By Lisa Cessna, A Coffee Roaster’s Wife
A few weeks ago, Matt and I had the opportunity to leave our Atlanta nest and visit coffee origin. During this unforgettable experience, we immersed ourselves in everything coffee. Central America grows and processes a sweet, smooth, and fruity coffee that is as complex as their people and culture. This trip is why I look at coffee differently. When I take a sip, I’m reminded of the beautiful faces and places from which the coffee journey began. We met farmers in Panama whose families have owned the land since the early 1960’s. We met pickers in Nicaragua who have been picking red, juicy coffee cherries since they were children. I see heritage and hard work in these fantastic people and we became mesmerized by the painstaking steps and intricate processes. We think we are the ones that roast and grind. They hustle and grind like you wouldn’t believe.
True confession. I love coffee and almond milk. In fact, it might be my favorite beverage. The sweetness, the texture, the flavor. I love it all. However, not Matt. He’s always appreciated the true, authentic flavor of coffee the way that people have been drinking for hundreds of years. During our trip, for the first time, I began to understand the intricacies of coffee in a whole new way. By “cupping” coffee, we tasted and appreciated the flavors the way you’d appreciate the wine flavors in Napa Valley. We began using words like jasmine and lemongrass to describe the beautiful fragrance and flavor. However, it was the hard working coffee farmers, the pickers, the processors who taught us what coffee is all about.
Let me introduce you to Carlos Aguilera. It was his grandmother that insisted that they purchase the beautiful, tropical land in Northwestern Panama nearly 60 years ago. Carlos now runs his family coffee farm, called Carmen Estate (named after his Grandmother) which has been producing and exporting high quality Arabica coffee since the beginning. Carlos is passionate, hardworking and has an unwavering commitment to coffee quality. Carlos took us on a tour of his beautiful, tropical land, where the coffee cherries are manually harvested and picked by Nôbe-Buglé indigenous people. During our visit, Carlos explained to us when to know when the cherries are ready to be picked, how to process, dry and later roast. Carlos works hard for his family and loves to share stories about the land, coffee and of course about his 2 daughters, Valentina and Paula. Carmen Estate now sells beans across the globe. His commitment to quality has not gone unnoticed as he has placed consistently in the top 5 in cupping competitions each year.
Then there was Alexa Martin who we met in the mountains of Nicaragua. Her farm is named Finca San Antonio and is located in the Cordillera de Dipilto mountain range. Each year, Alexa harvests a gorgeous Central America coffee variety called Caturra. At the farm we had the pleasure to meet her entire family, including granddaughter, Alexa, named after her. Her sons and neighbors all work on the land in order to make ends meet as well as to pay back loans that they were given to replant trees after a coffee tree disease wipedout much of their harvest a few years ago. Alexa is a leader in the local coffee community and she views selling coffee as a way to support her family as well as help other women in the industry.
These farmers are the heartbeat and the storytellers describing the incredible coffee journey in Central America. However, there are millions of others around the globe who rely on coffee to provide for their families and are passionate about the discipline that is required to ensure a quality cup. On the farm, there are coffee pickers, and those that depulp the coffee seed. At the cooperatives, there are many people that dry, store, inspect and transport the beans. The love and dedication is remarkable. However, the pay is minimal.
Matt and I were inspired and convicted about these stories, the hard work and the beauty of coffee. What excites us is the opportunity to share a good cup and a good story with you. Returning from the trip, I’ve felt an unwavering sense of gratitude and renewed desire to work hard. Matt and I both have corporate jobs, me at the Chick-fil-A Support Center and him at the Home Depot Support Center in Atlanta. We love what we do and we work hard to bring our best selves to work every day. Working hard has been in my DNA and I have to admit that most things haven’t come easily or naturally to me. While I can’t personally relate to working on a coffee farm, I can relate to the faith and determination required to go after a lofty dream.
Atlanta, we see your fierce determination and hard work. You don’t take anything for granted and you have a heart of hospitality. At ATL RSTRY we honor your hard work and think each day should start with freshly roasted coffee. Your cup should be smooth and lack the bitterness commonly associated with your alarm clock and Atlanta traffic. Hope these coffee moments are richly genuine and fresh with each sip. For me, this has been true, even without almond milk.
Cheers. We’ll keep roasting, you keep grinding.