Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Roasterie Newsletter - Fall 2009

Dear Roasterie Friends and Family,

Hi everyone! I hope your summer was great and your fall even better. In my last letter (August), I shared that it was by far the best summer of our lives and it's migrated right to the fall, too. We were just getting ready to go visit Carla's family in Lebanon and we really had the time of our lives.

We arrived in Beirut and went straight up to the mountains, which has weather much like the Rockies in Colorado during the summer. We spent nearly every day just playing with Terry and Sophia, reading, drinking coffee, and visiting friends and family. Every other day Terry and I went on a walk around the mountain that was nearly four miles long...and he made it on his own nearly every time! He is so tough...and so adventurous and naturally curious that we're just inseparable. And Sophie is already turning out to be the same way (she's 15 months old).

Terry is a nut for the garden so he and grandpa worked there each day. It was beautiful being

with family and being able to wind down. Our dear friends, Anthony and Annette, visited several times and we went down to Beirut for lunches and dinners with them as well. Back in 2000, they were on a European coffeehouse tour with me and later introduced me to their friend, Carla...who became my wifeJ. Not that long ago we were all single and now, in what seems the blink of an eye, we have 9 children between us...5 of them @ four years old! It is surreal...we used to have intimate dinners they are like a school lunch room, and we love every second of it

Normy joined us near the end of our trip to do some training with Anthony's roasting staffand it was a blast to show him around Lebanon. We sat on the balcony of the 100+ year old house where you can see the sea shore in Beirut. We studied the bridge nearby on the road to Damascus. We talked about it and agreed that it was like a metaphor for how complex the world has become. During the war a couple of summers ago, the Israeli's bombed it to stop the Syrian's from shipping arms in to support Hezbollah, who had attacked Israel from Southern Lebanon. It was built with U.S. dollars by an Italian company; it is now being rebuilt with US dollars by local companies. And all the Lebanese wanted (the majority of them) was to live in peace and have their normal lives. But they are caught in the crossfire in a volatile area of the world.

In addition to a couple of dozen past issues of The New Yorker, I read the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Tribes, by Seth Godin. I started The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley, a book about Teddy Roosevelt, and have to admit that I am still working on it. It is a great read, but a hefty one. I'd recommend all three of them; the first two can be read in a weekend or two quite easily.

The trip is right around 27 hours or so and both kids did so well. We had many passengers and flight attendants compliment us on how well behaved they were and how well that they travel. Carla and I laughed because the first couple of times folks had approached us, we were sure that it was to complain about them. But they already have 11 international trips between them and it's something that they view as normal...but we still feel blessed. They both continue with their Arabic and English and are both outgoing and love life.

Major Happenings
We returned to a whirlwind of activity. The expansion of The Roasterie Café was nearly complete and the remodel inside had begun. It is really beautiful and if you haven't been by, we sure hope you'll come check it out soon. The biggest complaint since we've opened is "there are not enough places to sit down". We should gain at least 30-35 seats and the layout is much, much more efficient. Paul Dorrell of Leopold Gallery has done a tremendous job with original art for the Café and also hooked us up with Matt Kirby, an accomplished sculptor from Lawrence, who built a custom, coffee cup bike rack out of stainless steel. It is beautiful...true art and has been filled up since it was installed. We'll nearly triple the amount of space for art inside when we're finished.

We are also in the finishing touches of a new website. It's more complex...and more expensiveL than the previous three sites put together but I guess that's a reflection of the times and our collective expectations. We tried to make it as easy and informative as possible and the early feedback has been really positive and exciting. We hope you'll check it out and let us know if you have any feedback for us. We are still tweaking it and will continue to improve it on a daily basis. Check out our specials and I won't list them here.

We hooked up with the Airline History Museum (near and dear to Normy's and my heart) and were able to take several hundred photos of the DC3 airplane. We also went out to the country and shot photos of a beautiful Airstream and you'll be seeing a lot of both of these icons very soonJ, with our new designs.

