium for coffees that offer a “clean cup.” Leon now cups coffees right in front of producers when they bring coffee for sale, providing them feedback as to how their actions on the farm translate to the final beverage. Cooperandes also has a new logo and Fairtrade International certification.
Outside of San Gregorio near Ciudad Bolivar, Rocio (p. 283) and Guillermo (p. 288) celebrated the birth of the first grandchild.
Pedro Echavarria (p. 300) has been tirelessly elevating Colombian coffee consumption. His Pergamino Café in Medellin aggressively promotes the country’s finest coffees through public education, barista training, community outreach, and an irresistibly inviting café atmosphere created by baristas who love what they do, making everyone want to join the coffee club.
What every interviewee knows now even more than they knew two years ago, and what I’ve seen again and again, is that when someone falls in love with something about coffee–whether it’s the hiss of countertop espresso machine someone built themselves out of scrap metal, the bloom of a well-poured Chemex, the exotic names of Ethiopian farms, or that mind blowing “aha!” moment of flavor discovery at a comparative tasting–once someone is in love with coffee, then he or she tunes into the churning sea of details around who and what permits coffee to exist in the first place.
If you lure someone into your café with sexy wood paneling, shaded patio seating, and mouth watering pastries, then maybe, just maybe, he or she will splurge and order an Aeropress’ed cup of the limited edition traditional “Pajarito” varietal. And maybe then he will sip it in the flood of sun from the skylight, or maybe she’ll inhale the aroma at the coveted corner table. And then maybe these lured customers will pause, and in pausing fall in love. You have to entice people to get to that moment of enamoring, but every time it happens, coffeepeople have earned themselves another ally, another person who will ask a barista about extraction time, pick up a back issue of Roast magazine and read about different origins, and maybe add a “coffee farm tour” to their next vacation itinerary.
New logos and coffee-making competitions might not seem earth-shattering, but every individual added to the ranks of coffeepeople means one more person who will take the time to think about where the things they consume come from. The more people start to wonder about provenance, the more they care about the complicated details of provenance, and the more they invest in understanding the people and the places behind products, rather than blindly purchasing any and everything just because it’s in front of them on a shelf. That is the essence of what “When Coffee Speaks” is all about: realizing that every trade transaction is as much an interpersonal exchange as a monetary one, and realizing that an investment in simply paying attention might not cure all the world’s ills, but giving a damn and looking and listening is a potent and often un-implemented tonic that can relieve much suffering from having been in vain.
Another year later, and coffee just keeps getting more talkative. Appropriately, the consuming audience also seems to be scooting closer to the edge of their seats. Bring on year three.