Coffee Buyer’s Agent
Counter Culture Coffee
Durham, North Carolina
What other coffee jobs have you had?
This is my first… unless you count volunteering at a café called La Taza when I lived in Honduras and there was a dearth of work to do at Habitat for Humanity. Though while there, I was mostly chastised for not wiping off the steam wand properly. Prior to coffee, I worked in affordable housing, got a masters in social work, collaborated with the Latino community in economic development, and worked on several public health research projects.
What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?
Coffee is a unifier. The act of drinking coffee brings so many of us together, and it becomes a jumping off point to talk about quality, about preparation, about flavor, about farmers’ livelihoods, about global economics and social justice. At each level of the supply chain (including our headquarters in Durham, N.C.), coffee is a way to understand and build community, to be involved in the protection of the environment, and to continue to strive for excellence. I quote him a lot, but what Fredman Vasquez (of the Cinco de Junio cooperative in Nicaragua) said to me a while back sticks with me: “We grow great yuccas, make delicious cheese, but do people from all over come to understand our experience because of that? No, they come because of coffee.”
Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?
Ooof! Could we start with next year? Or in 5 years? The buzz right now whenever I visit with coffee producers is that they want to diversify their income, diversify their crop. Well, this and the conversations about cooperatives’ operational efficacy. I’d like to be a part of work that continues to honor and value coffee producers’ contributions to the supply chain, whether that is more participatory research regarding farm level experiences, supporting capacity building at the cooperative leadership level, or more cross sector collaborative efforts (managing NGOs, businesses, and producers together) to insure supply chain sustainability. Shameless self plug, if you want to read more of my thoughts about this you can read up at hpopcoffeetalk.blogspot.com
Who and what inspires you?
Let’s start with who: my coworkers, hands down. They are a bunch of people who have a range of experiences and types of intelligence they bring to the job, are highly enthusiastic, are willing to ask the hard questions and push the envelope. In particular, Kim Elena Ionescu of Counter Culture: She is one of the main reasons I wanted to work at Counter Culture—to be able to collaborate with such a force [as she is]. Michael Sheridan of CRS: His demand for rigorous investigation and his underlying search for justice for coffee producers makes me want to be a better person. And Rick Peyser of Green Mountain Coffee: His call to action around the fact that income from coffee alone is often not enough as a livelihood for small producers has rallied together many important actors in the industry.
And onto what: Not to completely out myself for the hippie that I am, but I’d say nature is one of my biggest inspirations. I get to see it in all of its grandeur and for all it provides in the tropics for coffee farmers, and I get to see it in my own backyard as I am humbled by watching plants and food grow and change with the seasons.
What are you drinking right now?
Two weeks ago I was seriously enjoying the coffee from Irene Gomez, a microlot from Nueva Llusta, Bolivia, and a member of the Cenaproc cooperative. I was excited about this coffee for so many reasons—the fact that it comes from Bolivia, which is known both for quality and for difficulty in exporting, the fact that it is from a female producer, and the fact that it tasted like creamy, sweet plum comfort.
Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?
Well, in January 2012, I went to Peru with Kim to wrap up our first microlot study. That evening, after the meetings and while enjoying some music and food with producers, I started to feel quite ill. Of course, being new to this whole origin travel thing and wanting Kim and the producers to think I was tough, I silently excused myself to step outside. But later that night while sleeping in the home of a producer, there was no more hiding! Holding onto the mud house outside while retching, I heard a low growl. The growl moved on to incessant barking and their watchdog had effectively announced my situation to the whole household. Now they were up and worried. Next thing I know, the whole family is sitting with me on the bed encouraging me to drink some herbal concoction. So much for playing tough! Fortunately, I’ve since inoculated myself with friendly bacteria that have helped to prevent such episodes.
What are you doing when you’re not doing coffee?
Let’s see, I’m either dancing (can’t resist a good bachata song in particular), digging in the dirt and trying to learn more about plants, cooking and sharing a delicious meal with friends or family, knitting up a soft baby hat for all those people that keep having babies, or until very recently (bless his sweet soul and may he rest easy), I would have been getting some good snuggles in with old man beagle dog, Ernie.