Green Machine
Last week we were talking about carbon footprints, recycling and getting the word out that we need help with a couple of issues. For example, we've been told several times that we cannot recycle our paper cups at the Café because they have coffee residue. This seems bogus and lame...but the fact is, we haven't been able to recycle them. We also generate a lot of chaff from our roasters that is great for compost. We have some people taking some for their garden and I take the rest to our little farm, but we could give a lot more away to gardeners. It is very light, mixes easily, and smells great! We've added information to our new website about what we've done, are in the process of doing, and what we're still working on. We sure invite your suggestions and assistance.

I recounted in this conversation about how we recycled everything...everything while growing up. We used brown grocery sacks for book covers; we lined our wastepaper baskets with newspapers. We had glass bottles of milk delivered to our house for years...then we'd take either the wagon or toboggan to the store when the home delivery ended (11 gallons a week). When friends would mention a dishwasher to my mom, she'd say "Why do I need one, I have ten of them!" We did dishes by hand our entire childhoods. Standing in front of the refrigerator for too long with the door open was a surefire way to get cracked upside the head! And I honestly don't remember ever running out of hot water, even with ten kids and a 40 gallon water heater. We took "Navy" showers, as my mom called them. None of it seemed or felt like duress; and it still doesn't today.

Normy and I were raised in much the same way back in Iowa and we're going back to many of those ways; Normy would argue that I never changed...that I'm as frugal as I was then. But it feels good...and it's good for our children's world...and its good business.

A couple of weeks ago I heard Fr. Curran, the President of Park University, speak on campus. He spoke about the Jesuit motto "Men and women for and with others" and we discussed the Jesuit traditions. No matter what faith one is, how could you not be ‘for' that? This really struck me that day, this message if you will, with its honest beauty and simplicity. Fr. Curran is a wonderful speaker and beyond engaging and speaks with such clarity. The older I get the more spiritual I feel and the less "religious". And the more I travel, the more complexity I see, the more I see the need for "Men and women for others".

He spoke about discernment and the absence of judgment and how we can each do our part to change the world. This validated the work that we are doing in the communities that we share, both here and at origin. There are a great many people, through no fault of their own, who need assistance. Our model is based on the idea of helping people through teaching them ‘how to fish', vs. ‘giving them food'. We are very keen on this.

Finally, another point that Father made with reference to university improvements was the"tension between the already and the not-yet". This also resonated with me and made me think of one of my favorite books of all time, Good to Great. We are in this tension that Fr. Spoke of...a very healthy tension. It's all about continuous improvement and focusing on what you do best. We have grown a lot over the years and I felt our culture changing over the last few years; and not necessarily for the better. So we set about getting back to our roots, focusing on what is important, and being the best in the world at it. We achieved ISO 9001 certification, formed teams, flattened the already pretty flat company, and reaffirmed our mission:

To find the best coffee that we can find on the planet.

To roast it the best way known to mankind.

To deliver it to the customers as fast as is humanly possible.

This is where this "bus" is headed; and that tension that Fr. spoke of is helping us get our bus in order with respect to the right folks on it and the right folks in the right seats.

On October 10th, Terry's 4 yr. birthday, Paul Massard, our new Coffee Hunter and I, took off for a drive to Panama. Paul has been with us for about six months and is the godson of one of my best friends. He interned with coffee companies for two summers while getting his masters in finance and fell in love with coffee. Once Salim introduced him to us, we all fell in love with him. We brought him to town and basically did a "Hardball" series of tests and interviews with him. Normy gave him a barrage of sensory evaluation tests and Nathan sent him through a litany of financial, mathematical, operational and other quizzes and tests. We had hours of discussions about culture, core values, performance, etc. and did our best to either attract him or scare him off; and we attracted him.

Paul is working with Normy in our green coffee department and will spend a great deal of his time at origin. For many years I did about 12 trips a year and now do around 6; Paul will do those and many more. In thinking about his training, I really wanted to do an ‘immersion' type of training where he would see the entire coffee ‘chain' in a short amount of time. So, I reprised the trip I did 7 years ago but this time with Paul in a Toyota Tundra, nicknamed The White Knight by Paul (you can read his blogs and see lots of photos on our website

This time, however, we only had 11 days to cover the 4,000+ miles and what would be 14 border crossings covering 8 countries. Several university board meetings bookended the front end and the need to witness Notre Dame spank Boston College in South Bend provided the other bookend. So, Paul did all the planning on this end and we got our ducks in line.

