Three years. That was the mark, the goal. As a barista, one of my employee benefits is a visit to origin after three years of employment. Those who work behind the scenes in coffee may not be phased by an origin trip, but for a barista it is something uniquely different. It gives a new perspective, a new purpose to what we do day-in and day-out...it takes something that is at the risk of seeming menial and mundane and makes it meaningful and worthwhile. This was my experience on my first origin trip to Costa Rica with CREMA. This is my story.
When I first returned home from last year’s origin trip to Costa Rica I excused myself from in-depth processing or writing about the trip because I said I needed time...well, here we are at the 1 year anniversary of the trip and I guess it’s time to do that processing and writing! I’m kicking myself for allowing too much time to pass, but luckily a quick dive into my memories of the trip brings me back to the adventure and vibrance of those days with ease. The smell of the fresh air when we stepped off the plane, the friendly faces that met us and made us feel like we were the only visitors they’d received all year - as opposed to what we really were, one of a million folks passing through to source coffees for the upcoming seasons.
Our first full day there held more than I can even fathom now that I’m reflecting upon it. Breakfast with Francisco, the charismatic and passionate leader of Exclusive Coffee (read more about its foundation and purpose here!), a visit to their headquarters where we cupped more coffee in 1 hour than I typically cup within a month, a lunch stop (give me ALL the tostones and fried yucca!) and then following our fearless leader Wayner from San Jose into Tarrazú where we would spend the next two days visiting with farmers and their families, trekking across the most beautiful terrain I had ever seen with my own two eyes…
This is when I was able to experience firsthand what CREMA has been saying for quite some time now - “Great coffee starts with great relationships.” We had an amazing time being led through multiple farms by Pablo Bonilla and visiting the Don Mayo Mill, but that was preceded by a dinner the night before with the entire extended Bonilla family. We had an unforgettable experience with Luis at the breathtaking Pie San, but that was concluded with an equally-memorable time sipping on coffee and nibbling cookies at his mother’s house. We toured Finca Los Angeles with Diego and his sisters just to learn more from them and see what they’re up to, not because we had anything to gain from it (except for their delicious boozy coffee milkshakes that we polished off after our farm tour). We had the unbelievable gift of picking our own coffee and seeing it through the processing stage with the powerhouse women of the Granitos Farm, but what meant most to them was sitting around the table sharing a meal they had generously prepared for us earlier that day.
I say all of this not to distract from the purpose of our origin trip or the massive impact it had on my own coffee purchases as a consumer or even why I continue to work in coffee...but because I realized quickly that the relationships previously established by Ben & Rachel were what mattered most, both to us and to them. The rest will follow. I am forever impacted by the magnificent views, the taste of a coffee cherry bursting in my mouth, the fearless truck drivers that made a three-point-turn on the side of a cliff with 5 Americans sweating nervoulsy in the back of the truck, the generosity of the producers and their families and the joy with which they work tirelessly all day, every day. But first and foremost, the relationships formed years ago and upheld with yearly visits carry the most weight. I want to support these friends and see them succeed year after year and I that is why I am proud to work for CREMA - for the coffee, yes, but even more so for the people.