Get Aspirational

Rainforest Alliance Gala Reception at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art foyer
Rainforest Alliance Gala Reception at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art foyer

At last month’s Rainforest Alliance gala reception I spoke briefly with Rainforest President Tensie Whelan for a few articles for Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. This is her response to my question of “how can behind-the-scenes intermediaries, as well as consumer facing brands, can help close the disparaging differential gap between the available volumes of certified green coffee and the volumes sold as such?”

“One thing that everyone should understand is that the consumer is changing. There is a growing group of what people are calling ‘aspirationals.’ People are looking to engage with brands with a purpose, and to find more meaning in their lives and meaning in the brands they engage with. …. One of the things we need to see more of is bold engagements with consumers, telling them the story of origin, telling them where the stuff comes from, who grows it, why it’s important–but in a fun, interesting way, not in a lecturing kind of way, why its important to be part of the broader movement of sustainable coffee and tea.”

As she was speaking, I was trying to hide my smile. “Bold engagements with consumers?” “Telling them the story of where this stuff comes from, who grows it, why it’s important but in a fun, interesting way?” I can list so many people and companies who are doing just that. But Whelan is right that we need more. This stuff needs to become common knowledge.

When Coffee Speaks might not have been the most fun way to engage consumers with the stories (I’ve been told repeatedly the book should have had pictures and that my website needs some videos), but it certainly does present these stories as numerous, individual, and fully available. I’m maybe more textual and less visual by nature, but I know of one particularly inspiring coffeeperson writing and photographing coffee and coffeepeople from an importantly unique perspective.

Marianela Montero is the daughter of a Costa Rican coffee producer. She grew up in the picturesque mountains of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu helping her family with the not so picturesque work of coffee farming. Her roots remain with her family land, but she has worked voraciously to expand her horizons. In high school was a competitive swimmer; in college she studied English and international business. Recently, she spent many months traveling in Australia and the US to experience Aussie and American coffee culture, finding beans from her father and her neighbors on single origin menus and delighting in learning the labors of roasting and barista-ing.

Nela chronicles her travels via her Instagram account @cafeticanela and blog She sees American and Australian coffee culture with a curious outsider’s eyes and notices details we have long overlooked. Her perception is keen and she is able to relate her observations to her experiences on the farm. Her producer prospective offers invaluable insight into coffee consumption culture and luckily enough she is willing to write and share her thoughts so that we can all learn and benefit.

We all consume significant volumes of stuff we know nothing about. It’s 2015. Nela introduces herself as “the daughter of a coffee producer.” Will she become a coffee producer herself? Who knows. People from the places colonized hundreds of years ago are flooding in back into the lands that colonized them. Coffee producers are sending their children to college, and their children are exploring the world and seeing the world in ways which people born in countries that don’t produce things wouldn’t automatically see things.

It’s time to get curious, eradicate complacency, and hold ourselves accountable for looking deeper into the histories of the products we buy. We have to aspire to a greater level of responsibility. As Whelan said and Nela show, it’s time to get aspirational.


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