Our dear friend and coffee miller/grower/producer/partner Grace Mena from Costa Rica decided to join us and was instrumental in planning the trip. She met us in Vera Cruz, Mexico and we visited farms, mills, coffee research facilities, etc. along the way. Each day was early and long, but simply a once in a lifetime experience. The look on people's faces when we drove up was priceless; for some it was the second time I car from the US, and now they totally think I'm nuts. But it was so bountiful in terms of what we learned; it far and away exceeded our expectations. We shared key learnings with farmers along the way; I'd visited farms in several countries on a single trip many times before. But never this many farms in 7 different countries in such a compact amount of time. It was just such a great learning experience for Paul...for all of us; and a double blessing to be able to share so much diverse acquired know-how along the way with all of the farmers.

Seven years ago we were in the middle of a severe coffee crisis with prices at all time lows. Many farmers were simply walking off of their farms and abandoning them. The coffee market was at $.47/lb. and it cost nearly double that to break even; so why even bother picking it? Every pound picked could result in another significant loss; it was depressing.

While the situation is much better today, it's still just an incredibly hard life in that it takes such an immense amount of work, just to break even. The farmers selling to specialty roasters like ours are doing much better but still, all together, Specialty Coffee only represents about 16-17% of the market. The remaining 83% of the coffee is low-priced commercial coffee, which at best supports subsistence living, at best. I don't have time in this letter to go into all the detail but I will in an upcoming letter and we'll be posting lots of additional information on our website, complete with ways in which folks can help out, if they choose to.

Arriving in Costa Rica was like coming home! The scenery, scents, countryside all made me anxious to get to my host families house. When I left in 1979, my host mother gave me a key to the house (very, very prized possession in those days) and told me to "just come back; don't call, just come back and let yourself in". I returned dozens of times but never unannounced. This time, I thought I would. So, we dropped Grace off (more like dumpedJ) and Paul and I drove up to the house, got out and knocked. It was about 10:30 P.M. and all the lights came on...then there was pandemonium! It was absolutely joyous! The surprise of all surprises. We visited, ate and had lots of fun and decided that my 11 year old niece would finish the last leg with us, to Panama and back. So, at 5:00 A.M. the next morning we were back up and off to San Jose to get Grace. We visited farms and mills along the way and made it to Boquete, in Panama, that evening. Our dear friend and coffee grower, Norberto Suarez, met us and planned the next day's visits. Norberto has been our coffee partner for several years and his family has been growers for three generations. Like Grace, he is passionate, determined, all about total quality and continuous improvement...and a ton of fun to be with. It was sad to say goodbye.

We visited more farms in the Volcan area of Panama and then again in Costa Rica on the way back to my host family. We arrived around 9:00 P.M. and were up again by 6:00 for the trip back to KC. One of Grace's staff met us at the airport and two hours later the "white knight" was in a container heading back to KC.

The Holy Grail
Two days later we were off to Chicago for the Notre Dame game. Paul, Nathan and I took Terry and had a great weekend. Terry's cheering "GO IRISH" lit up our section, hotel, shuttle bus and plane for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully we won and Terry let the world know about itJ.

End this novel!
There are dozens of other exciting things that we're doing, promotions and new staff that I want to tell you about. But, I'm already over my allotted space so I'll cover this in my next letter. We're doing a much better job now in marketing and Sara and Zach are doing a great job of posting what we're up to on our website. You can follow our twitters and blogs as well. The Airstream is making lots of fun visits...and it could come to your office with coffee for up to 1,000 of your friends if you like? Check out the website and follow along.

Until then, thank you big time for your confidence and support. We never take it for granted and always want to have a ‘game day tension' with respect to serving you and being attentive. We all want to hear from you and especially if you have any suggestions or ideas on how we can improve what we do or better serve our communities. Godspeed.


