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.)
At Abuela’s Kitchen, a newly opened Cuban restaurant on Lincoln Road — Miami’s crowded and eclectic outdoor shopping mall — the women at the counter greet sólo en español. Since I don’t know much Spanish, I stick to what I do know: coffee. “Cortadito, please,” I ordered on a breezy Friday morning. “Non!” the robust waitress countered, shaking her head. “Too small. You want a cafe con leche — very strong and good.” It was early, and Cubans, like Italians, drink their heavy milk drinks in the early hours of the day. I nodded my head; really, I’d drink whatever she told me to — I didn’t want any trouble.
Cubans are one of the many cultures that make up the vibrant and multifaceted community of Miami, and the influence of their culture is unmistakable. Walking around Miami Beach, it can often feel like one is wandering through foreign streets; as one Colombian immigrant told me, “everyone in Miami is from somewhere else.” While I’m sure Miami natives exist, the city’s strong Latin presence is evident in Miami’s coffee scene. In nearly every cafe, one will see a café cubano on the menu.
A café cubano is a shot of espresso, often made with Bustelo beans, pulled with sugar, or sometimes, poured over sugar. The sugar caramelizes and turns into a kind of syrup, creating the notable sweetness Cuban coffee is adored for. Bustelo beans are darkly roasted (I know, I know, wrong on so many levels), so the sugar is never overpowering because the undercurrent of the coffee is so strong.
A café con leche is one part café cubano, two parts steamed milk. Often, condensed milk is used, creating an extra sweet treat.
Finally, a cortadito is the perfect blend of the two. It is a Cuban version of the macchiato: a potent shot of Bustelo, laced with sugar, cut with a drop of steamed milk.
Cuban coffee is engrained in Miami culture. Gazing at the crowd huddled around the the outdoor window at Abuela’s, one notices tourists, locals, Latinos, Haitians, and Europeans alike: a snapshot of Miami, all drinking a café cubano.
Saint Simons, Georgia walks a contrariant line. Part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, it is a sleepy island town anchored by wild, unkempt beach. It is a truly traditional, southern, “bless your heart” and “eat those grits” kind of place, yet also serves as a quirky enclave of artists, writers, and forward thinkers. In the shopping center of Redfern Village alone, one can wander through art galleries, interesting jewelry shops (including Cumberland Island’s Gogo) a Tibi outlet (she grew up here, after all) and — surprisingly enough! — a truly special coffee shop tucked inside, too.
Wake Up Coffee opened three years ago by island native Bo Mann. Upon graduating from the University of Georgia in 2006, Bo became restless with his new nine-to-five job; he decided he needed to set out and explore the world. “For so many years I had studied and talked about the injustice in the world, but I’d never really seen it with my own eyes,” he told me via email. “I constantly challenged others to do something to help but I had never fully done anything myself.”
And see the world he did. Bo spent the next two years traveling through Africa, Eastern Europe, and Haiti. He discovered beautiful cultures and met extraordinary people, leaving him forever changed. Yet he also witnessed the overwhelming poverty that plagues much of our planet. “During my time overseas, one recurring thought ran through my head,” he says. “Now that I know, I must do something.” Wake Up Coffee was born out of this call for action. Inspired by the rich tea and coffee culture he experienced in North Africa, Bo wanted to create a cafe where the local community could gather, a springboard for discussion and education about the global injustices of the world.
Now run by he and his wife, Aletha, Wake Up Coffee serves regionally roasted beans, including Bartdorf and Bronson of Atlanta, and Cafe Campesino of Americus, Ga. All coffee is fair trade certified as well, a pillar of the cafe’s ethos; the fair trade certification “ensures our customers that our products are produced ethically and our artisans are paid a fair wage for their work,” he says. This eliminates the uncertainties surrounding coffee’s production, including child labor and slavery. And with the frustration that often arises from a lack of transparency plaguing the system, the duo may soon be stepping into the role of roaster. Their ambitions are high, as they hope to personally and directly import every product they sell — coffee included — by the end of 2015.
The cafe serves as a unique retail space as well, selling global good like handmade baskets from Uganda and metalwork by artisans from Turkey. Realizing that true change comes from providing opportunities for workers to develop sustainable businesses, Wake Up provides artisans — most of them women living in a country with little to no rights — a chance to sell their goods at more than fair prices. “We believe that development is far more important than aid, and is the longterm way to see a real change in global poverty,” Bo says. By selling things that are both beautiful and practical, they are giving the Saint Simons community a hand in alleviating global poverty. “Everyone wears earrings, or necklaces or carries a wallet or purse,” he says. “Everyone drinks coffee. Buy one from us instead of a big box store and [you are] helping break years and years of poverty.”
Bo and Aletha are inspired by their faith and Christian doctrine. And though they don’t align the cafe professionally with any particular faith, their personal faith is the driving force in seeking to create good in the world. “We’ve never wanted to be a faith affiliated shop but at the same time, we want our principles and beliefs to be reflected in everything we do.”
Creating a specialty coffee culture in this tiny island community, Bo and Aletha have inspired a town to think big, proving that acting locally can lead to sweeping changes globally. “At the end of the day we want people to come into the shop to become educated on [what’s] happening in the world and to do something about it, Bo says.” “Coffee is just the medium by which we do that.”
Most importantly, he tells me, “we want people to ‘Wake Up.'”
