Coffee is About to Dominate Our 2017

I remember the first time specialty coffee caught my eye.

I was a fresh-off-the-press culinary grad in need of a job, and I answered a Craigslist ad for a baker at a new coffee shop in town. Once hired, I understood right away that this shop wanted little to do with pastries and everything to do with coffee.

Coffee. 

The word was said with hefty weight and reverence, like it meant something. It wasn’t thrown around casually, used to describe cheap fuel to keep the town running. It was spoken of as though a delicacy, a valuable and important asset all its own.

One cappuccino and I was hooked. Silky, velvety, smooth, surprisingly cool. I felt as though I, the recipient of this drink, were consuming skill and knowledge with each greedy sip.

I was also very confused.

When did coffee get this way? I wondered. Has it always been this complex? What are these devices? Where did the science come from? 


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Two years have passed since then. I’ve learned the answers to plenty of these questions, led on by mentors that both encouraged me and dumped my struggling drinks down the drain.

Barista? I learned how to show up early, work hard, take my work seriously. I can make espresso all day and never tire. But stepping outside of the shop, I am looking to explore. My questions have no limits.

When I moved to Portland to further my coffee education, I only found myself feeling trapped and discouraged. Portland is bustling with coffee nerds, events, throwdowns, and cuppings. There are shops on every corner. I live two blocks from a Stumptown and I work for one of the most respected companies in the city.

But I am, truly, blown away at how few people really love what they do here. Coffee hype got the best of the people I met. I remember vividly training a new employee who, when I pressed her for questions about why she loved coffee, responded with, “It’s just so cool. I love everything about it.” And that was the most I ever got out of her.

Coffee is cool. But it has little to do with your hip, tattooed barista and that cool record he’s playing – it has everything to do with the cup in your hand, that finally, against all odds, made it deliciously into your possession.


 

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None of this was quite clear to me until I visited my first farm, in a country I immediately fell in love with – the Philippines. (It helps that I fell in love with a Filipino, too.) All of a sudden, I could see with my own two eyes, and hold in my hands the tiny parchmented seeds that were trying to make it out of the country.

These beans, mishandled, would end up roasted to a dark and oily sheen, blended and bagged and served cheaply.

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But the Philippines has good coffee. Incredible coffee, actually. The climate of these islands allows for even very rare coffee to grow.

Why hasn’t it been showcased? Where does its potential lie? This we aim to find out, and to foster.

2017 is upon us, a year that looks like it will be hard, rewarding, challenging and unexpected. This is the year we will go back to the Philippines and get our hands dirty, on our knees to plant spindly year-old arabica seedlings. We know practically nothing.

And yet somehow, as I sit at a desk lamp late into the evening, booking tickets for our return and reading articles until I can function no longer… this is when I feel the same tickle of curiosity that I felt at the very beginning. It’s the same curious fascination as my first silky cappuccino.

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No collection of articles can prepare me for what we’ll face this year. No online class can ready me for the unexpected turns we’re about to take. I feel like I’m back to square one – a student, embarking upon a quest to become a master, ready for the blows that will surely befall me. Even imagining holding a coffee plant (which will surely outlive me, and the ministry we are planting) makes my heart race.

Coffee is about to dominate my year, in a way that has everything to do with the land, the people, and our stewardship of it.

When I prayed to use my talents to reach people, to make a difference and to spread the gospel, I don’t think I realized how practical it would be. I love coffee. I love the culture. I love Jesus.

To use coffee — brewing, growing, roasting, processing — to reach people? To change lives? To make a difference? Ah. Now we’re talking.

 

The Coffee Part of Things

I’m typing, rather painfully, on a cement surface that is so rough and new it leaves little powdery stains on my jeans. Still, there’s no place I’d rather sit, and not just because I’m wearing traveling pants that are made for the glamour of getting adventurous. No, I’m sitting on the unfinished rooftop of a restaurant that will soon be in business in the Philippines, and the flat, unfurnished cement patch I’m calling my desk will one day, with luck, be our coffee shop.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Let me rewind to six months ago, when I announced to everyone (including my boss) that I would be taking a three-week trip to the Philippines. Everyone asked the same question: why? (Equally importantly, why are you missing three weeks of work to visit some beautiful islands?) And I guiltily had only the faintest whisp of an answer.