Danny O'Neill
Bean Baron

P.S. Join us for a cupping and opportunity to build your own personal blend this Sunday at Blue Stem. We have room for only 5 more :(!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 5

Day 12
We woke up this morning and for some reason Danny’s phone said that it was 6:45 and we were supposed to meet grace at Deli Café for a 7am meeting. We rushed out of the room to see Mami a little puzzled. When Danny asked her why she hadn’t woken us up at 6:00 as she was supposed to, she looked at her watch and said, “Well, it’s only 5:45. I still have some time.” We were relieved that we were not late and sat down to enjoy a cup of our Organic Sumatra while Mami made us some eggs.

We showered and changed and headed out to meet Grace and Nick at Deli Café. Maria Elena, Danny’s niece, also accompanied us on this part of the trip. We got to Deli Café with time to spare, and as we arrived Don William had some coffee that he had just roasted for us try and gave us some for the rest of our trip. We picked up Grace and followed Nick to the Micro mill that we were visiting in the Fraigles region of Costa Rica. It was about an hour and a half drive from San Jose, but man, was it beautiful! We went through small towns, up and down some mountains, and we finally arrived at 1600 meters. The mill was great, it was the first micro mill that I had seen and it was so cute. Everything was just like the other mills that we had visited, only a lot smaller. They take the ripe cherries and run them though a demucilager, and then they go right onto the drying patio-- no water, no fermentation process, very simple, clean and efficient. They also had prepared some coffee as well as a very large breakfast for us to eat. Everything was great and freshly- prepared. After spending some more time with them discussing our procedures on Micro lots and how we are excited to bring more unique offerings to our customers, we were on our way to the Panamanian border. It was about a 5 hour drive to the border through a road called Cerra Del Muerte, translation: Mountains of death. It is so winding and steep that there have been a lot of accidents on this stretch of road. We went from sea level to about 3000 meters and back down, so our ears were popping the whole way. Once we reached the border we were greeted by Cesar from Natures Best, who helped us get everything we needed in order, but again it was another hassle getting all the right paperwork and signatures. We again went from window to window to window, presenting every document we needed. After about an hour and half we were good to go, and started our drive to Boquete. It was a relatively short drive, about an hour and change, but again we went from sea level up to 1500 meters. Once we turned on the main road to Boquete it was a steady incline all the way up. We arrived and checked into our hotel, which was beautiful and had a great little river running behind it. We only had a few minutes at the hotel before we left to meet Norberto Suarez for dinner. We had decided on a Peruvian restaurant where Danny had been before, and it was a great choice. The food was great and the atmosphere brought on good conversation. We talked about the coffee market, the harvest in Panama as well as Costa Rica and the new procedures that they were working on to continually improve the quality of the coffee. After a long dinner we retired to our rooms for some much needed rest.

We were picked up the next morning by Norberto in his new Ford F550. This thing was huge. He took us to his office and we picked up some freshly made pastries to accompany the coffee that Danny had made in the room earlier that morning. After his office, he took us up to see one of the farms that was by his house. It was crazy: the trees had green and red cherries and the farm was still flowering. After a short drive around, we went to Norberto’s house for a great espresso made from a straight Panama. It was sweet and buttery and good. After a small discussion we were off to meet Grace, Cesar and Maria Elena at Bouquet’s Finest, benefio, where they process the Don Pepe and other recognized coffees of Panama. After a short tour and potty break, we were off to the Volcan region of Panama; just on the other side of the volcano, about 15 miles as the crow flies, but an hour and change drive as there is no road that cuts through the mountain range. Once we arrived we went to visit the Finca de Canteras and met Jackie Mercer , the owner & operator. We toured her beautiful farm and then her wet and dry mills, and had an interesting discussion on how she decided that she wanted to own a coffee farm. After some coffee and freshly made snacks we were on our way to see the neighboring farm, Finca Florentina. The entrance was breathtaking: there was a gigantic canopy of trees that left only a small little pass for us to go though. Once there we got to meet the people who are in charge of making everything happen. We got a small walking tour of the farm-- which I loved-- and got to see the natural spring river where it starts from the ground. We were also given a tour of the dry and wet mills, and like every other farm everything was clean and neat. After our short visit-- which we all wished it could have been longer-- we were on our way to cross the border and have a lunch that we were already 2 hours late for in San Vito: our car hood wouldn’t close properly and we had to fix it with some “Latin intuition.”

