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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Book Review: Coffee Nerd – How To Have Your Coffee and Drink It, Too

 

Coffee Nerd: How To Have Your Coffee and Drink It Too

Ruth Brown, Adams Media 2015

Third wave coffee is sweeping the nation, cultivated by baristas in work-chic aprons with long beards and thick-rimmed glasses. If you didn’t care about single-origin espresso until now (and you want to know more) this book is for you!

Written in a witty and cheeky tone that both pays homage to coffee culture and mocks it, Ruth Brown covers everything from coffee history to drink prep in brief, informational blurbs. By no means is this in-depth coffee knowledge, but it is enough to turn a black-coffee regular into someone who knows their traditional macchiato from the Starbucks version.

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As a barista working amongst particularly witty, hip co-baristas I found the tone conversational, friendly and a little bit patronizing–just as though one of our well-educated staff were walking me through coffee culture. The phrases could have come straight out of our lead barista’s mouth.

There are enough useful facts in this book to get you through Third Wave Coffee Jeopardy and then some. After devouring this read (preferably over a cuppa joe–not Starbucks) you will be able to ask for a v60 without fear, possibly even voicing your opinion over whether or not you’d prefer Konga Yirgacheffe to an El Salvador.

For 200 pages of lighthearted education, what more do you need?

City Defenders

I start my days with tiny sips of seltzer and espresso.

Usually I feel half-dead, having just rolled out of bed and into the nearest clothes possible. It is a lucky coincidence that all of my clothes have been reduced to classic slouchy peices inspired by the ever-so-hip people around me, meaning regardless of what I stumble into it probably matches. If not, since when can anyone tell whether or not hipsters intend to dress that way anyway?

I usually end up at work somehow, often forgetting how I got there or where I parked. I turn on the lights in the coffee shop and plug in some slow indie jams, just melodic enough to wake me up.

Fresh bagels are delivered as I dial in the day’s ‘spro. I eat one to fill my stomach, a barrier against all the caffeine I’ve yet to drink during my shift. I brew drip batches and check our cold brew on tap. My shift partner stumbles in and manages to ask, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”

“Coffee,” I mumble in reply, to which he nods in faint comprehension.

“I think I’ve heard that word before.”

It’s funny, really. We’re baristas. We pour hot water over grounds to make brown water. Sometimes we add milk.

That’s it, in essence. I pour hot water over stuff. People drink it. The end.

And yet…

We see ourselves as the over caffeinated unsung heroes that awaken the city. Stewards of community, stoking the fires of book clubs, college students, blossoming romantic coffee dates and headphoned hipsters with our steaming mugs of direct trade single origin brews. Walking into the shop may as well mean walking into my apartment. We are hosts, we are dealers (which I am sure makes my parents proud). We take care of all those weary souls that enter our squeaking doors.


Regulars will tell us about their days. Visitors will ask if we are on social media. (Which we aren’t. It doesn’t get more grassroots than that. Talk about hipster.) First timers will gush over our lead barista’s competition-worthy latte art.

We have a regular who is in his 90s. We comp his drink and pastry every day. He likes to tell us about the war and bring us peaches from the farmers market. He hobbles in on walkers so slowly but determinedly that we are all inspired to be like him someday, and we have his drink ready before he’s even in the door. Iced mocha with cinnamon.


We dose with precision and brew as though each drink were for royalty. We are guilty of occasionally babbling, “I’m personally fond of the Hama from Olympia Coffee Roasters out of Washington; it’s an Ethiopian heirloom varietal that just takes like insane jasmine and orange zest. Definitely one of our best… not explicitly dark roast, but full flavored and delicious. The Aeropress is it’s best iteration, but the v60 is also really killer.”

To which the customer sometimes looks at us blankly and says, “Um. Sure.” All the while wondering, what is an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia and what does jasmine taste like? 

It might just be coffee. At the end of the day, that’s all it is.

But to my group of baristas, coffee is life. It runs through our veins. We hardly feel the effects of espresso anymore, we are immune. We can taste crayon wax, Popsicles, swamps, rose water and singed turbinado wombat in Guatemalan single origins. We can patiently brew twelve hour coffee and pull 25 second shots.


We are overcaffeinated, unrecognized defenders of conciousness, battling fatigue with our portafilters and steam wands. And I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Appreciation from a Barista Grommet

I am a barista grommet.

By that I mean I am the setup, cleanup, smile-and-nod apprentice to our talented baristas at the local shop. The term ‘barista’ here refers to the dedicated coffee geek, the borderline-obsessed manic coffee drinkers and scientists that live off of the brew. You don’t just drink coffee here… You literally breathe it, eat it and sleep on it. It’s not uncommon to see one of our crew burying their faces deep into a bag, inhaling as though they can’t get enough oxygen, emerging with wide smiles and exclamations of, “Black pepper….and QUESO!”
Nor is it an unusual sight to see furrowed brows, deeply etched lines emerging from worried foreheads and hear long, drawn-out groans of disappointment as latte art goes astray.

“It was that pour-through,” the barista will say dejectedly, washing impeccably steamed milk and high quality ‘spro down the drain in the search of perfection.
How many people, I wonder frequently, know nothing about coffee…and drink it every day of their lives? The idea seems unfathomable, although it can be likened to the amount of people (like myself) who drive around in automobiles and are clueless as to how they run.
It feels like it should be ingrained in our nature to care about something that holds society together. How many times in my life have I met with a friend over coffee? How many mornings have been vastly improved by a sip of joe? How many meaningful moments have I spent with a warm mug in my hand, oblivious to the tiny link that helps humanity cultivate community?
It is with that in mind that I watch people day in and day out put lids over perfect rosettas, wondering if they took that split second to appreciate the design, the definition of microfoam against crema.

I am happy to play supporting cast to my barista pros, grinning more than either the barista or customer as one will say to the other, “This is just too lovely to drink!”
It’s okay if a customer gives it a passing nod. It’s okay if the barista responds with a frustrated, “Thats awful, I could have done better.” Even if it drives me crazy.

The important thing to know is this: baristas everywhere, I have enough appreciation to span the world. I admire your stretched milk talents from afar and I promise I would not put a lid on any latte you serve me. I may be just a barista grommet, cleaning spills and scrubbing dishes clean… But I am watching with mad appreciation from the register, and you can guarantee I’ll be grinning.