Words by Marianela Montero. Portraits taken by Julie Rings at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Little Italy. Produced by Pablo Lara, SDCN Creative Director.
Our industry is rich in stories about connections between people’s trajectories and coffee. Mine happened far away from the third-wave shop, in a particular proximity to the source: I grew up in a coffee farm in the region of Tarrazu, Costa Rica.
Initially for me coffee was a crop which we tended for from farming to processing and milling. Coffee produced the income needed for our families to survive. Interestingly, my perception of this crop changed dramatically after traveling to the U.S, Europe and Australia. Its meaning has expanded, igniting my passion for it.
I recently graduated from the National University of Costa Rica’s International Business and Trade School. I explored coffee markets through research and then decided to travel first to California and see its coffee community for myself. I was lucky to have a good friend, Miah, who resided in San Diego. We met in Costa Rica while he visited my family’s farm and now I had the opportunity to experience his reality.
I ended up living in California for four months, an experience that proved to be both challenging and enriching. Initially things were complicated as I was hoping to do an internship and/or work for a coffee roaster, but labor regulations are pretty strict and dealing with the process was quite tiresome. Ultimately I got a job at James Coffee a specialty coffee roaster located in Little Italy, San Diego. I remember the first day I worked with David Kennedy, owner of the company and a person I admire. We catered an event for the San Diego City Library. Once we arrived we realized some pour over tools were forgotten; David told me he wasn’t really prepared for this but he can’t say no when people ask him to do something for charity. People ended up loving the pour overs we were serving, and David’s interaction with the crowd made an impression on me. This initial opportunity James Coffee gave me allowed me to see the community and culture surrounding coffee, I was enamored by it.
At the coffee shop I got to hear people say that they loved to have someone from the farms, this was both unexpected and empowering. Some people asked if we were going to serve coffee from my family’s farm, they all wanted to try it! I’m hoping to make it available after the 2014- 2015 harvest.
Making good connections with coffee friends was the most important part this experience granted me. I learned that this industry is all about contacts and relationships. Recently, I visited my very good friend Perry Czopp in Arizona; he’s been in the industry for a long time. Months ago I invited him to go to my family’s farm because he competed at the Big Western Barista Competition brewing coffee from my uncle’s farm! Perry was interested in getting to know our farm and family so off he went. He ended up staying with my family for 5 weeks and told me he had the best experience ever. Similarly, when I came back from Australia, he invited me to go to his place to discover Arizona’s coffee scene. I learned so much from all the coffee shops and roasters we visited in Arizona, a journey parallel to his in Costa Rica. This is just one example of friendships I’ve been making during this trip. These connections are opening many doors in my life and surrounding me with beautiful moments.
After all this traveling an idea surged. I want to go to farms all over the world and educate producers and their families, giving them advice to improve their techniques for growing coffee. Farmer’s kids should be more involved in this changing industry. I want to teach them, through my experiences, how to produce and sell better coffee. This can only be achieved if we show them how to appreciate their own product and its pivotal place in this new coffee culture.
This cultural exchange I experienced through coffee allowed me to see how passionate people in the industry are; working tirelessly to give farmers and customers in the coffee shops what they deserve. The idea is to give customers an experience and the best education on the coffee they are consuming.
I think this information in specialty coffee shops is essential; everyone should have enough information about the coffee they serve. I’m fascinated how baristas inform their customers about origin characteristics and the flavor notes of the coffee, while letting them know how they are supporting the farmers in origin countries through the purchase of quality coffee. Customers are willing to pay a little bit more for their coffee because farmers and everyone else in the chain are putting more effort into providing the best, which isn't easy.
I had no idea where my family’s coffee ended after we processed it. As a surprise I found my last name and that of our family’s farm in the pour over menu at Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. My friend Jeff Courson, of Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders, took me there in order to surprise me, and he certainly did! This was one of the best moments in my life. I cannot explain the feelings I had while enjoying a cup of coffee I tended for and dried on African style beds during the harvest before I arrived to the United States.
I was fascinated at the community events; such as the latte-art throw downs. Here people speak their minds, exchange contacts, ideas and share moments and stories, like the one I'm sharing right now. My first coffee event in the U.S was at Lift Coffee Roasters. I remember my amazement when I entered their beautiful space. My first thought was “this is like a really cool bar but instead of serving alcoholic drinks they serve coffee”. How great would it be to have these coffee shops in origin countries, young people would certainty learn to appreciate quality coffee, ultimately empowering them.
All my reflections have lead me to start a blog focused on the specialty coffee scene around the world, the content will be targeted for children of coffee farmers. The new generations in Costa Rica need to know what’s happening on this side of the industry. The impact in their lives will be substantial. Knowing that the product you help produce is the pillar of such an exiting industry will certainty change the perspective on their reality. I now find myself treasuring everything I learned while living in the coffee farms, realizing the power embedded in sharing experiences in order to incite motivation and passion for this beautiful industry.
Follow Marianela's blog: cafeticanela.com