It was a little more than an hour and a half to the border, and this time the border crossing was great: 20 minutes! I don’t know if it was the rain that kept all the people away or what, but it was great. Everyone was nice and everything worked out very, very well. After another short drive we were in San Vito and very, very late. However, we were still there and had time for a quick lunch and great discussion about the San Vito coffee region. We had to cut our visit short, as we had a long drive back to San Jose to get our things in order for the shipping of the car and our flight back to the States early that next morning. The drive back seemed really short and we made great time thanks to Danny’s great driving skills. Once back at Mami’s house we unloaded everything from the truck and made sure that we weren’t leaving anything behind. Once we were all packed up, though, we had to put some random things back into the truck hoping that they wouldn’t get stolen during the shipment back. It was late into the night when we finally got to bed and again had an early wake up to get ourselves to the airport.

Then next morning we were both very sad that our adventure had come to an end. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare as we assumed that we would have to wait in long lines as we had done every day prior. But, much to our surprise the airport seemed empty. Once we boarded our flight the adventure was officially over and we were on our way back to Kansas City. I would like to end by thanking Grace Mena for helping set up this great trip, as well as for her company. She is a genuine person who is fun has a great attitude and commands everyone’s respect when she walks into any situation, be it on a small farm or in a large beneficio. I would also like to thank all of the people who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate Danny and I and show us around your beautiful farms and mills.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 4

Day 10
The next morning we awoke again to the sound of the singing birds as well as the water rushing below us. We all took turns using the bathroom, as there were 4 guys and only one shower. After a short while we were served a regular Guatemalan breakfast of beans and eggs, which is still slightly weird but nonetheless very, very good.

We then went out on these pretty sweet looking jeeps that had been turned into farm buggies. We went around seeing a smaller version of the Bourbon that they had planted which they called, Bourbon enano. This is because the plant is much smaller than the regular Bourbon and gives the same yields. They also prefer it because the people who work on their farm are a little vertically challenged, and it’s easier for them to reach every branch. We also saw a variety of tree they call Elite 14. It’s very different because the coffee cherry turns orange when it matures instead of the usual red. We went around for about an hour and a half looking at all the trees on the farm as we made our way up to the lookout tower. At 1660 meters above sea level it was sure to be a fantastic view. However, we ran into some problems when one of the buggies couldn't make it up the mountain because it kept on getting stuck in the mud. We all piled into one of them and continued on the journey. Because of our little mishap, though, by the time we made it up to the lookout tower we were too late and the clouds had already started to form, and all we could see in any direction was fog. After a refreshing drink and news that we had missed an earthquake by just a few hours the day before we were on our way back down to view the wet and dry mills.

The mills were very standard to what we had seen in Mexico and were very traditional and very, very clean. After the tour we had a few minutes before lunch was served to get everything in order for our departure. I took that time to lay in a beautiful hammock as everyone was busy getting ready. After lunch we were off to Antigua, Guatemala. It was a relatively short and beautiful drive and we arrived at a farm named Finca Retana. It was amazing, with beautiful macadamia trees lining the street and coffee growing right behind it. We were greeted by the owner, Fernando Cofino, and instantly he and Danny hit it off, as he had a vintage BMW motorcycle sitting in his garage. It also happens that he went to school just 45 minutes outside of Kansas City. He also had the same truck that we were driving as well as the same BMW motorcycle that Danny has… kind of random. So, after a short tour of the farm and seeing some beautiful plants, as well as some that were dying of some sort of root system disease, we were taken back to his home for coffee. There, he showed us some photos of what the farm used to look like and what happens to the coffee trees just a few hours after a freeze-- man, was that depressing! After some more conversation we were off to our hotel and get ready for a meeting that Grace had with some of the women from Women In Coffee.

We went to a great little restaurant on the main street and had some great local stuffed hot peppers, as well as some more local beverages. After dinner Estuardo took us to the Hotel Santo Domingo, which was a hotel transformed from an old monastery. It was definitely an amazing sight to see. It was like walking through time: the old ruins were still standing from who knows when, and the church was absolutely breathtaking. After walking though the Hotel Santo Domingo we then went back to our hotel and everyone went to bed.