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 — like a sunny 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.”
The Short North neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, once home to abandoned factories, has become a trendy arched district of boutiques and restaurants, particularly blossoming in the past decade. Impero is a three year old cafe and roastery located on the main thoroughfare of North High Street.
And though their pour-overs and coldbrews are delicious, one particular drink stands out: the espresso and cream-laced John Wayne.
Indicative of it’s namesake, this delicately crafted drink is taken all at once, in one shot. The contrast of hot and cold, sweet and strong, coupled with a dose of caffeine, makes it go down smooth. Yet once imbibed, it’ll kick you from behind, in a good way.
Poured slowly and deliberately, the John Wayne is comprised of one’s choice of flavored syrup, a layer of half and half, and topped with freshly pulled espresso — all suspended above each other like oil and water. Toss it back, and off to the races one goes.
In the ever-rushed, coffee-to-go culture of New York City, specialty coffee shops have managed to convince city dwellers that macchiatos taste better from ceramic cups, and a one minute pause can make a world of difference in one’s day.
Blue Bottle Coffee is pushing the city a moment further with their intimate siphon bar on the second floor of the recently opened Chelsea location.
Unlike the Williamsburg cafe, located in an airy, rustic garage, the Chelsea location is sleek and tiny, neighbor to posh Milk Studios, and a stone’s throw from the West Side Highway along the Hudson River. The baristas are clothed in matching chambray shirts and leather chuck tailors. Somehow, it just seems more Manhattan.
One hazy summer morning I voyaged through the West Village’s cobblestone streets up to the Chelsea cafe. Upstairs, I met barista Mac Malikowski, who was beginning to dial in the coffee for the day. The siphon bar was designed as “an homage to the intimate coffee bars of Tokyo,” the roaster’s website reads, and intimate it is. Six seats to one barista promotes conversation, with a ceremonial preparation and serving aesthetic that borders on beautiful.
Created in 19th century Germany, the siphon brews via vacuum pressure (for brewing science, read about my siphon experience in Portugal, here.) It has a relatively short brewing time of one minute. Malikowski described the siphon as a sort of hybrid of many different brewing technniques: “it’s a full immersion process, without sediment, with a cotton filter and vacuum suction. And heat is being applied the entire process;” a unique experience unlike any other brewing process.
It’s “the best of that bean, the superlative,” he continued, “don’t expect to overpower the palate.” Culturally, third-wavers have been interested in high dosing for a rich, full bodied cup. The siphon, as Malikoswki explained, allows one to step back, to enjoy a delicate, clean, tea-like brew.
Mac began to brew a washed Ethiopian Amaro Gayo on the siphon; it tasted of berries and bourbon, with a dark chocolate finish. A cup of cascara tea — tea made from the discarded skin of the coffee cherry — was served to cleanse the palate, alongside a bourbon infused marshmallow. Second, he brewed a Rwandan, the siphon bringing out flavors of hibiscus tea.
While at the bar, one may also order a cup from the Nel, which brews via flannel filter; this brewing method extracts a completely different flavor profile from the bean, a much denser cup. Mac expressed his love of cold-brew coffee, and his propensity to drink it year round; yet for those super cold days where one can’t bear anything iced, he prepared a “warm-brew” of a Mixed Natural Brazilian. The recipe, from Blue Bottle founder James Freeman, takes elements of cold brew — a higher concentrate of coffee, a longer brewing time, and cooler water temperatures — to mimic the syrupy, rich flavor of the iced version.
And though most may still find it hard to sit long enough to enjoy it, the siphon bar at Blue Bottle is truly a coffee experience. As Rachel Bleiweiss-Sande, manager of the Chelsea cafe hopes, “everyone thinks of coffee as cluttered cafes. We want to create an aura, a respectful way of drinking coffee.”
And as Bleiweiss-Sande wondered aloud, “people are willing to slow down for lunch, why not for coffee?” I peered at the cluster of people packing into Chelsea Market, and couldn’t agree more.
Cumberland Island, Georgia may be the most magical place on earth. Only accessible by boat from Amelia Island, Florida, the island is 19,000 acres of beach and maritime forest. Dirt “roads” lead one to mansions built by prominent American families, one burnt to the ground in the ’60s remains as “ruins.” One such mansion is now the Greyfield Inn, built by Thomas Carnegie for his daughter, Margaret. The original furniture still furnishes the house today, the library is full of old books that they read. Outside the window, feral horses graze the grounds, and further in the forest alligators roam the marshes. The bike ride to the beach is like a tunnel through tangled oak trees and spanish moss; the beach remains completely undeveloped — not one home, hotel, and sometimes, no other person, obscures the natural coastline.
The “main” road through the island is a dirt path which has survived from the Revolutionary War. I rode along this relic of a road in the back of a pick-up truck, weaving through the forest at 60 mph. Those of us in the back had to duck (often unsuccessfully) from large tree branches that could take off our heads.
Freed African slaves set up a settlement in the middle of the forest, and the first African Baptist Church, built in 1893, still stands today. To walk inside is both spiritual and surreal, an old Bible was turned to the book Jeremiah, the original floors creaking under each step. It’s the famous sight where John F. Kennedy Jr. married his beautiful blonde bride, Carolyn Bessette.
It’s a place of no television sets, no cell phone service, and hardly a car. It’s a place of spiritual growth and relaxation, a place I look forward to returning often.