“My boyfriend’s family lives over there,” I would reply. “We’re visiting them. And we’re helping with the missions work they’re doing.”

All of these things were true, Isaac’s family does live here, and we’re helping with the restaurant they’re building. But mostly we were going to scout out our own missions field, to reclaim the land that once belonged to Isaac’s ancestors and turn it into a full-fledged missions base that not only benefits the people here, but the land and lives of everyone involved. Oh, and we want to do it sustainably, economically and in a way that provides everyone involved with quality income. No more begging for missions funds to go overseas!

But all of these things sounded far-fetched. And to my largely secular group of friends, just saying, “I feel called” simply would not do. So I squeaked out an answer about helping Isaac’s parents do missions work and I prayed on my own that God would light the path for the reason we were here. Up until the very moment I got on the plane, all I could do was trust that God was going to bring to fruition whatever He wanted us here for.

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Which brings me to today. Our month in the Philippines is almost up, and now that I have seen the land and met the people firsthand, I am excited to know the path is foggy no further. The land is ripe an available and currently unused for nothing other than my dearest love — coffee. For anyone that knows me, I am a coffee fiend. The love I find in a warm, welcoming coffee shop is what I live for. The deeper I got into coffee, particularly specialty third-wave coffee, the more I became aware of how important the process is and how many lives are affected each time you serve a single cup.

As a barista, I am painfully aware of how ignorant the consumer can be when it comes to their drink. I have to fight daily the stereotype of being a snobby barista that turns up her nose at the uneducated customer and re-center my life and worldview of coffee once again around Jesus. Instead of demanding that a customer listen to my speech about our natural-processed Yigracheffe, I have begun to realize that coffee is just like any other commodity. It came from somewhere and has to be handled responsibly to be good. It is the customers job, should they choose to be aware, to know what it is they’re consuming.

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coffee drying on one of the local farms

Because even though I am really, really excited about fruit-forward espresso that came from a three hectare farm in Costa Rica, me standing around preaching the coffee gospel does nothing for anyone. It only adds, in fact, to my own prejudice. I serve quality coffee and I care where it comes from, I think to myself. I love coffee and the people behind it. I’ll pay $12 for a delicious, well-sourced drink made with care. But truly, how much good does it do to preach at people, or pay someone else for their direct-trade beans? It does nothing. It spreads awareness. I myself am doing nothing more than standing on a pedestal behind a gleaming espresso machine, begging people to understand that their drink matters.

No. I can’t do that anymore. Coffee is my life and I want to use it to change other people’s lives, too.

So today we followed up with one of our newfound connections here in the Philippines and will hopefully have our farm up and running within the next year. It has happened so unbelievably fast! Of course, we are growing a particular varietal of Arabica and will have room to process and roast here, as well as eventually serve. The dream goes as far as to extend to a shop in the United States, serving our own coffee. I kept running into the question, but is it good? Is the coffee good? Do only the best people have their hands in our process? The answer to this question is yes, although it has taken some good old-fashioned, nose-the-ground detective work to find what we need.

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With the ability to oversee the full-circle process of coffee production and handle in a way that is not only niche coffee (specialty coffee) but in a way that provides jobs for others (hopefully rescued women looking for work after freedom from human trafficking). This is all just a big dream, but one with connections and tangible possibilities.

As I sit on this rooftop, typing, the local kids are pulling out their matchboxes and releasing the spiders they keep inside for fights. They laugh and shout in a language I don’t understand, and they try to sneak up behind me to dangle the spiders in my face.

The quality of life here is different. The coffee farmers here may never even know that their beans are being inhaled deeply in a specialty shop hundreds of miles away, then served with a graceful swan on top to a customer who paid for a $6 latte. But hopefully, with some prayer and good old-fashioned digging, we can make a difference with coffee here that has nothing to do with us and everything to do with being stewards of our God-given talents. Hopefully these kids can be well fed and educated.

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But, all that said, Isaac and I will need prayer to get this dream off the ground. We have the land, the people, the seedlings — we just need to get started! The dream goes beyond just opening a coffee shop, it extends into the lives of those that farm, process and roast this coffee. Our goal is to provide them good wages, a place to live and education and discipleship.