The next morning we woke up pretty early and had breakfast at our hotel-- again eggs and beans-- and were off the the the Beneficio Palin, where Cafcom does a lot of its processing. On the way we were surprised to see that the volcano we were driving by was erupting. There was a huge cloud of smoke billowing from the peak. It was pretty cool to see and we stopped to take some photos. After driving an hour or more we made it to the beneficio where we were treated to a cupping and given a tour of the facilities. Again everything was spotless and clean. It was also the first time that i got to see the electronic sorters and see how they work. Everything there was a great learning experience.

After we were done we were taken to meet the bodyguards that would escort us to the border. It was Comendante or Capitan as I called him and the little rotund man named Daniel. We were all very friendly with each other, much more than the last time we had seen them. I don't know if it was because we had a bag of open candy that we had given to the kids at the school earlier, but Daniel was much happier to be in the car this time than he was last time.

During our drive we stopped and had lunch at this little roadside stand. We again had the usual lunch fare: grilled meats, beans, guacamole, lots and lots of spicy sauces. This time they tricked me into piling on this green sauce that was supposedly “not too spicy,” and after they saw my face after the first bite, they both bust into laughter. my mouth was on fire for at least 45 minutes after that bite. Even the hard candy that the waiter brought didn't help. After another hour or so in the car we were at the El Salvador boarder. It was not a hassle at all getting out of Guatemala, but getting the car import permit was definitely not fun. I waited in line for about 50 minutes before someone talked to me, then I waited another 30 minutes while they did the paperwork and went through my passport about 10 times. They said that they didn't need my resident card, but one girl asked if i was a US resident , even after I had already told her three times that I was. We finally got everything in order and then were on our way… or so we thought. When we presented the documents to the guy at the gate and he said that we had to go back and get some other stamp. I’m not sure if he was looking for a bribe, because we had the stamp and he still insisted that we needed it even after we showed it to him. He then called someone on his little radio and made us wait 10 minutes, then came and told us that we could go.

After a short drive we went to the office of Cofizinas and met Terasa and Marcos Batres. We were given a tour of their dry mill and then were treated to another cupping. It was great: 2 cuppings with 2 professional cuppers in one day! After the cupping we were taken to the Farm called Teresa 3, on the way there I rode with Marcus. The whole time I was wondering why the heck the car door weighed so much. Once we got to the farm he told me that the vehicle was bulletproof and that just a few months back someone had put 100 bullets into his car. I guess that would have been good to know before I got into the car with this guy, but nonetheless it was fine.

When we got there we were blown away by how amazing this place was. The whole farm and wet mill is run by geothermal energy, and they have these amazing hot springs as well as Central America’s biggest geyser. The farm had 3 houses and 7 pools that were all at different temperatures to cool the water. One was ridiculously hot and almost boiling, but the ones at the end were more like hot tubs. After putting everything in our room we went down to the main house where we had some drinks and appetizers before we all got our bathing suits on and went into one of the pools. Danny and I went into the wussy pool, which was still pretty hot. After about an hour or so in the pool and a few more drinks, dinner was served, we had an amazing lasagna with an even better salad. After dinner we sat and talked some more about the coffee business of El Salvador and how it had changed as well as the coffee market itself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 3

Day 6

Yesterday morning began bright and early with a wake up call to tour the farm Argovia with Bruno. It was a beautiful place that we were given the full tour of in an old, open sided, Jeep. We were driven up the mountain and saw all the coffee varieties they had; I even got to see my first robusta plant! After we were finished in the fields, we were taken to the farm’s school house where all the children ran out to greet us. They were very friendly and each one came up and hugged without reservations. We told them we had some schools supplies for them and the teacher was more than thrilled. After the visit to the school, we went back up the the house and had a great breakfast. We were in a slight hurry because we were to meet our body guards at the Guatemala boarder at noon and had a 90 minute drive to get there. Once we said our goodbyes we were off...followed by a short detour to a local cafe so Danny could load up on Mexican chocolates.

