Coffee co-op and roaster Equal Exchange has embarked on a journey to source coffee from deep within the world’s protected biospheres. Recently, a group of three Equal Exchange worker-owners traveled to Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene Biosphere, and explored farms that are part of the CECOVASA co-op. Their journey was captured on film, a glimpse into what it’s like to grow and pick coffee in these rugged and untouched regions.
It’s a beautiful and exciting journey, providing these farmer’s a fair opportunity to share their beans with the rest of the world. Enjoy the two-part documentary below. (To read more about their journey, click here.)
As I settled into the cold iron seat resting lopsided on the uneven sidewalk, I sighed heavily — a release of the stresses from travel mixed with the exhilaration of my first morning in Paris. I love mornings everywhere, in any city. There’s always a quiet buzz, a certain energy still anchored by sleepiness. It’s a transition period; we are waking from our slumber, adjusting to the bright light of the sun, breathing in air consciously and deliberately. I hadn’t spoken French in a few years, and anxiety crept in as the waitress approached my tiny bistro table. ”Que préférez-vous, mademoiselle??” she asked. ”Un cafe crème, s’il vous-plaît,” I replied, hoping my American accent wasn’t obvious.
The sidewalk café in Paris is a universal meeting place. Found on nearly every street corner, sometimes three or four in a row are adjoined, all equally boisterous, full of tourists and locals. The only criteria, it seems, is that there’s a table available. People are seldom alone (though there are few single patrons, like me), and the entire experience is intimate. The tables are mere inches apart from each other, the groups sit closely, leaning in, lost in conversation.
The café is literally part of the sidewalk, one feels connected to the rhythm of the city. Tables litter the path of pedestrians: people walking to and from somewhere, entering and exiting the metro, in and out of the cafe. Though transient — new patrons fill freshly opened tables immediately — the cafe is a place where one may stay for an hour, longer. There is no rush, no limit to the conversation, no haste in time spent with those accompanying you.
As a writer who seeks good coffee for a living, and relishes her morning coffee the most, I found this cafe experience to be a conundrum. The time spent was rich and rewarding, yet the coffee, far from. I expected this, as I’ve been to Paris before. And I’ve talked to many Parisians who acknowledge this, too. The coffee in Paris simply isn’t very good. Most brew low-grade beans, usually ground days, perhaps weeks before, prepared in automatic machines.
Recently, a handful of specialty coffee shops have popped up in Paris. Skilled baristas, quality roasted coffee, and beautifully designed spaces are growing, connecting those who love coffee in one of the most culinary cities in the world. Yet as soon as my plane lands in Paris, all I can think of is sitting at a sidewalk café, a notebook in one hand, and a cup of bad coffee in the other.
Paris is where many of my favorite writers drew inspiration before me, and Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Flanner all wrote at cafés still standing today (perhaps nursing a cafe crème, I imagine). Rarely, one’s environment may outweigh good coffee; in this case, it’s the people that fill those iron seats, past and present, who truly have my attention.
Nearly every street corner of Paris is occupied by a typically vibrant sidewalk cafe, packed with Parisians sipping cafe crèmes and espresso; the image is chic, beautiful, and simply, Parisian. Yet the coffee contained in the delicate china cups patrons sip from is an entirely different story; the coffee is, frankly, bad (Oliver Strand from the New York times wrote about coffee in Paris “sucking” a few years ago, which set off a firestorm of sorts). Even my fifteen-year-old Starbucks-drinking self, nearly eleven years ago, was not impressed by the coffee I was imbibing (though still consumed in copious amounts).
Parisians are often the first to admit, their beans are generally robusta, pre-ground and presented as an unidentified blend. Yet a new wave of specialty coffee is slowly taking hold in Paris, with an awareness of sourcing, roasting, and preparation. Of this handful of cafes, a favorite is Télescope Café.
Located on a Rue Villedon, a tiny side street near Le Palais Royal, owners Nicolas Clerc and David Flynn came together in hopes of revolutionizing the Paris coffee scene. Clerc, a photographer, fell into the coffee business when asked to photograph for an article about coffee in Paris. “At the time I didn’t know there was any interest in coffee,” Clerc explained. “When I understood what it was about, and how amazing it could taste, it quickly became an addiction, and a passion.” Clerc trained at the highly respected (and oldest of Parisian specialty coffee establishments) Caféotheque. While there, he met Flynn, who has honed his skills in the states, at coffeehouse standouts like Peregrine and Murky Coffee in DC.
“Paris was drastically missing a coffee shop the way we intended it,” and their intention is arguably modern, with a rustic flair. The space is tiny, minimalist, white and airy. The palate of sky blue and white creates an ethereal, peaceful energy; a perfect Sunday afternoon. The menu is succinct, offering a few baked goods and afternoon snacks, as the focus is undoubtedly on the coffee.
Télescope roasts their own beans as well, and the barista prepared a cafe filtre, via the Kalita Wave (a kind of pour over with a flat bottom) of my current favorite, a Kenyan Nyeri. It was perfectly roasted: fruity, deep, and sweet.