There are other facets to this dream, like the restaurant, a skateshop, leather goods and other needs that need to be met here in the Philippines and in the US. Lord willing, we’re able to do what we were called to do simply by using our trades. So, if you get a moment to pray, we’d be super stoked. And this mindlessly rambling blog post is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to logistics, planning and ideas, so feel free to ask away if you’re interested in learning more or wondering if you can help. It’s going to be so rad.
(Also, if you were wondering, the kids did manage to get a spider on my head during this blog post. I did freak out.)
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Live from the Philippines

I write to you from a house in Baguio City. There are five puppies and one rooster outside that will wake me up in a few short hours at exactly 6:00 with an incessant, obnoxious crow and some subsequent barking. 

  
This is my first trip to the Philippines, and I am surprisingly comfortable and well-adjusted. I think mainly because everyone speaks English here in some form or another, and all of the signs are in English too. The houses are ramshackle and multicolored, where every day is laundry day (until it rains, then everyone puts their clotheslines back inside). 

I am here, in short, to visit the wonderful relatives that feel like family. Isaac and I need their help scouting the land for what will eventually be a self-sustaining missions field. There’s already a lot happening here as far as missions work, and in part we are here to support what is already happening. Our own vision, however, is growing and we need feet on the ground here in the Philippines. 

  
It is a beautiful country. I am surprised at how quickly I fell in love with it. The food is hearty, simple and filling. Rice is the foundation on which everything is built. (I heard one of Isaac’s relatives lean over and whisper to him, “But how does she like rice? She is American!”

  
Because I have been here for only two days (I think– jet lag has me very confused) all I have are photographs. Hopefully soon I will have written out the  stories to go alongside them! 

So far, God has been faithful and given us vision for making these things a reality. 

Coffee growing. Restaurant building. Skate park construction. Ministry using every facet of our skills and passions. 

Tiny dots waiting to be connected. Lives waiting to be affected by what is going to happen here. Send prayers! We are in the earliest stages. 

More to come!
   
    
    
    
 

Toast From Eden

I had a rather archaic breakfast this morning.

I wandered into work at the coffee shop bleary-eyed and stumbling, forcing my sleepy brain awake with minuscule sips of espresso.

I unlocked our stainless steel fridge, sleek and modern in the cool grey morning and found, to my surprise, a bag full of bulbous green figs.

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They were strangely out of place in my ultra-modern, sleek-is-everything curated coffee bar. I was drawn to them immediately, our old souls connecting. Figs have always amazed me with their sweet, succulent simplicity.

And if these little fruits have been around since the Garden of Eden, just imagine how wonderfully steadfast they’ve been through the ages. Didn’t Adam and Eve sew their first garments out of fig leaves? (I checked. They did.)

Yet here they were, sitting primly on the white marble counter as though they belonged there so perfectly. So very far from Eden.

I sliced one open with the back of a spoon, the tender flesh yielding without any struggle. How could I not eat one for breakfast with a little ceramic demi cup of warm milk and honey? It was the smallest homage to a breakfast of hope and promise and gratitude. It was staggeringly Biblical and also quite reassuring.

I ate my archaic snack and finished my shift. I took a tiny tupperware of figs home with me and made the perfect late-summer snack: caramelized onion and fig toast.

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(They did, in fact, come from the fig tree of one of my coworkers who was kind enough to share her bounty.)

Here’s my recipe!


 

You’ll need: 

a loaf of bread for toasting

a yellow onion, sliced thinly

bleu cheese

figs, also sliced thinly

honey

butter, preferably as whole and fatty as possible (I like Kerrygold)

optional: pork lardons, or very thick bacon

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How-To:

  1. Using a toaster or skillet, toast your bread. Spread with a thin layer of butter.
  2. In a saucepan, melt a knob of butter. Add onions and let cook until caramelized and tender.
  3. In another small saucepan, add about 3T honey and 1/4c water. Once combined, bring to a simmer. Add sliced figs and let simmer until figs are tender and glazed. (It’s ok if they fall apart.)

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4. To assemble the toast, spread first a layer of caramelized onions. Top with figs, cooked bacon lardons. Sprinkle with bleu cheese.

5. Enjoy!


 

Deuteronomy 8:7-9

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey, a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 

Morning Coffee Thoughts

Mornings around here are quiet. It’s getting light later in the morning, so my drive to work is silent and drowsy.

When I unlock the market doors and let in the prep cooks waiting outside, I feel the tiniest sense of satisfaction. I always wanted to be a girl that worked in a marketplace, and here I am, propping open the doors with responsibility. The cooks greet me and offer a trade — breakfast for coffee. I always accept.