Once at the boarder everything was going great until we found out we needed to cancel our vehicle import sticker Nuevo Mexico, which was 30 minutes back into Mexico. So, we hired a little guide to get us there faster. He was a young man from Guatemala, who works on the boarder helping people get through faster and telling them what they need or are missing before they begin the customs process. Once we got back after canceling the permit, we were greeted by our 2 body guards, an older man who they called “Comendante” and a short rotund man who does not strike you as a bodyguard. After a little more hassle in getting our papers in order to import the car we were on our way; Following the older man’s car, while the short man rode with us. I started talking to him about his job, but he wasn't really into making conversation. Until I pulled out a chocolate bar that is...then he automatically became my friend. He had been in the security business for 4 years after going through lots of training. He also said that he had never shot anyone but has had to pull his gun out a few times. During our conversation he received a phone call from Comandante, saying that there was a suspicious car following us and that we should pass him to see what the car would do. Once Danny heard this he took off like a bat out of hell, passing him and a bunch of other cars. For a short time it looked like we were being followed, as the other car kept up with us, but after a few minutes it turned off and I could once again breath easily. After this i was on my toes and every time our guy would turn around and look behind us, i would as well. He then told me that he was really nervous because he had left his gun in the other car and that when people see cars with U.S. license plates that’s when the trouble might start.

After continuing on the road to the farm we decided to stop for a late lunch. It was a butcher shop that would also cook the meat for you and man was it good. I was slightly skeptical because there were no freezers, ice or refrigerators and all the meat was hanging on hooks right in the open...but it was amazing. The torillas were made right there and the guacamole that came with it was incredible. After eating way more than we should have, we were again on our way. About 20 minutes after lunch we hit a long string of traffic. It was raining pretty hard and what we thought would be another hour to the farm turned into 2.5 hours. Finally arriving at the farm we met with Estuardo Erales, Juan Carlos Lantzendorffer and Mario Castillo, who all work for Cafcom. We then sat around and had a few drinks before having a great dinner of tortilla lasagna...which was followed by a few more drinks. Even though it was a slightly stressful day, it was an awesome adventure. How often are you going to have your own body guards and constantly worry you’re being followed?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 2

Day 5
So, today we woke up somewhat early and started our drive from Tuxtla, Mexico down to the Chiapas growing region. It was about a 5 hour drive and we experienced 3 military stops on the way to Tapachula, Mexico, which is right next to the boarder from Guatemala. From there we drove up the Coffee Trail for about an hour. This was a beautiful drive in the mountains past amazing waterfalls and streams, and through small villages where kids were just getting out of school and crowding the streets. We arrived at Finca Argovia and got to relax a little as we waited for Bruno Giesmann to come and meet us. During this time we went to our little cabin, and while Danny made some coffee I went on a little exploration to find some nice ripe red coffee cherries to taste.

Once I got back we sat out on the back porch of the cabin and I was overwhelmed by the scenery. It was breathtaking! The sounds of the rushing stream, the thunder as the daily storms rolled down the mountain, and the birds singing mixed with the amazing beauty of the landscape. This farm is 100% organic, but also has a large flower production, which they use as an additional source of income. It’s also a great way to enrich the soil for future coffee trees to be planted.

After we spent some time taking in the beauty and talking, we decided that it was best to go and meet Grace at the restaurant. As we waited for Bruno, we had some beverages and the chef made us some amazing traditional mexican appetizers. Once we were done with those, Bruno showed up and gave us a tour of the processing facility. Man, was it well as cool! They had machinery that was over 100 years old that was still in daily use, and all of the electricity for the processing is generated by water. The smell of the coffee being processed and dried is a clear indication that you’re on a coffee farm, and I seem to have grown to like it. Once we were done asking about a million questions we headed back to the restaurant for another great meal, as well as some great coffee conversation.

It’s 6 am now, and we’re getting ready early so that we may tour the farm completely and still be at the Mexican boarder to meet our bodyguards on time. I am a little nervous after some of the stories that were told at dinner, but Danny and Grace seem to think that everything is fine. The fact that we will have a bodyguard with us eases my nerves slightly, though. The adventure continues...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 1

Day 1
Well, the first day was slightly nondescript. Left Kansas city at 7 am and arrived in Laredo, TX (2 miles) from the border at 10 pm. 916 miles down, 2500 to go...woohoo! Tomorrow we will cross the Mexican border and drive to Jalapa, Mexico. We will be meeting Grace Mena from Natures Best Coffee and Dr. Eduardo Assad Azuara the President of Cafe de Vera Cruz. We’ll then drive to Vera Cruz with Grace and she will be accompanying us on the rest of our journey.