As for the future of coffee in Paris, Clerc thinks something is percolating. “We have the feeling that something is happening, by doing things the way we want,” he says. “People are following up, you know, like when Forest Gump started running.”
My lovely friend Daniella took me along to her family’s native country, to lay in the sun and visit a coffee plantation. We hiked up a volcano and ate ceviche. The most memorable moment was watching a Costa Rican sunset, the sky was a vibrant spectrum of colors and the waves peacefully rolled to the shore. It was a serene moment I go back to often, if only in my mind.
(I made a video of my experience at the coffee plantation, and of that incredible sunset.)
Rome, Italy is like a second home to me. The raw nature of the city, the energy it emits, there is a certain freedom to Romans — they live pure, connected to their emotions and fully present to each day. They feast in a similar way, connected to the food, the ingredients, the tastes and to those whom with they are sharing the meal. Dining lasts for hours, conversing, laughing, drinking and breaking bread.
When I visit Rome, dining is at the center of my travels as well, and here is a list of my favorite places I found and returned to this year.
FOR PANINI: Forno, Campo dei Fiori.
These panini are heavenly — the bread is thin and salted, made daily, and the meats are perfectly cured. The panini are simple, usually made of only a few ingredients. My favorite: Bresaola — salted beef cured for months — with fresh arugula and parmigiano cheese. It is mere perfection, the bread chewy and salty, the bitterness of the arugula balanced by the rich cheese. A Roman tradition, Forno has been at the corner of Campo dei Fiori for over thirty years, a true testament to the fact that one doesn’t need all the fixings to create something delicious — just fresh, tasty ingredients.
FOR CAPPUCCINO: Il Caffe Sant’Eustachio, Piazza Sant’Eustachio.
There is nothing like sitting at a cafe table outside Caffe Sant’Eustachio, with a mix of tourists and locals, drinking espresso and cappuccinos, watching as Italians on vespas, bikes, and stilettos saunter by. Sant’Eustachio has been roasting coffee for nearly 74 years. Their gran caffe, a thick double espresso served with an insane crema, is famous — a secret way of pulling the shots, their baristas will not divulge this method to anyone. Their cappuccino is poured in such a special way that the velvety, creamy foam perfectly combines with the espresso right on top — espresso cream, in a way.
FOR VINO: Vino Olio, Via dei Banchi Vecchi.
This charming wine bar is cozy and friendly, packed each night with lots of locals enticed by vintage wines and amazing cheese selections. Sometimes, the fun can spill out onto the cobble stone street, patrons with wine glasses in hand, lounging on parked vespas. If you catch the aperatif crowd around five, it is a bit quieter, providing an intimate, relaxed candlelit environment. It’s a perfect place to allow the sommelier to introduce you to the wonderful wines of Italy.
FOR SWEETS: Il Fornaio, Via dei Baullari (off of Campo dei Fiori).
Il Fornaio is what I imagine the land of sweets from the Nutcracker to be like. The small, take-away shop is full of homemade cookies, cakes, tarts, cornetti, bread, candy, and anything else you can imagine — including some savory pizzas. I love their Neapolitan cake, and the crostatine filled with fruits.
BEST HOMEMADE PASTA: Lucifero, Via dei Cappellari.
Walking into Lucifero is like visiting a friend’s home for dinner. Lelo, the robust owner, will greet you at the door, learn your name, and converse with you for hours as you enjoy his food. There are two pasta specials each day, made fresh that morning, and the house antipasti of marinated vegetables, meats and cheeses is one of my favorite dishes in this world. It’s a relaxed, unpretentious environment with checkered tablecloths and old wooden beams, and it’s always delicious. Lelo and his family will make you feel like one of their own, and you will leave full, drunk, and happy.
FOR FINE DINING: Pierluigi, Piazza dé Ricci
Need I say more? It’s gorgeous, the staff is charming and sweet, and it somehow remains upscale without pretense. Some of the freshest seafood in town, one can peruse the chilled fish and choose the one that looks best — they’ll even show you the squirming lobster table side before preparing your dish. End the meal with pastiera, a traditional Neapolitan cake made with ricotta, orange flower water, and candied fruit; It’s truly one of the most beautiful dining experiences one can have in Rome.
FOR SFOGLIATELLE: Pasticceria Bernasconi, Piazza B. Cairoli.
One might fail to notice this ancient pasticceria, as I somehow did on my many walks past the bakery and cafe. They are best known for their sfogliatelle, pastriesmadeofflaky, shell-shaped crust, filled with orange-flavored ricotta; a laborious feat, sfogliatelle require skilled hands shaping the dough to resemble a fan. Bernasconi (rhymes with the not-so-liked former president, Berlusconi) also makes homemade cakes and torrone, a fluffy candy of nougat and pistachios. Good luck snagging the single table outside; otherwise, it’s standing room only.