 
I have a purposeful routine to open. I turn on lights and select music, I heat equipment and run the grinder. The smell of the coffee grounds destined for drip is what kickstarts my brain activity. Like a true addict, my mind knows it’s about to get its fix of washed Ethiopian espresso, which motivates me to keep going.

 
This job is strange. Despite being in the heart and center of America’s coffee Mecca, people still are puzzled by specialty coffee.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” an exasperated prep cook says as I stare into space and inhale excessively into my espresso cup.

In nine million years would he smell this demitasse and think spicy melon? Peppercorn? Cantaloupe? Juicy? 

Probably not. Nor do I expect him to.

There are other factors involved in this job. My coworkers, for instance, who look at me slightly puzzled all the time. Sometimes they ask me questions about Jesus, and we spend our entire shift debating theology. Sometimes we talk about relationships, and I am met with statements like, “You wouldn’t live together before you get married? Sounds dangerous.”

If Portland had a thermometer for the post-Christian climate, it would sit in the center of my workplace and register the pulse of the city, the way it warms and cools to ideas that were once radical and now are the norm.

I love every single person I work with. I have struggled with and finally embraced the atmosphere in which I spend the majority of my time.

Before now, I never had to explain my faith, or explain what I got out of going to church. Portland has stared my lifestyle straight in the eye and asked boldly: why? More importantly: are you sure? 

The only thing in the city that has kept me grounded and guarded is Christ. And to proclaim that with boldness when someone asks me at 7:00 am before I’ve had my first espresso, “do I deserve to go to hell?” is a feat I didn’t know I could respond to.

Don’t mistake me. Portland is not a city of persecution for followers of Jesus. But it does lull them into conformity by soft discrimination and the pressure to just let go and live life based purely off of feelings and instant gratification. This is the city of everything. Amazon Now will deliver your orders to the door. Rare food markets carry obscure ingredients you can’t find anywhere else. Pockets of culture peer from every corner, subcultures unknown to the rest of the states thrive here.

It’s a beautiful city. I’m living in a charming house and working the finest buildout coffee has ever known. God has been good to me, he has shifted my perspective from one of overwhelmed panic (how do I survive here?) to confidence rooted solely in Him. Now I can thrive here, because he is fighting my battles and teaching me to love those that need Him. Even if they laugh at my old fashioned ideas or make my mornings a challenge.

As I sip (somewhat obnoxiously) my first pull of espresso for taste and quality, I get a caffeinated rush of gratitude. Garden City has not always felt like home, it has never carried the sense of being ‘my city.’ But, by the grace of God, it’s His. And He’s going to use me here.

Backyard to Table: A Cooking Reminder

Finding good food in Portland does not seem like a difficult task. Everywhere you turn offers a craft cocktail, a beer brewed up the street, fish fresh from the coast and mushrooms handpicked in the misty wildwood of the Oregon back country.

But after a while, the delicious food scene either numbs your palate to deliciously prepared, well-sourced delicacies or you start to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of restaurants to try.

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Don’t get me wrong– I adore the food scene in PDX. I’ll even give you a list of my handpicked favorites to try should you ever visit.



And believe me when I say the food scene out here is the best in the US. If you think you’ve had good wings, you absolutely haven’t until you’ve tried Whiskey Soda Lounge‘s fish sauce wings. Those would probably be my last meal should I ever leave this place.

Despite all of this goodness, you know what resonates the most with me these days?

The tiny garden in the backyard.

Portland can tell me all day long (and it does) that they ‘source locally’ and ‘pick from the garden’ and establish ‘farm to table’ connections. But despite their best efforts and their tremendous successes, there is nothing that can compare from a fresh red tomato plucked off the vine, still warm from the sun.

Their farm to table and my farm to table are tremendously different. Those were seeds we dug into the wet ground a few months back. (By ‘we,’ I will admit, my green-thumbed roommates did the heavy lifting since they don’t kill plants like I do.) Now they’re vegetables, big and ripe and bursting with wonder.

So, for the past week, I have made all meals at home. Despite one late-night run to the greasy spoon diner in Southeast after a ceiling-splitting worship jam from the talented Matthew Zigenis at Bridgetown Church, there has been no money spent at all on food this week.