Day 3
I can say that it has already been a crazy and funny adventure. We left Laredo, TX yesterday at around 7:00am and thought we would make it to Vera Cruz by 5:00pm to meet with Grace Mana and Dr Eduardo Assad Azuara. But, much to our surprise (and not- so-great navigational skills) we ended up getting lost on the way and not meeting up with Grace until 11:00pm. The drive was beautiful...albeit slightly crazy. The Mexicans are in love with speed bumps and they have perfected the art of camouflaging them to blend in with the road. So, we would be driving at 65-70mph and then come up on a speed bump that would send the car flying. We also believe that the people in this town think of speed bumps like someone coming from a small town thinks of stoplights: the more you have, the cooler your town. There would be small little towns that would ordinarily take 2 minutes to go through, but would have 12 speed bumps within 1 kilometer. So, our drive took us through Monterrey to Ciudad Victoria, then over to Tampico and then South to Vera Cruz. After after that debacle, and some confusion as to where we were actually going to meet up with Grace, we finally found her at 11:00pm. Then, since Danny and I hadn't eaten we decided to stop and have some of the local specialties, which I think were pretty good, but very very spicy. We finally made it to our hotel after 2 days of driving, covering more than 1500 miles...only to find that they had given us a room with one small bed. After some slight complaining we were given a room with 2 beds and finally got some sleep.

The next day we had breakfast with Dr Azuara, whom we missed dinner with the day before. He was a pretty smart guy; a surgeon who left his practice and bought a coffee farm, and is now the President of the Consejo Regulador del Cafe de Vera Cruz, which is basically an organization similar to what Champagne France has to protect the name “Champagne.” It also requires that anything coming out of the region must meet some sort of quality qualifications. We had a nice breakfast discussing all things coffee, then were taken to their offices and given a presentation on exactly what they are trying to do as an organization. This includes increasing the public knowledge about the coffees of Vera Cruz as well as making sure that all of the producers are producing a quality products that meets the expectations of a clean cup as well as other variables.

Once the presentation was finished, we were invited to cup some of the coffees that had been certified from the previous year. After that, we were taken to one of the first farms that had their coffee certified by this organization. The farm was beautiful, the trees were holding lots of green cherries and were all in perfect little rows. After a quick tour we were then taken to the drying and holding facility. There we got to see how their size-sorter worked, as well as got to taste some of their coffees. We even got to take some samples with us so we can cup them when we get back. After the visit to the farm was over, we began what was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive to the next town of Tuxtla. Well, as we have come to know so well, the signs that give you the distances seem to lie. We would see one sign saying that we only had 200km left, then after an hour of doing 110 k/hr we would see another that would say that we had 180km left, then again after 5 min we would see one that would say 320km to our destination. So what was supposedly a 3.5 hour drive took us 5.5 hours!

During this time we were stopped by armed military personnel and police officers 2 times where they checked the car for drugs and guns. Then at one gas station we pulled into, the attendant started to pump the gas just like they have done throughout this trip, but once he was done pumping he informed us that they don't take credit cards or dollars and it’s our luck that we are all out of Mexican pesos. After a 10 minute argument on what we could do --either pay in dollars or call the police-- we come to an agreement that we would drive the attendant to an ATM so that we could take pesos out and then pay for our gas. During all of this his two buddies were following us in some little car. He took us to this ATM where there are no street lights and during this whole time I was a little nervous thinking we’re in some tiny little town in Mexico and there are these 2 guys in a little car and I can see that they are drinking and Danny is inside this phone booth ATM. Meanwhile he was taking his time in there figuring everything out, while I was trying to tell him to hurry because I thought we were about to get mugged! But, finally everything worked out well and we made it to the hotel safely.

Tomorrow we are off to Chiapas to visit another farm meet some more great people and learn some more about coffee. Stay tuned...