I am lucky enough to know — and take advantage of– the wonderful folks at a local bakery who give me their day-old breads in exchange for coffee. I never have a shortage of thick, fresh, crusty loaves within reach. This is the springboard for every wonderful sandwich and toast imaginable.

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Pie, made with the fresh apples from the tree in the backyard. Also, arts and crafts day with the roommate. We are working on floral wreaths.

I am remembering with startling familiarity how wonderful it is to cook, elbow-deep in something crafty, tasty and new.

Plus, it’s cheaper. My wonderful fella and I are trying to hit up some overseas countries for some crazy Jesus-loving missions work in the next few months and are saving every penny possible to get there. Eating deliciously seems an easy way to do so– its hardly a sacrifice at all.

We’ve even gone so far as to build campfires and construct gourmet ramen noodles with one kettle and some random ingredients.

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Gourmet fire ramen. 

Here’s to the friendly reminder that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. Food doesn’t come from restaurants. Food doesn’t come from well-meaning companies that send gift boxes.

Food comes from the earth, and it’s delicious that way.

 

Soft Power City

 

It has been entirely too long since I’ve blogged. My computer broke down, I got busy, I switched jobs… lots of things have happened.

But there is no excuse not to write. At the end of the day, there are few things I love more than reflecting and typing (and sipping a craft coffee drink while I’m at it).

Where have I been? What have I been doing? Days here in Portland pass like a blur. I’m coming to terms with the city I live in, trying to understand it. Having moved around so much and experienced a lot of life before I was even 20, I figured moving to this hip, easygoing city would be a cakewalk.

It has been anything but. Portland, although weird and freeing and full of good restaurants, has been a monumental challenge. It has been a challenge with my faith, my family, my own ideals, my pocketbook… pretty much, it’s been a Challenge with a capitol C.

This is a city that screams, “BE WHOEVER YOU WANT! DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!” This is a city that praises individualism, a city that preaches tolerance for every race, sexual identity, religion, lifestyle, background — but only if you keep it to yourself.

The lifestyle here is far more indulgent than I ever imagined it would be. There is no shortage of distractions. I put off deadlines, emails, phone calls from home for the sake of eating somewhere new or grabbing a coffee. It’s such soft compromise, the way that it seductively calls, hang out a little longer, have another drink. 

I can feel it creeping into the way I handle customers in my workplace. I’ve had to build a mental wall between myself and the desire to roll my eyes and explain yet again that a macchiato is not like the Starbucks version of a caramel latte for heaven’s sake.

It’s as though I am an antacid tablet dropped into the fizzing center of a city designed to quietly dissolve my ideals and stir me into compromising.

But if I serve a God that is bigger than violence and hunger and famine and fear, he can equip me to handle soft power, too.

The biggest blessing by far has been the presence of the church. When I say ‘church’ I  don’t mean four walls and a preacher, although those exist. (More or less, anyway, my church takes place in a bar every Sunday morning and you should check it out if you live here, it’s rad. Click here. )

I mean the moving, living, life-giving community of those that serve Christ and are willing to battle compromise in this city. I have found people that love to serve the homeless in our city, people that staunchly oppose the ideals of Portland’s strip-club mentality without having to protest with pickets.

Christ followers here don’t run around lighting courthouses on fire or protesting the gay pride parade. They love and support those around us, but they stand steadfast in their ideals.

The other day, some of our closest friends here in the city met up in one of the many hip, white coffee shops downtown. We drank our craft brew out of handmade mugs and laughed a little, but we were there to pray — for each other, for our church, for the city. As we bowed our heads in this public place, I couldn’t help but glance out the window occasionally. Passersby were doing double takes, the baristas were watching us awkwardly behind their espresso machine.

Believers in the urban core of the city are not faced with persecution or threats. But we are pressured to compromise, to bow to Babylon of our day and not infringe on anything that makes anyone uncomfortable. I wanted, momentarily, to retreat and go back to drinking my coffee and laughing loudly to prove how normal I was.

In the softly dissolving, quietly-whispering city of indulgence and tolerance, we don’t have to fight or attack. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to fold.

And that, ladies and gents, is the most important thing I am learning since I moved to Portland.


If you live here! You should check out Reason Church and Bridgetown: A Jesus Church. Listen to Podcasts as you bike downtown or something. They’re awesome.